De Clercq, D., Fatima, T., & Jahanzeb, S. (2021). Gossiping about an arrogant leader: Sparked by inconsistent leadership, mitigated by employee resilience. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 57(3), 269–289. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021886320917520
Background & Theory:
Arrogant leadership is defined as the practice by which leaders engage in presumptuous claims about their competencies, have inflated sense of self-importance, and impose superiority over their followers. This study examines how the presence of arrogant leadership affects employee tendencies to engage in negative gossip about said leader. It also examines how resilience may moderate this relationship, allowing employees to better cope with this leadership behavior.
Research was conducted by Dirk De Clercq, Tasneem Fatima, and Saida Jahanzeb to answer the following questions:
- What is the relationship between perception of leader arrogance, beliefs about inconsistent leader actions, and negative gossip about the leader among employees?
- What role does resilience play in this relationship?
Three surveys were distributed to three Pakistani-based organizations in the banking and telecommunications industries. The surveys were distributed one per every three weeks and were completed fully by 299 participants. The first survey measured employee perceptions of leader arrogance, asking participants to think about their own supervisor. This first study also measured employee resiliency. The second survey measured the opinions about the consistency of their supervisor’s decision making. The third survey focused on the negative gossip about the supervisor and was comprised of peer ratings.
Results indicated that when employees perceive their organizational leaders to be arrogant, it prompts them to spread negative rumors about that leader. This relationship is moderated by the presence of employee beliefs about inconsistent leader actions.
Further, the authors found that the relationship between perception of leader arrogance and beliefs about inconsistent leader actions is moderated by employee resilience. Similarly, the indirect relationship between perceptions of leader arrogance and negative gossip is also moderated by resilience. This suggests that the more resilient an employee is, the less likely they are to (1) believe the leader is behaving inconsistently and (2) engage in negative gossip about the leader.
The authors suggest that resilient employees feel more confident that they can handle unfavorable situations like arrogant leadership behavior, a trait that may increase their self-worth. Thus, when they perceive a leader to act arrogantly, their sense of self-worth is not impacted and the need to engage in negative gossip does not arise.
What We Can Learn:
Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:
- Employees who perceive their leaders to be arrogant are more likely to believe that the leader’s behavior is inconsistent and as a result, engage in negative gossip about that leader with coworkers.
- This relationship is moderated by level of employee resilience, suggesting that more resilient employees do not feel the need to engage in such negative gossip after perceiving an arrogant leader.
For Consultants: As negative gossip can spark workplace conflict, training employees to become more resilient is key, especially when arrogant leadership is present.
For Everyone: Engage in practices that help increase your own sense of self-worth and resilience. Incorporating such practices into your life can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult people.