When the romance is over: Follower perspectives of aversive leadership

Michelle C. Bligh, Jeffrey C. Kohles, Craig L. Pearce, Joseph E. Justin, John F. Stovall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


While leadership is indisputably one of the most pervasive topics in our society, the vast majority of existing research has focused on leadership as a positive force. Taking a follower-centric approach to the study of leadership, we integrate research on the Romance of Leadership and the dark side of leadership by examining followers' perceptions of aversive leadership in the context of public high schools. Although Meindl, Ehrlich, and Dukerich (1985) demonstrated that the Romance of Leadership also includes the overattribution of negative outcomes to leaders, subsequent research has failed to explore the implications of this potentially darker side of romanticising leaders. Specifically, we examine perceptions of principals' aversive leadership and traditional affective, behavioral, and performance outcomes of followers in a sample of 342 dyads. Followers assessed their principals' leadership behaviors and self-rated their levels of job satisfaction, self-efficacy, and resistance, while principals assessed their followers' citizenship behaviors, complaining behaviors, and job performance. Results show that perceptions of aversive leadership are positively related to follower resistance and negatively related to followers' job satisfaction. In addition, a usefulness analysis revealed that follower-rated variables were significantly related to perceptions of aversive leadership above and beyond leader-rated variables, suggesting that the relationship between negative outcomes and aversive leadership may be more constructed than real. In sum, the tendency to romanticise leadership may also lead to a proclivity to readily misattribute or overattribute blame to leadership as a convenient scapegoat for negative outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-557
Number of pages30
JournalApplied Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology


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