Why Does Paranoia Arise in the Workplace?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Barbara C. Lopes of the Universidade de Coimbra, Caroline Kamau of Birkbeck College, and Rusi Jaspal of De Montfort University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies entitled “Coping With Perceived Abusive Supervision: The Role of Paranoia,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they recount the motivations and innovations of this research.

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

Work is an important part of most people’s lives – after all, we spent most of our lives at work and what happens at work can affect us profoundly. We wanted to understand what causes negative cognitions (e.g., paranoia) and maladaptive coping strategies (e.g., workplace deviance) in the workplace. In his 2001 study, Kramer discussed the corporate ethos of neoliberal societies and its potential contribution to paranoia among workers – essentially in order for survival in a cut-throat workplace environment. Yet, there hadn’t been any empirical research that investigated why paranoia arises in the workplace. Our research aimed to fill this gap. Unfortunately, paranoia has been perceived as being a taboo in society for two major reasons: a) paranoia was then considered to be a sign of madness; b) an empirical focus on paranoia could call into question the corporate ethos of organizations – put simply, the increasingly cut-throat workplace environment faced by employees. We hypothesized that paranoia was provoked by the organizational culture itself. Our study shows that paranoid beliefs (i.e. ideas of a conspiracy, ideas of being controlled by external forces and unjustified doubts about the loyalty of others) are quite common and can be shaped by the environmental contexts. This research enables us to inform managers and practitioners about how to intervene effectively at work.

Were there any specific external eventspolitical, social, or economicthat influenced your decision to pursue this research?

The current climate of fear, distrust and insecurity in Western societies associated with the economic crisis has led to a political discourse of increasing control and use of security measures. This has also shaped the workplace environment. The corporate ethos in organizations can challenge workers’ wellbeing and the increasingly common practice of ‘micromanagement’ can lead to increased incidence of paranoia in workers. This can ultimately affect not only their work performance but also their wellbeing. In spite of the political discourse of the last decade positioning employment as the remedy for social, psychological and economic problems, our study set out to show that the workplace itself can induce problems if not managed effectively. Work that is considered to be low paid and insecure and workplace environments that present threats for workers (e.g., abuse and bullying from colleagues and managers) can contribute to the incidence of serious psychiatric problems.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Ours is the first mixed-methods research to show that an abusive workplace environment can provoke paranoid cognitions that then lead to poor wellbeing and workplace deviance in workers. Paranoia can have social underpinnings. Our research also shows that the perception of supervisory and organizational support in the workplace buffers the negative psychological effects of an abusive workplace environment. Our research provides insight into causation but also presents the tools for improving wellbeing in workers. Organizations can improve workers’ wellbeing and their organizational outcomes by improving the organizational culture and by providing tailored psychological support.

 

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#OSEditorPicks: Constructing Women’s Leadership Representation in the UK Press During a Time of Financial Crisis

[We are pleased to welcome Trish Reay, Editor-in-Chief of Organization Studies.]

Elliott, C. & Stead, V. (2018). Constructing Women’s Leadership Representation in the UK Press During a Time of Financial Crisis: Gender Capitals and Dialectic Tensions. Organization Studies, 39(1): 19-45.

In this timely article, Carole Elliott and Valerie Stead investigate how women’s leadership was represented in the printed media during the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2012. They show how textual and visual discourses combine to promote different conceptualizations of what it is to be a leader, and can make a difference in the advancement of women into leadership roles. I encourage you to read this article to learn more about the power of everyday discourse in promoting (or not) women into positions of leadership.

-Trish Reay, Editor-in-Chief, Organization Studies

OSSA continuing challenge for organizations is the persistent underrepresentation of women in senior roles, which gained a particular prominence during the global financial crisis (GFC). The GFC has raised questions regarding the forms of leadership that allowed the crisis to happen and alternative proposals regarding how future crises might be avoided. Within this context women’s leadership has been positioned as an ethical alternative to styles of masculinist leadership that led to the crisis in the first place. Through a multimodal discursive analysis this article examines the socio-cultural assumptions sustaining the gendering of leadership in the popular press to critically analyse how women’s leadership is represented during the GFC of 2008–2012. Highlighting the media’s portrayal of women’s leadership as a gendered field of activity where different forms of gender capital come into play, we identify three sets of dialectics: women as leaders and women as feminine, women as credible leaders and women as lacking in credibility, and women as victims and women as their own worst enemies. Together, the dialectics work together to form a discursive pattern framed by a male leadership model that narrates the promise of women leaders, yet the disappointment that they are not men. Our study extends understandings regarding how female and feminine forms of gender capital operate dialectically, where the media employs feminine capital to promote women’s positioning as leaders yet also leverages female capital as a constraint. We propose that this understanding can be of value to organizations to understand the impact and influence of discourse on efforts to promote women into leadership roles.

 

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You can read Constructing Women’s Leadership Representation in the UK Press During a Time of Financial Crisis: Gender Capitals and Dialectic Tensions by Carole Elliott and Valerie Stead free for the next 30 days. 

 

High Quality Through Transformational Leadership

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Lotte Bøgh Andersen of Aarhus University, Bente Bjørnholt of VIVE–The Danish National Welfare Research and Analysis Center, Louise Ladegaard Bro of Aarhus University, and Christina Holm-Petersen of VIVE–The Danish National Welfare Research and Analysis Center. They recently published a paper in Public Personnel Management entitled, “Achieving High Quality Through Transformational Leadership: A Qualitative Multilevel Analysis of Transformational Leadership and Perceived Professional Quality,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Andersen reflects on the motivation for pursuing this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

The purpose of many public organizations is to deliver services to citizens and users. As suppliers of (e.g.) daycare, education and elderly care, public organizations play an important role for the welfare and development of individual users – and for the society at large. It is therefore not unreasonable to request high-quality services, or to expect that “good leadership” matters in this regard. But what is professional quality? Does all professionals in an organization have to have the same understanding of “quality” in order for the quality-level to be high? And what can leaders actually do to increase a shared understanding – and high levels – of quality? These are some of the questions that we strive to answer in our research.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

While the understanding and levels of professional quality were central to our paper, we were also interested in the number of employees which a given leader oversees (also known as span of control). This is because many (Danish) leaders in later years have experienced merges, resulting in fewer leaders and broader spans of control. The article thus contributes with knowledge about whether span of control is important for the effects of leadership.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

We wanted to understand the quality concept as seen by the leaders and employees; to explore the daily lives and interaction of leaders and employees; and to examine the potential importance of the number of employees per leader. We therefore decided to conduct interviews and observations in a number of public service institutions with varying sizes of spans of control. We find that shared understandings of quality matters for the levels of quality; but also that this understanding does not necessarily have to be in terms of specific output- or outcome measures. In most of the organizations with high levels of quality, there is a shared focus on the work-processes – such as reflected practice and professional discussions. Furthermore, we see a more shared understandings of professional quality and higher quality when leaders use transformational leadership. This type of leadership is, however, most prevalent in organizations with medium-sized spans of control.

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Assessing Leader Development From a Historical Review of MBA Outcomes

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Angela M. Passarelli of the College of Charleston, Richard E. Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, and Hongguo Wei of the University of Central Oklahoma. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Education entitled “Assessing Leader Development: Lessons From a Historical Review of MBA Outcomes,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Passarelli recounts the events that led to the research and the significance it has to the field:]

JME_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

We began collecting outcome data 30 years ago on our MBA students. We were trying to determine what they were learning that was crucial to their success as managers and leaders – namely, the competencies from performance-validated studies. This particular project was born when we hit a major milestone in the ongoing assessment program – 25 years of data collection. The 25-year mark prompted us to reflect on how the data were being used. Each year we examined the data to determine how students in our full-time MBA program developed emotional and social competencies during the course of their 2-year program. This information provided a basis for modifications to the curriculum. For example, a downward trend in teamwork competency development prompted a pedagogical innovation in which project teams remained the same across multiple courses and were given coaching not just on performance outcomes, but also on how they functioned as a group. While these year-to-year adjustments were helpful, we came to the realization that we were missing potentially important trends that would not be evident by looking at just one or two cohorts at a time. This realization became the motivation for examining trends in competency development from a birds-eye view – across the entire 25-year assessment effort, rather than in small pockets at a time.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research

The most challenging aspect of conducting this research was contending with advances in instrumentation. We improve the tests psychometrically about every 7 years, which helps reliability, model fit and validity but creates comparability challenges in longitudinal research. Although these changes improved our confidence in inferences made on an annual basis, they impeded our ability to analyze the data set in its entirety. To deal with this, we chose to focus on a period of time in which the survey instruments were most similar and conducted graphical trend analysis. This allowed us to see trends over time, such as the saw tooth effect. It also helped us figure out what we should contemplate doing to minimize such threats to learning and positive impact.

Relatedly, collecting data of this nature and for this length of time is difficult. Our assessment program faced a variety of obstacles over its history. Personnel changes led to knowledge gaps whereby informed consent was not administered or data were not appropriately retained. Computer crashes resulted in data loss, and funding deficits threatened financial support for the effort. Having a faculty champion whose intellectual curiosity aligned with the assessment program was critical to overcoming these obstacles.

Were there any surprising findings?

The downturn in competency development during times of leadership upheaval was possibly the most striking trend we saw in the data. The idea that toxicity at the most senior levels of leadership was trickling down to the students had been proposed in earlier research. But this study offered confirmation by showing a rebound in competency development once leadership stability was restored. In the paper we postulate that students were affected by this leadership turbulence via declines in faculty climate and satisfaction. Research designed to directly test this interpretation is still needed. Without knowing the exact degree of negative effects, educators would be well advised to try to mitigate the deleterious effects of toxic leadership on student outcomes.


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The Fear Imagery in Collective Leadership

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Joseph A Raelin of Northeastern University. Dr. Raelin recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “What are you afraid of: Collective leadership and its learning implications,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Raelin reveals the inspiration for conducting this research :]

mlqb_48_3.coverWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Why did I entitle my article: What Are You Afraid Of (in reference to the forthcoming article in Management Learning – now available online – called: “What Are You Afraid Of: Collective Leadership and its Learning Implications”)? I had a sense that the title would be controversial and baiting. The manifest reason to give is that the paper was written for the department of the journal called Provocations to Debate. But the substantive reason, which I would like to expound upon briefly in this blog, is that collective leadership, though a straightforward practice, simply has not found much traction in the annals of leadership, whether they be academic or professional.

On the academic front, although collective leadership may receive some lip service not only to itself but to its cousin perspectives, such as shared, distributed, leaderful, relational, as-practice, or plural forms, it finds few presenters or adherents in academic conferences, such as the Academy of Management or the International Leadership Association, or in the mainstream academic journals. One prospective and important ally, shared leadership, need not be collective since the leadership practice in question may be performed by individuals (such as non-managers) individually and sequentially rather than collectively.

A secondary reason for apprehension of collective leadership among academics might be the methodological burden of tracing the complex set of practices and “supplements” (e.g., interwoven discourses) to those practices that produce leadership. This kind of investigation would be sociological, whilst the easier path is to contend that leadership is psychological and can be measured using standard psychometrics.

When it comes to professional usage, the fear imagery among practitioners suggests that collective leadership is a remote, unstable, and inefficient practice that would leave institutions in chaos. More germane to the Management Learning journal, this form of leadership would expose leadership development practitioners to the unknown. Collective leadership finds a more compatible pedagogical home in collective learning, but the latter requires removing the learner from the classroom where it is thought that most learning occurs. Collective learning would occur far more frequently within the workplace itself as practitioners prospectively engage with one another on real problems, reflect together on their plans and improvisations, and reconstruct their practices according to their own interests. But this kind of learning can be messy and seemingly not as concentrated or efficient as conventional training. Indeed, it can be unpredictable requiring use of such collective activities as on-the-spot reframing, reevaluation of accepted practices, and spontaneous testing of available knowledge.

In a world seemingly obsessed with individual achievement and even bombast, cooler heads may one day prevail as we learn to welcome multiple and contradictory voices through critical dialogue, thus involving everyone in the leadership enterprise. We have little alternative.

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Appreciating the Soul: Reflecting on Leadership

2017-10-19 10_30_31-1056492617710758.pngWe are pleased to feature authors Nancy J. Adler and Andre Delbecq and their innovative article on leadership. Recently Drs. Adler and Delbecq published an article titled “Twenty-First Century Leadership: A Return to Beauty” in the Journal of Management Inquiry. In their article, Adler and Delbecq take the unique approach of combining beautiful artwork with profound writing that invites readers to reflect on themselves and their aspirations for leadership. The article is free to read for a limited amount of time. Read the abstract below:

Adler portraitHighlighting Aristotle’s appreciation that “The soul . . . never thinks without a picture,” this article weaves together art and ideas into an aesthetic encounter with beauty, leadership, and our humanity. It invites reflection based on long-established wisdom traditions as well as drawing on insights from everyday sacred traditions. You are invited not only to engage in reading the words presented on each page but also to stop and to reflect on their meaning. You are offered the power of art to intensify your experience and understanding. The article invites you to enter into a contemplative silence designed to increase your appreciation of your own and others’ humanity while deepening the beauty of your own leadership. Such encounters with art and deep reflection have the power to guide us in rediscovering and creating beauty in our fractured world. Encountering art and wisdom through a deeply reflective process does not dismiss science but, rather, partners with all ways of knowing to go beyond what any one approach can produce on its own. Thus, the overall invitation of the article is to heighten your understanding of yourself, your role, and your aspirations as a 21st-century leader.

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Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Richard Egan of the University of Canberra, Mark Turner and Deborah Blackman of the University of New South Wales. They recently published an article in the Human Resource Development Review, entitled “Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Egan reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

HRDR_72ppiRGB_powerpointIn what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

By measuring employee perceptions of their interpersonal experience with organizational leaders as well as employee affect and levels of intent, this study contributes to bridging the gap between the long-standing research base relating to organizational leadership and the emergent theory of employee work passion. Indeed, scholars such as Albrecht (2010) and Meyer, Gagné, and Parfyonova (2010) have called for research to integrate theories and evidence from adjacent fields. Such integration will allow Human Resource Development scholars and organizational practitioners to develop a deeper understanding of related psychological constructs that contribute to the development of work passion.

In terms of practical implications, by exploring theoretical links between leadership behavior, employee affect and work intentions, we develop and provide a relevant theoretical framework for future discussion, analysis and refinement. With a clearer understanding of how leadership impacts on employee affect and employee work intentions, HRD practitioners can measure the antecedents to and consequences of work passion accurately. Subsequently, appropriate behavioral interventions, such as training and coaching programs that aim to increase leader awareness and skills needed to build workplace environments where employees can choose to be passionate about their work, can be developed.

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