Topic: Transformational Leadership and Employee Engagement

Author(s), Title and Publication

Moss, S. (2009). Cultivating the Regulatory Focus of Followers to Amplify Their Sensitivity to Transformational Leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(3), 241-259.


Transformational leaders attempt to instill a sense of pride in their employees; understand employees’ needs, desires and concerns; recognize their contributions; encourage them to challenge conventions; and propose an inspiring and unifying direction or vision for the future. According to the regulatory focus theory, transformational leadership (TL) might inspire only followers who pursue aspirations or gains (i.e., a promotion focus), but not those who focus on responsibilities or no-losses (i.e., a prevention focus). Furthermore, followers may focus their attention on aspirations only when they experience a sense of security.

This study examined the relationship between TL and employee engagement, and proposed that TL inspired employees by promoting a sense of security (self-esteem, attachment system, and belief in a just world), which in turn fostered a promotion focus. In the survey, 160 employees evaluated their supervisors’ leadership style, their own self-esteem, attachment style, belief in a just world, work engagement, and regulatory focus (the extent to which one person focuses on aspirations or obligations).

Results suggested that employees working for visionary leaders were more energetic, especially when they adopted a promotion focus, which was related to factors that confer a sense of security. Specifically, employees concerned with high-level gains had a high self-esteem (knowledge, skills, and strengths that individuals feel they have acquired), a low level of avoidant attachment (assuming surrounding people are unsupportive and untrustworthy), and the belief in a just world. Anxious attachment (perceiving self as unworthy of love and anticipating rejection and exclusion) was not significantly related to promotion focus. Those factors contributing to employees’ sense of security were associated with their supervisor’s leadership style. That means self-esteem was positively related to the inspirational communication of leaders, intellectual stimulation was positively related to both avoidant and anxious attachment, and personal belief in a just world was positively related to personal recognition.

Implications for Practice

Leaders could foster a promotion focus by providing emotional support and recognizing employees’ contributions,  2) communicate an inspiring vision with a promotion focus, while cultivating trusting relationships with the employees who adopt a prevention focus; and 3) introduce reward systems that reinforce gains but don’t penalize employees who focus more on obligations than aspirations, and encourage them to pursue long-term goals.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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