Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact of leaders’ attachment orientation and social self-efficacy on the enactment of abusive supervision. Design/methodology/approach: Data were obtained from a sample of leader-subordinate dyads (n=114), and were collected using a Panel Service. Findings: The results show that a Close/Depend attachment orientation was negatively associated with abusive supervision, while an Anxious attachment orientation was positively associated with abusive supervision. Social self-efficacy mediated these relationships. Research limitations/implications: The results generate a deeper understanding of the etiology of destructive leadership. Applying attachment theory to the study of abusive supervision also offers a new theoretical perspective on potential precursors of this behavior. Practical implications: The findings suggest organizations might benefit from attempts to alter leaders’ destructive attachment orientations, and by extension, reduce their abusive behavior. It may also be possible to reduce the occurrence of abusive supervision by implementing leadership development initiatives aimed at enhancing leaders’ confidence in their social skills. Social implications: By identifying several potential precursors to abusive supervision, this study highlights possible points of intervention to combat a form of leadership that is linked with employee suffering. Thus, the findings can be used to help improve the working lives of those who are affected by this destructive workplace behavior. Originality/value: Until now, research has not considered leaders’ attachment orientation as an antecedent to abusive supervision, nor has it explored the meditational role of social self-efficacy. The use of leader-follower dyads in this study also helps reduce issues related to social desirability biases and common method variance.

, , , , ,
Journal of Managerial Psychology
Sprott School of Business

L. Robertson, J. (Jennifer), Dionisi, A, & Barling, J. (Julian). (2018). Linking attachment theory to abusive supervision. Journal of Managerial Psychology. doi:10.1108/JMP-11-2017-0399