Happy leader agreeable followerEmotional expressions impact how work gets done. Personality factors impact performance, too. Emotional expressions regulate the social behavior which occurs when leaders interact with their followers. This post notes some research about another example of important individual differences driven by personality: leader expressions of anger or happiness and follower personalities.

Anger, the most prevalent emotion in the workplace, can drive performance. But, leaders must taylor their anger-related emotional strategies according  to their followers’ personalities. A mis-match between leader emotion strategy and follower personality can negatively impact performance.

Researchers drew upon theories of emotion and leadership effectiveness as they investigated a neglected concept, followers’ personalities, in their attempt to reconcile the mixed results in prior studies about happiness versus anger leader emotion strategies. Their experimental results shed new new light, and help us to better understand the social consequences of  the interaction of leaders’ emotional expressions with their followers’ personalities.  This post reports about research which the investigators describe as having “important implications” for theory and practice. Lawyers and other professionals who lead teams, projects, or practice groups in legal organizations can gain some new and useful information about anger and happiness in the workplace.  This post suggests how one can harness the power of personality and emotional intelligence and reasonably expect to maximize performance.

Research Background – Leadership Effectiveness. A line of leadership research shows that leadership effectiveness can depend on how the leader’s style and her followers’ personal traits interact. Leaders whose behaviors meet certain values of their followers will more likely obtain the desired outcomes. Also, other research has shown that followers will respond more favorably to leaders whom they believe share similar values. The authors drew upon this “classic work” on leadership effectiveness to formulate their theory for investigation:  “the effects of anger displays and happiness displays depend on followers’ personalities – in particular, their level of agreeableness.”

Research Background – Emotions as Social Information (EASI). Emotions, like personality, associate with better results in the context of leadership when the right fit between leader and follower exists. The researchers drew upon the EASI (emotions as social information) theory to investigate how leader emotion expressions can impact followers.  The expectations and desires of the followers, according to this theory, determine the acceptability and effectiveness of a leader’s particular emotion strategy.  A prior post on Psycholawlogy, see Out of the Darkness and Into the Light – Interpersonal [Lawyer] Persuasion Tactics: Emotional Expressions, Influence, and Attitudes, discussed the EASI model in greater detail, and provided additional references, in the context of discussing recent research into the emotional aspects of persuasion using that model. In the personality trait context of agreeableness, followers differ in their level of desire for social harmony. Followers who have a relatively weak desire for social harmony will, under this theory, will more readily accept a leader’s expression of anger than those followers who have stronger desires for social harmony at work.  So, anger may have counterproductive effects with certain followers who find angry leaders’ emotional expressions unwelcome.

Angry-Happy femaleResearch Background – Agreeableness (Personality) and Anger/Happiness (Emotion). This research focused on expression of anger. People high in the personality factor Agreeableness, according to the authors’ theory, will not feel motivated by a leader’s expressions of anger. People high in trait agreeableness “tend to be more courteous to other people, to prefer cooperation over competition, and to be thoughtful and considerate.” They value constructive interpersonal behaviors, and expect others to treat them the same way because they value harmony. Expressions of happiness, which involve affiliation, trust, and social connectedness, fit with agreeable individuals’ preference for social harmony.

Anger, characterized by hostility, conflict, and interpersonal distance, does not fit well with agreeable people. An angry leader’s power-asserting emotional expressions and strategies will, according to related research, create stress for agreeable people, and the experience of anger at work may render them “less able to process information and make good decisions.”  Anger also may undermine motivation to perform in people higher in agreeableness.  The authors noted several other studies and suggested that people with lower levels of agreeableness have less concern for social harmony and will tolerate the angry leader, perceive such interpersonal exchanges as less stressful or taxing, and may even find the leader’s anger to have motivational qualities.

Happiness-AngerResearch Question.  The authors’ research question asked “Do followers perform better when their leader expresses anger or when their leader expresses happiness?” They hypothesized that the effectiveness of leaders’ expression of anger depends on followers’ preferences for social harmony.  These preferences relate to and have their basis in the Big Five personality trait Agreeableness.

Research Methods: Participants, Measures, Processes. The researchers conducted two laboratory studies.  They used students. Across the two studies, the researchers measured the participants’ level of agreeableness, motivation, judgment of leadership qualities, and perceptions of leader anger and job workload in work and team scenarios which involved manipulations of anger, happiness, and no emotion, all designed to test the interaction of leaders’ expression of anger with followers’ level of agreeableness.

Results and Discussion. Without detailing the analytical techniques employed, a summary of the results obtained by the Dutch research team follows:

  • Individuals with lower levels of agreeableness reported higher motivation and higher leadership quality judgments when confronted by an angry leader rather than a nonemotional leader;
  • Individuals with higher levels of agreeableness reported lower motivation and lower leadership quality judgments when confronted by an angry leader rather than a nonemotional leader;
  • Teams with lower levels of agreeableness performed better when the leader expressed anger instead of happiness;
  • Teams with higher levels of agreeableness performed better when the leader expressed happiness rather than anger;
  • Teams with higher levels of agreeableness experienced a higher workload when their leader expressed anger rather than happiness.

Leader emotion and follower personality interact in the leader-follower relationship and the effects of this social interaction impacts work performance.  This research shows that the effects of a leader’s emotional display depends on his or her followers’ agreeableness. Low Agreeable people get motivated by anger or no emotion from from their leader. In that same situation, high Agreeable people perform worse.  This research has bridged years of research which has produced inconsistent results about leader expressions of emotion.  It shows that follower personality matters. More specifically, this research shows that the Big Five trait Agreeableness can explain the effects of this social interaction. Past studies had not closed that gap. This first-of-its-kind study did.

Those concerned with work performance in the context of leader-follower social relations can better understand the acceptableness and effectiveness of leader emotion expressions, i.e. anger or happiness or no emotion, by considering the match or the mismatch between them and the personality, i.e. agreeableness trait, of the follower. The authors describe their conclusion as having “important implications” for theory and practice. The beneficial practical implications, however, will not happen automatically. Leaders must act with intention and purpose.  The authors suggested a pathway. The final part maps it below.

Angry - Happy LeaderLegal Leadership Take-Aways – Emotional Intelligence Connection. This research involved students, not lawyers, and occurred in a laboratory. Like most research studies, it had limitations and this subject needs further study.  But, its results – preliminary evidence – shed new light on the boundaries and conditions of “emotional functionality”.  Those leaders who tailor their emotional expressions to a target’s expectations and desires may, according to the authors, “enhance their persuasiveness and influence”. The results have important implications for the bottom line.

A recent post on Psycholawlogy see here has noted how most employers want workers high in the Big Five trait agreeableness.  Organizations value these workers who prefer cooperation over conflict, who act towards others with courtesy, and who show thoughtful, considerate behavior.  Misdirected leader anger demotivates highly agreeable workers.  They will suffer stress.  These pains caused by angry leaders will get reflected in their followers’ poor performance.

The research discussed in this post shows that leaders who do not accurately perceive their followers’ personalities and who fail to regulate their emotions accordingly, i.e. express anger against high trait agreeableness workers, can cause stress, lower worker motivation, cause them to have difficulty making good decisions, and, among other negative effects, render these valued workers less able to process information.  Those likely results from the mismatch between leader emotional expression and follower personality presents a bad scenario.  These circumstances forecast undesirable outcomes in terms of getting work done and maximizing work performance. The authors suggest how organizations can perhaps defeat the mismatch and maximize effectiveness.  Emotional intelligence plays a role here.

Emotional Intelligence Training and Leadership Effectiveness. Leaders who accurately perceive their followers’ personality traits, i.e. agreeableness, and who regulate their own emotion expressions accordingly, will, according to the authors, “be more successful in managing group processes and stimulating performance than leaders who do not accurately diagnose their subordinates’ personality.” Organizations, including legal organizations, should keep this suggestion in mind when selecting leaders or managers.  They “should consider characteristics and abilities, such as emotional intelligence, that are predictive of such qualities.” Organizations who want to maximize performance will implement emotional intelligence training programs and leadership courses. Organizations, including legal organizations “should therefore devote attention to teaching prospective leaders socioemotional skills to increase their effectiveness.”

Expressions of anger by legal leaders works with certain people on certain occasions.  Recent research suggests, however, that organizations do not favor those people for whom anger provides some motivation. Organizations generally want and value workers high in trait agreeableness. When these valued workers suffer rants of rage, raised voices, clenched fists, stern looks, or irritable tone of voice in social exchanges with their leaders, a dangerous mismatch occurs.  Bad results will follow from this mismatch.  Legal organizations can avoid this social behavior risk. How?

“Leaders must match their emotional expressions to their followers’ personality to maximize performance.”  Do your legal leaders have this ability? If not, how will they develop the necessary socioemotional skills, i.e. emotional intelligence, to maximize firm performance and provide highest value to clients? Leaders, do you know? Do you care? Legal consumers’ knowledge and sophistication increases continually. Socioemotional knowledge and ability likely will become a performance factor in the future. Savvy legal leaders will jump ahead of the pack. Their organizations will retain valued talent. They will train and select leaders with emotional intelligence abilities. These leaders will motivate their followers, will drive high performance from valued talent, and their firms can expect maximum effectiveness and results.

Clients’ discernment comes from a different perspective – business.  Their consumer knowledge and legal buying power grows every day. The high performing legal services organizations whose leaders match their emotional expressions to their followers’ personalities will remain viable. They will accept cues from their clients and will seek to defeat the mismatch. Those firms who accept the emotion expression-personality interaction mismatch, who do not increase knowledge of follower personality, and who do not engage in emotional intelligence training and leadership education, will continue to have angry leaders who will . . . .

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices | Web  – www.adlitemsolutions.com | Email: dan@adlitemsolutions.com | Blog – www.psycholawlogy.com | Combining and leveraging 25+ years legal experience, allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal and special business personality, ability and self-report emotional intelligence, leadership, and stress management assessments and tools to partner with clients to discover, design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for emotional intelligence assessment, coaching, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, and other legal and professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon.  Thank you.

Article Source:  Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Beersma, B., & van Knippenberg, D. (2010). On Angry Leaders and Agreeable Followers How Leaders’ Emotions and Followers’ Personalities Shape Motivation and Team Performance.Psychological Science, 21(12), 1827-1834. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610387438. Copy of article currently available here.

Additional Resources:  Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications. Psychological Inquiry, 197-215 (referenced by the authors as the suggested model of emotional intelligence for training leaders in emotion recognition and regulation abilities to increase socioemotional effectiveness). Copy of article currently available here. | See Graziano, W. G., Jensen-Campbell, L. A., & Hair, E. C. (1996). Perceiving interpersonal conflict and reacting to it: the case for agreeableness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 70(4), 820 (discussing agreeableness personality factor). Copy of article currently available here.|

Image Credits:  Happy leader agreeable follower here | Female Angry-Happy here | Happiness-anger here | Angry – Happy Leader here |

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.
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