The Proposed Contagion Effect of Hopeful Leaders on the Resiliency of Employees and Organizations

By Norman, Steve; Luthans, Brett et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Proposed Contagion Effect of Hopeful Leaders on the Resiliency of Employees and Organizations


Norman, Steve, Luthans, Brett, Luthans, Kyle, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


Hope has often been misunderstood and underestimated as a potentially powerful human capacity. Traditionally, hope has too often been dismissed as a whimsical and abstract concept that could not be well defined, let alone measured, developed, and applied to the workplace. However, the recent emergence of positive psychology and positive organizational behavior has now clearly shown that hope is a strength that has many important implications for today's embattled organizations--both in terms of effective leadership and employee retention and performance. The purpose of this article is to not only give the background of the positive approach and define hope as an important strength in positive organizational behavior and authentic leadership, but to also propose that hopeful leaders can have a contagion effect on the resiliency of employees and organizations undergoing traumatic change.

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Recently there has been considerable focus on the negative events swirling around the business world. Although the stock market has held fairly well, there is still much skepticism, suspicion, and downright negativity on the part of employees, customers and the general public concerning today's business organizations. The Enron's and Worldcom's are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg of the moral decay of today's organizations. In addition, companies are still downsizing or "right sizing" at alarming rates. What do these events do to the hope of today's organizational leaders and their associates? How can leaders and their associates stay hopeful where trust is tested to ever higher limits? Can leaders maintain their hope and transfer that hope to their people through some type of contagion effect? If so, what is the benefit of such hope? Can organizational leaders develop hope within themselves and their associates and as a result enhance overall organizational resiliency?

This paper attempts to answer these questions by first providing a theoretical grounding from positive psychology, positive organizational behavior, and authentic leadership, then carefully define both hope and resiliency within this positive theoretical framework, and finally propose that hope can have a contagion effect through organizational leaders to associates and in turn result in resiliency at the employee and overall organizational levels. Figure 1 shows our proposed contagion model for resiliency and our seven propositions. Practical implications and future research needs conclude the article.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Introduction

In these turbulent times, resiliency at the employee and organization levels has taken on urgent importance. Resiliency as a psychological and organizational strength is receiving increased attention by both organizational behavior scholars and professional managers. Both have indicated there may be a resilience gap. That is, as the world around us changes more quickly then ever before, employees, leaders, and overall organizations are struggling to keep up and maintain their resilience. This is not only the case with companies that have been on the fringes of success, but it is also occurring with companies that have been successful over the years such as Disney, Motorola, and Ford to name but a few of the most visible. In addition, large organizations that we might have once thought of as immune to such forces are failing at accelerative rates. We all know that of the 100 largest firms a century ago only a couple are left, but as Hamel and Valikangas (2003) recently pointed out, of the 20 largest U.S. bankruptcies in the past 20 years, half of these have occurred in the past two years alone.

These are very telling statistics that highlight the severe challenges facing today's organizational leaders, and the very survival of organizations. To weather this "perfect storm" resiliency is needed at all levels--individual employees, leaders themselves, and overall organizations (Youssef & Luthans, 2003).

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