All you need is love? Investigating leadership from leaders’ attachment experiences in close relationships
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The influence of Bowlby’s attachment theory on leadership research is growing. Most studies support the view that leaders’ attachment style, mirroring their experiences with significant others (e.g., parents) early in life, predict important follower outcomes and quality of the leader-follower relationship. However, this field is in its early stages, and more knowledge is needed in order to understand how attachment insecurities affect leadership processes and outcomes. Furthermore, given the context-sensitive nature of the attachment system, there is need for research investigating under which conditions the negative consequences of attachment insecurities arise. This dissertation addresses these research gaps empirically. First, all three studies investigate the principle of attachment system activation. The results support what could be expected from theory, namely that when leaders experience distress, their attachment insecurities become more pronounced, which in turn influences leadership negatively. Second, two mediators connecting attachment style to follower outcomes are explored: caregiving orientation and implicit followership theories. Although the results favor these variables being significant mediators, more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. Taken together, this dissertation contributes to the literature by demonstrating the importance of keeping in mind the full width of Bowlby’s theory when studying leadership through the lens of attachment. Practical implications, limitations, and future research directions are discussed.