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Research to Practice: Leadership Identity and Behaviors from Unplugging


As a coach, you know that many leaders are conflicted when it comes to truly disconnecting from work in the evenings.

There is an incongruence between:

  1. cognitively recognizing that it is important to have healthy boundaries between work time and non-work time, and
  2. a persistent underlying belief1 that causes them to check their email after hours, actively work to catch up or get ahead so that no one is waiting on them to proceed, or to otherwise allow their mind to stay on their work.

A recent study provides some additional evidence that you can use to help your clients’ shift their mental model from “I’m a better leader because I do what it takes every day” to “I’m a better leader because I take time to recharge every day”.

1The belief comes in a variety of self-sabotaging flavors that I’m sure you’re skilled at identifying.

The Importance of Leader Recovery for Leader Identity and Behavior (Lanaj, Gabriel, & Jennings 2023) finds that on nights when leaders were able to disconnect mentally and behaviorally from work, the next day:

  • they were more energized and felt more connected to their leadership role;
  • their staff viewed them as more effective leaders.

Conceptual Overview

This study focuses on two competing after-work experiences:

  • psychological detachment, which refers to mentally switching of from work;
  • affect-focused rumination, which refers to intrusive and repetitive affect-laden thoughts about work.

The first experience helps leaders to feel more energized the next workday while the second contributes to them feeling depleted.

This study also explores two observable activities/behaviors of leader identity:

  • transformational behaviors, which refers to devotion to the development and well-being of staff;
  • enacted power, which refers to the ability to exert meaningful influence on the daily tasks of staff.

Both are positive leader-congruent activities (for both leader and staff) and are hypothesized to be negatively associated with depletion. That is, the more depleted a leader is, the less we expect to see these two behaviors.

Study Process

100 leaders and their staff were recruited for this study in 2019. They agreed to participate in daily surveys for 10 days.

Leaders rated their leader identity, psychological detachment, and affect-focused rumination using survey instruments from previously published research.

Staff rated their respective leaders on transformational behaviors and enacted power using survey instruments from previously published research.

Apply this Research in Your Coaching Practice

  1. Share the research finding as part of your next social media post, email, or workshop about the importance of disconnecting from work at night in order to promote both personal well-being and leadership effectiveness.

  2. Use the research finding to help shift clients’ mental models about effective leadership.

  3. Introduce your client to the term affect-focused rumination as a way of naming and taming.

Research Citation: Klodiana Lanaj, Allison S. Gabriel, Remy E. Jennings. The importance of leader recovery for leader identity and behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2023; DOI: 10.1037/apl0001092

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