In progress Lonely at the top: Exploring the relationships of leader loneliness, power, and leader behaviour



The unpleasant experience of loneliness is an important well-being concern, especially for leaders. However, in the discussion on whether it is “lonely at the top”, the literature on leader loneliness has been incomplete and inconsistent. This research project approaches leader loneliness by discussing power as a unique yet highly relevant characteristic of leadership. It also explores the impacts of leader loneliness on leader behaviour, such as abusive supervision and supervisor support, as well as followers’ helping. In the process, the strategies for emotion regulation, including surface acting, deep acting and genuine display, are analysed. This project employs mixed research methods to address the research questions. Specifically, it involves a conceptual discussion, an experiment and several multi-source surveys. The project contributes to the literature by examining leader well-being issues and understanding the dynamics of loneliness in leadership contexts. It also provides practical insights into the possible functions and harms of leader loneliness. The understanding of underlying mechanisms is also crucial for devising evidence-based organisational interventions.


Abusive supervision, emotion regulation, leader emotion, leader well-being, work relationships

Time frame

2016 - 2019


Companies can increasingly achieve a competitive advantage through their human capital – the people working and the company and the knowledge, information, and expertise they represent. High-quality performance in knowledge-intensive work relies greatly on people’s ability to contribute their expertise, insights, and ideas to collaborative team efforts. This holds the challenge of effectively motivating diverse groups of people to collaborate for collective objectives and to integrate their diverse expertise and insights to reach more innovative, higher-quality products and services. With growing diversity and reliance on cross-national collaborations, this also increasingly includes the ability to bridge gaps in understanding and experience to achieve effective collaboration and synergy. Most notably is the renewed interest in leadership for the flourishing for modern-day organizations and the people within it. All of this renders an understanding of the factors influencing the motivation, collaboration, and performance of people at work of growing importance to business success and building sustainable business. The influence of such factors is the domain of study of organizational behavior – the study of individuals and groups at work. In studying these influences, the potential supervisors (Prof. Dr. Steffen Giessner, Prof. Dr. Dirk van Dierendonck, and Prof. Dr. Daan van Knippenberg) highlight the role of leadership and team work in the performance and wellbeing of individuals and teams. The research group is looking for a PhD candidate in organizational behavior to be part of this program of research. The specific focus of the project will be determined in collaboration with the supervising faculty, but the expectation is that the focus would be aligned with their core expertise. The following outlines issues that could provide fruitful jumping-off points for the project.

For leadership research, the key question is what makes leaders effective in mobilizing and motivating followers. For today’s organizations that focus on knowledge-intensive work, leadership has become a critical issue. For instance, one leadership challenge these organizations face is the need to foster leadership that develops employees’ proactive engagement and enhances creativity and innovation. At the same time, they face challenges in building commitment and motivation around a shared vision in times when organizations become more diverse and employees’ have a great degree of autonomy. Additional challenge for leadership is how to put issues of ethics, morality, and social responsibility high on the agenda for employees who have great freedom in shaping their own actions at work. The research group investigates such issues as part of the extensive research they conduct on empowering leadership, servant leadership, sustainability leadership and visionary leadership.

For HR research, a stronger and more explicit inclusion of insights drawn from organizational behavior perspective can lead to intriguing new research. Especially within a context of ongoing job layoffs and increased work pressure, attention for topics such as talent management, leadership development, and diversity management can be more relevant than ever. In this respect, the research group pays specific attention to the challenges of cross-cultural collaboration, team leadership, team learning, team creativity, organizational climates for diversity and inclusion, and to the role of stereotypes in cross-cultural interactions.

Supervisory Team