Leaders’ Emotions Impact Followers Performance

In today’s world where performance is the key to efficiency, an analysis of what could motivate teamwork could be critical. Recently, studies were conducted in the Netherlands to estimate the impact of angry leaders, as opposed to neutral and happy leaders, on teams consisting of members with low and high levels of agreeableness or friendliness. The ‘friendliness’ factor played a major role in deciding the effectiveness of the leader and the perceived workload, and ultimately it catalyzed team performance. Apart from contributing to efficient working models, this study also helps in channelizing social behavior through emotional display.

Social interactions and performance can be influenced by emotional expressions, especially arising from leaders. The current study was carried out to see if team leaders were more effective if they were “angry” by nature or “neutral/happy”. Nonetheless, the researchers feel that differences in a follower’s personality, specifically his/her levels of friendliness, should be included in such an analysis.  They hypothesize that followers who do not mind conflicts would not mind an angry leader, while those who are friendlier are likely to expect similar positive behavior from their leaders. According to the study authors, the findings explain “how emotional expressions regulate social behavior”.


  • In a preliminary test, participants were given two scenarios to imagine: (a) a team leader discussing team performance with an angry expression and (b) a team leader discussing the same with a neutral expression. Later, the participants’ opinions regarding the efficiency of the leader and their motivation to perform were noted.
  • In the main study, 144 students were randomly assigned to teams led by ‘angry’ or ‘happy’ leaders and the individual friendliness of the students was evaluated via a questionnaire. They were then presented with a fictional task of protecting airspace from enemies. Videos of a leader giving instructions in ‘angry’ or ‘happy’ moods were shown.
  • Subsequently, the performance of the teams was judged.
  • The participants were also asked to rate their workload and perceived anger/happiness of the leader, by answering a questionnaire.


  • In the preliminary study, it was seen that the friendlier participants were better motivated by the ‘neutral’ leaders while those with less friendly dispositions reacted favorably to the ‘angry’ leaders.
  • In the main study, regardless of the students’ individual ‘friendliness’, they perceived the ‘angry’ and ‘happy’ leaders as they were. No main implications were observed between friendliness and perceived anger/happiness.
  • In terms of performance, the teams with lower friendliness fared better under the ‘angry leaders.
  • In terms of workload, those with higher friendliness experienced higher workload with ‘angry leaders’.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The complexity of the assigned task could directly translate into workload felt in the ‘angry leader’ situation and could be kept simple to avoid error. It remains to be understood whether any other traits or variations in values or beliefs or cultural diversity could have a bearing on emotional expressions.

The relevance of the subjects’ personality in understanding the repercussions of a leader’s emotional expressions has been proven beyond doubt in this study. This finding could be extrapolated to numerous other spheres of life, for example interpersonal relationships, sport teams, parent-child relations, conflict resolution, crises handling and more. Customizing emotional expressions could greatly help partners improve relationships. Similarly, leaders who are able to tune their emotional articulations to suit their aides would enjoy pleasant and rewarding results in terms of performance and satisfaction. Also, potential leaders could be trained to utilize their emotional skills to regulate social outcomes and enhance efficacy.

For More Information:
On Angry Leaders and Agreeable Followers: How Leaders’ Emotions and Followers’ Personalities Shape Motivation and Team Performance
Psychological Science, October 2010
By Gerben A. Van Kleef; Astrid C. Homan
From the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands and
VU University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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