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Leadership Styles as Predictors of Self-reported and Observed Workplace Bullying

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Corresponding author email: helge.hoel@mbs.ac.uk

Abstract

The connection between leadership or management style, on the one hand, and perceptions of bullying, on the other, has received little attention within bullying research. Hence, the aim of this study is to examine the relationship between subordinates' ratings of their immediate superiors' behaviours, and both perceived exposure and claims of observations of bullying at work. Based on a sampling process which emphasized randomness and representativeness, the responses from 5288 respondents in Great Britain taking part in a nationwide study on psychosocial issues at work were included in the analysis. Bullying correlated with all four leadership styles measured. Yet, ‘non-contingent punishment’ emerged as the strongest predictor of self-perceived exposure to bullying, while autocratic leadership was the strongest predictor of observed bullying. Hence, while observers particularly associate bullying with autocratic or tyrannical leader behaviour, targets relate bullying more to non-contingent punishment, i.e. an unpredictable style of leadership, where punishment is meted out or delivered on leaders' own terms, independent of the behaviour of subordinates. In addition, laissez-faire leadership emerged as a predictor of self-reported as well as observed bullying. Thus, leadership styles seem to play an important but complex role in the bullying process.

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