Exploring A Shortcut To Leadership

Five Minutes Every Morning Can Make You A Better Leader

Oct 18, 2018
As Featured In 
Journal of Applied Psychology

Being a leader is hard. It’s exhausting, emotionally taxing and time-consuming to juggle individual to-do lists and countless meetings, all while managing people and coordinating with other leaders. This is why many leaders report feeling unmotivated at work. New research from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business offers a way to keep leaders energized and engaged. It’s so simple that leaders can start right now (and, no, it’s not more caffeine).

The key is for leaders take a few minutes each morning to contemplate and write a list of three things that make them “good” leaders, says researcher Trevor Foulk, a Maryland Smith assistant professor of management and organization. The affirmations must be related to one’s leadership abilities and can include things like personal qualities or traits, specific skills, achievements or capabilities. For example, “I am a good leader because I’m willing to take a stand in the face of injustice,” or, “I am a good leader because I helped my team meet deliverables during a crisis.”

Foulk and his fellow researchers Klodiana Lanaj and Amir Erez, both from the University of Florida, conducted two studies to test the method with managers and executives. They found leaders who started their days thinking and writing about aspects of themselves that made them good leaders were more engaged, felt less depleted and were more influential at work.

The key to the exercise is in the self-reflection, says Foulk. As part of the study, he and his co-authors also had leaders reflect and write about daily activities unrelated to their leadership abilities, but they saw no boost to their energy and engagement from those efforts. However, on days when they wrote about their leadership capabilities, the energizing effect stretched beyond the workday into the evening, suggesting those leaders felt more positive at home, too. The researchers found the effect was stronger for employees who hold leadership positions within their organization — they self-identify as leaders, and thus were able to get more benefits from interventions that harness that.

Keeping leaders energized is essential because they have such an effect on their followers, says Foulk. Employees suffer if their manager is too depleted to help them thrive. And when units within an organization are lagging, the productivity of the whole organization can suffer.

This research also provides advice for employees who aren’t leaders. Non-leaders can make a point of emphasizing to their leaders the things that make them “good” leaders — such as saying thank you for good advice or reminding them of their influence on their subordinates. This can help those leaders stay more motivated and influence the well-being of the whole team.  

Read more: “Energizing Leaders Via Self-Reflection: A Within-Person Field Experiment” is featured in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized in Harvard Business Review.

About the Author(s)

Trevor Foulk

Dr. Trevor Foulk is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.

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