The hot and the cold in destructive leadership: Modeling the role of arousal in explaining leader antecedents and follower consequences of abusive supervision versus exploitative leadership

Franziska Emmerling*, Claudia Peus, Jill Lobbestael

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Due to its devastating consequences, research needs to theoretically and empirically disentangle different sub-types of destructive leadership. Based on concepts derived from aggression research distinguishing re- and proactive aggression, we provide a process model differentiating abusive supervision and exploitative leadership. High versus low arousal negative affect is installed as the central mediating factor determining (1) whether perceived goal-blockage (leadership antecedents) leads to abusive supervision versus exploitative leadership and (2) whether a specific leadership behavior leads to active versus passive follower behavior (leadership consequence). Further, theoretical anchoring of individual and contextual moderators onto the model's process paths is provided and exemplary hypotheses for concrete moderation effects are deduced. Based on the provided process model, we highlight four recommendations to facilitate process-based construct differentiation in future research on destructive leadership. To precisely understand the differences and commonalities in different forms of destructive leadership will ultimately enable custom-tailored inter- and prevention. Plain Language Summary Negative leadership—also named “destructive” leadership—has very bad effects on followers and organizations. There are not just one, but many forms of destructive leadership and it is important to understand where different sub-types come from (i.e., to understand their antecedents) and which specific effect they have (i.e., to understand their consequences). In this paper, we focus on better understanding two forms of destructive leadership, namely abusive supervision and exploitative leadership. These two forms are similar to the two main forms of aggression. Abusive supervision is similar to reactive aggression, an impulsive “hot blooded” form of aggression. Exploitative leadership is similar to proactive aggression, a premeditated “cold blooded” form of aggression. We explain the parallels between the two forms of aggression and the two forms of leadership and provide a model which allows to predict when one versus the other form of leadership occurs and to which follower behavior they lead. An important factor in this model is the physiological characteristic of the emotional reaction to an event (i.e., arousal). An emotional reaction can be high in arousal; for instance, anger is a high arousal negative emotional reaction. On the contrary, boredom, for instance, is a low arousal negative emotional reaction. Dependent on whether both a leader and a follower react to a negative event (e.g., not getting what they want, being treated badly by others) with high or low arousal, their behavior will be different. We explain how this mechanism works and how it can help us to better predict leaders' and followers' behavior. We also outline how individual characteristics of the leader and follower and characteristics of their environment and context interact with arousal and their behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-278
Number of pages42
JournalOrganizational Psychology Review
Issue number3
Early online date1 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • destructive leadership
  • abusive supervision
  • consequences
  • antecedents
  • negative leadership
  • exploitative leadership
  • arousal
  • affect


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