Lonely-ship: The Emergence and Experience of Leader Loneliness Defended on Thursday, 5 October 2023

Over the past few decades, interest in loneliness – broadly defined as the subjective, unpleasant experience of social disconnectedness – has grown significantly. Scholars from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and philosophy have been studying the phenomenon and its largely undesirable consequences to individual health, general functioning, and relational outcomes. Despite rising academic interest in these adjacent academic domains, loneliness has only recently started to attract attention in the management field. This is surprising, given the potential negative organisational and managerial implications of loneliness.

Leaders, particularly, seem to be vulnerable to experiences of loneliness. Yet, scholars tend to conflate leader loneliness with general loneliness. Considering leadership often involves directing teams, influencing strategic directions, and making high-pressure decisions in organisations, a generalised approach ignores these leadership-specific factors that may trigger loneliness experiences.

To better understand this overlooked phenomenon, I adopted multiple perspectives and methods in this PhD thesis, including (a) a review-based critique of the dispersed literature of leader loneliness; (b) a qualitative interview study on the leadership narratives of loneliness; and (c) a quantitative project on the loneliness of mid-level managers, using an experiment and a three-wave panel survey study. Together, my work is a timely response to the loneliness “epidemic” and calls for more attention to leader well-being issues in both research and practice.


Emotion at work, employee well-being, isolation, leader-follower relationship, leadership, loneliness, mental health, narratives, power, self-disclosure, social connectedness

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