Author(s), Title and Publication

Guenter, H., Schreurs, B., & van Emmerik, IJ. H. (2017). What does it take to break the silence in teams: Authentic leadership and/or proactive followership? Applied Psychology: An International Review, 66(1), 49-77. DOI: 10.1111/apps.12076


While leadership may help break the silence in teams, this may not be equally true for all employees. Behavioral plasticity theory suggests that individuals differ in the extent to which they respond to social influences, such as their leader’s behavior. Using this theory, the authors proposed that authentic leadership (i.e., a set of leadership behaviors through which leaders enact their true selves) reduces silence (i.e., an intentional form of non-communication that employees engage in although they have something to say) and motivates speaking up in employees low on proactive personality. On the other hand, the researchers also proposed that authentic leadership hardly affects employees who are proactive by nature, because proactive employees are less susceptible to social influences.

Using data obtained through electronic questionnaires from 223 employees (nested in 45 work teams) in organizations located in the Netherlands and Belgium, the study found that authentic leadership reduced silence in employees with low or moderate proactive personalities. However, authentic leadership is unrelated to silence among highly proactive team members. Employees who were proactive by nature spoke up regardless of the level of authentic leadership behavior displayed by team leaders; employees low on proactive personality, instead, were more likely to speak up when led by an authentic leader. The authors’ cross-industry study suggests that the beneficial effects of authentic leadership are not exclusive to specific industries.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) be aware that authentic leadership will be more impactful when working with less proactive employees as highly proactive employees tend to speak up regardless of authentic leadership, and (2) create teams in which responsibilities, priorities, and authority structures are clear to encourage voice among employees who are less proactive.

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