The ongoing suffering may be because none of these steps directly address one of the biggest impacts on your well-being: your manager. Now a study pinpoints the specific leadership styles that make the biggest difference. It also revealed that increasing positive management tactics can be just as important as minimizing poor leadership.
This research, published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, outlines the findings of an analysis of 53 studies that tested how leadership style influences employee mental health. By analyzing the results of several studies, this meta-analysis provides much stronger evidence than any single study. Previous research had made the connection between leadership style and mental health, but this new effort goes further: it’s the first to explain it which styles make the biggest difference. The researchers looked at both the positive impact of helpful styles and the negative effects of unhelpful styles.
The scientists compared seven different leadership styles. One of the most common is transactional, where bosses focus on consistently rewarding and punishing people based on performance. Another common style is laissez-faire, in which managers largely leave employees to fend for themselves. Of the seven styles, the analysis found two to have the most significant effects on employee well-being: transformational and destructive.
Managers who adopted a transformational leadership style had the greatest positive impact on their employees’ mental health. First defined in the early 1970s, transformational leaders inspire others by outlining a vision, encouraging team members to think creatively, and tailoring their approach to the individual needs of each employee. This style had by far the most positive results, as measured by employee reports of their own well-being. It even beat out the leader-member exchange approach, in which the manager and employee have a close relationship, and the relationship and task-oriented leadership styles, which emphasize support and efficiency, respectively.
On the other hand, the researchers also found that destructive leadership styles, in which bosses display aggressive and hostile behavior, have the greatest negative impact on employees’ mental health. While anyone who has worked for a difficult manager would find this unsurprising, the analysis did contain a twist. In many psychological studies, scientists have found that “evil is stronger than good” in most people’s minds. People generally expect a truly horrible boss to be far more damaging than an inspirational leader. The researchers therefore expected that the negative effects of a bad leader would be substantially greater than the positive effects of a good one. Instead, they found that transformational leadership was just as powerful in explaining positive mental health outcomes as destructive leadership was in explaining negative outcomes.
This has powerful implications. It means that making average leaders better (particularly by helping them be more transformational) can have just as positive an impact as minimizing destructive leadership. To be clear, companies should work to eliminate toxic behavior from their managers. But the findings suggest that increasing the number of transformational leaders should Also held in high esteem by companies. That could be just as effective as donating money to programs like stress reduction resources and mindfulness. Since employees often use those tools to deal with their average or destructive managers, improving leadership through training, for example, could be a more powerful intervention.
Helping managers identify specific actions and attitudes to adopt or avoid will improve employee mental health. Better management will lead to a healthier organizational culture overall, one that reinforces what excellent leadership looks like and what kind of behavior will not be tolerated. And that change can start a virtuous circle: Over time, a healthy culture attracts better employees and better leaders.
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This is an opinion and analysis article and the views of the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.