Research Topic

Fifty Shades of Grey: Exploring the Dark Sides of Leadership and Followership

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About this Research Topic

Researchers and practitioners alike have focused their attention on explaining how and when positive personality traits, processes, and perceptions explain leader-follower relationships. Recently, however, perhaps in the wake of various scandals involving misbehavior of leaders and rank-and-file employees (e.g., Volkswagen emissions scandal, Libor manipulation), more attention has gone out to less positive or even dark sides of organizational functioning. The impact of dark-side traits, such as the dark triad of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, as well as negative perceptions and interactions between leaders and followers is becoming increasingly evident. Recent research has shed light on how these variables relate to organizational outcome and process variables, including negative relationships with desirable aspects (e.g., follower well-being, performance) and positive relationships with undesirable ones (e.g., follower counterproductivity, malicious envy). At the same time, important avenues for research remain unexplored to date.

Given the importance of the theme, and the relative lack of insight into it, we believe a Research Topic is warranted and timely. Contributions to the Research Topic could include empirical, theoretical, or methodological papers focusing on dark sides of personality, processes, and perceptions and how they relate to leader-follower relationships. There are four main areas of interests to this Research Topic, for which we list sample contributions:

1. The shades of leadership and followership:
We have too little in-depth knowledge about the “shades” of negative leadership and followership. For example, research needs to explore potential upsides of negatively connoted traits and processes (e.g., leader narcissism for social identity building) as well as downsides of aspects that are generally seen as positive.
• Personality traits, including dark sides of positive traits (e.g., Big Five) and bright sides of negative traits (e.g. Dark Triad, sociopaths), in leader-follower relationships
• Negative leadership styles (e.g., exploitative, destructive, abusive, toxic) and their negative as well as potentially also positive consequences for leaders and/or followers
• Paradoxes of negative leadership and positive/negative leadership as simultaneous processes (e.g., leader and follower authenticity)
• Positive leadership styles (e.g., authentic, servant, ethical) and their potentially negative consequences for leaders and/or followers (e.g., emotional exhaustion)
• The dark side of followership and how it affects leaders as well as organizational functioning (e.g., collusion, resistance)

2. Mechanisms and process views:
We are missing differentiated insights into the underlying mechanisms of dark-side leadership and followership and the predictors of negative leadership or followership.
• Leaders’ and followers’ traits and subsequent perceptions of each other (e.g., self-esteem variability, ego depletion)
• Negative emotions (e.g., distrust, envy) in interaction processes between leaders and followers
• Leaders’ and followers’ values (e.g., self-transcendence) and behavioral (in-)consistency

3. Contexts of dark-side leadership and followership:
There is a need to better understand the context which gives rise to dark-side leadership and
followership.
• Variables that explain under which conditions leaders and/or followers express their dark traits (e.g., organizational climate, culture, norms)
• Moderating conditions (e.g., organizational climate, contexts, tasks) that render dark-side processes positive and/or bright-side processes negative or ineffective (e.g., leaders’ emotional exhaustion, change, resistance)

4. Methodological advances:
We advocate for more fine-grained methods to explore dark-side phenomena in organizations
over time and for the use of methodological approaches beyond traditional field surveys.
• New methodological approaches to measuring dark-side leadership and followership, including dark-side traits, processes, and perceptions
• Development over time (e.g., diary studies, growth modeling) and the potential for negative leadership or followership to turn into positive leadership or followership and vice versa
• Mixed method approaches including qualitative and quantitative data as well as correlational and causal designs (e.g., experimental studies)
• Approaches that could be helpful in mitigating the negative effects of dark-sides traits, processes and perceptions


Keywords: dark side of organizations, dark triad of personality, dysfunctional workplace relations, negative followership


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Researchers and practitioners alike have focused their attention on explaining how and when positive personality traits, processes, and perceptions explain leader-follower relationships. Recently, however, perhaps in the wake of various scandals involving misbehavior of leaders and rank-and-file employees (e.g., Volkswagen emissions scandal, Libor manipulation), more attention has gone out to less positive or even dark sides of organizational functioning. The impact of dark-side traits, such as the dark triad of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, as well as negative perceptions and interactions between leaders and followers is becoming increasingly evident. Recent research has shed light on how these variables relate to organizational outcome and process variables, including negative relationships with desirable aspects (e.g., follower well-being, performance) and positive relationships with undesirable ones (e.g., follower counterproductivity, malicious envy). At the same time, important avenues for research remain unexplored to date.

Given the importance of the theme, and the relative lack of insight into it, we believe a Research Topic is warranted and timely. Contributions to the Research Topic could include empirical, theoretical, or methodological papers focusing on dark sides of personality, processes, and perceptions and how they relate to leader-follower relationships. There are four main areas of interests to this Research Topic, for which we list sample contributions:

1. The shades of leadership and followership:
We have too little in-depth knowledge about the “shades” of negative leadership and followership. For example, research needs to explore potential upsides of negatively connoted traits and processes (e.g., leader narcissism for social identity building) as well as downsides of aspects that are generally seen as positive.
• Personality traits, including dark sides of positive traits (e.g., Big Five) and bright sides of negative traits (e.g. Dark Triad, sociopaths), in leader-follower relationships
• Negative leadership styles (e.g., exploitative, destructive, abusive, toxic) and their negative as well as potentially also positive consequences for leaders and/or followers
• Paradoxes of negative leadership and positive/negative leadership as simultaneous processes (e.g., leader and follower authenticity)
• Positive leadership styles (e.g., authentic, servant, ethical) and their potentially negative consequences for leaders and/or followers (e.g., emotional exhaustion)
• The dark side of followership and how it affects leaders as well as organizational functioning (e.g., collusion, resistance)

2. Mechanisms and process views:
We are missing differentiated insights into the underlying mechanisms of dark-side leadership and followership and the predictors of negative leadership or followership.
• Leaders’ and followers’ traits and subsequent perceptions of each other (e.g., self-esteem variability, ego depletion)
• Negative emotions (e.g., distrust, envy) in interaction processes between leaders and followers
• Leaders’ and followers’ values (e.g., self-transcendence) and behavioral (in-)consistency

3. Contexts of dark-side leadership and followership:
There is a need to better understand the context which gives rise to dark-side leadership and
followership.
• Variables that explain under which conditions leaders and/or followers express their dark traits (e.g., organizational climate, culture, norms)
• Moderating conditions (e.g., organizational climate, contexts, tasks) that render dark-side processes positive and/or bright-side processes negative or ineffective (e.g., leaders’ emotional exhaustion, change, resistance)

4. Methodological advances:
We advocate for more fine-grained methods to explore dark-side phenomena in organizations
over time and for the use of methodological approaches beyond traditional field surveys.
• New methodological approaches to measuring dark-side leadership and followership, including dark-side traits, processes, and perceptions
• Development over time (e.g., diary studies, growth modeling) and the potential for negative leadership or followership to turn into positive leadership or followership and vice versa
• Mixed method approaches including qualitative and quantitative data as well as correlational and causal designs (e.g., experimental studies)
• Approaches that could be helpful in mitigating the negative effects of dark-sides traits, processes and perceptions


Keywords: dark side of organizations, dark triad of personality, dysfunctional workplace relations, negative followership


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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