Time pressure undermines transformational leadership

Research: Feeling squeezed at work reduces your capacity to bring the best out of others.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 31 Jan 2020

We live in an era when leaders are expected to be transformational - exhibiting a set of behaviours that draw out the very best out from their people, rather than simply directing them in accordance with a pre-conceived strategy.

Transformational leaders motivate team members through individual coaching, inspire them by giving meaning to their work and serving as role models, and stimulate them by challenging beliefs and assumptions. 

But we also live in an era when mobile technology and globalisation have increased the burdens on leaders’ time. These two aspects of modern leadership do not sit well together.  

A study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology has demonstrated that increased time pressure actively undermines transformational leadership behaviours.

Researchers Edina Doci, Joeri Hofmans, Sanne Nijs and Timothy Judge asked 42 private sector leaders in Belgium to rate how far they felt under time pressure, twice a day for 10 days. 

They also asked them questions such as “to what degree were you communicating a clear and positive vision?” to assess their self-perception of transformational leadership behaviours, as well as asking them to rate their capacity to cope with life’s challenges (‘self-core evaluations’).

Although the study did not find a direct relationship between time poverty and transformational leadership, it did find an indirect, curvilinear link via changes in leaders’ self-core evaluations.

Essentially, when people felt under above-average time pressure, their perceived ability to cope suffered, which in turn tended to reduce their transformational leadership behaviours. And the more the pressure was perceived to be above average, the more extreme the negative effect on those transformational leadership traits was.

This may seem fairly obvious - time pressure creates stress, and stress tends to make people keep their heads down and focus on their own work, rather than on others. 

And while the study’s sample is small, it does give leaders pause for thought - there may be a business case for putting your phone away or trimming back that meeting schedule.

Image credit: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

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