The downside of goal-focused leadership: The role of personality in subordinate exhaustion

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Perry, Sara J.
Witt, L. A.
Penney, Lisa M.
Atwater, Leanne
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Abstract

Exhaustion has a significant impact on employees and organizations, and leader behavior may affect it. We applied conservation of resources theory to test propositions regarding the joint effects of goal-focused leadership (GFL) and personality on employee exhaustion. We proposed that the relationship between GFL and exhaustion depends on employees' standing on both conscientiousness and emotional stability. Specifically, we expected that high-conscientiousness subordinates experience greater compatibility with a goal-focused leader because of their predisposition to direct resources toward achievement and goal setting, resulting in lower exhaustion under such a leader than among low-conscientiousness employees. Furthermore, high emotional stability may compensate for GFL incompatibility among low-conscientiousness employees by providing additional resources to manage GFL. In contrast, employees low on both traits likely experience greater exhaustion under a goal-focused leader compared with other employees. Results revealed a 3-way interaction in 2 independent samples and were generally supportive of our predictions. GFL was associated with heightened exhaustion among individuals in the low-emotional-stability, low-conscientiousness group but not among workers having any other trait combination.

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Perry, S. J., Witt, L. A., Penney, L. M., & Atwater, L. (2010). The downside of goal-focused leadership: The role of personality in subordinate exhaustion. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1145–1153. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020538