Maree Roche (Waikato Institute of Technology) and Jarrod Haar (University of Waikato) discussed this literature in a Leadership & Organizational Development Journal article in 2013. Here are some insights from their review:
- A leader’s aspirations can “enhance or detract from leader development” and affect ability to influence others (p. 515).
- Positive leaders are sustained by aspirations that facilitate well-being.
- Leaders reaching higher levels often become “more outwardly successful” but have less well-being.
- Intrinsic aspirations (relationships, health, community, growth) probably are related more strongly to need satisfactions than extrinsic aspirations.
- Strong extrinsic aspirations (wealth, fame, image) are related to lower self-esteem, quality of relationships, life satisfaction and “greater depression, stress, anxiety” and prejudice” (p. 517).
- Leader burnout negatively influences employees resulting in lower organizational performance.
- Emotional exhaustion has been linked to lower job satisfaction, decreased job performance, and higher turnover.
- Cynicism, that is “feelings of frustration . . . disillusionment . . . negative feelings toward and distrust of a person, group . . . or institution,” have been linked to feelings of unfairness, distrust, lowered commitment, and “decreased job/life satisfaction” (p. 519).
- “Extrinsic aspirations were significantly and positively correlated with job burnout” (p. 515).
- “Intrinsic aspirations were significantly and negatively correlated” with job burnout (p. 515).
- “The nature of life aspirations . . . can influence the well-being of people at work” (p. 524).
1. It is important for leaders to know themselves, to reflect not only on what they want their organizations to achieve but also what they want to achieve personally. Although Roche et al. do not use the term, I see this as a question of motivation. Are we motivated mostly internally by intrinsic rewards (meaningful work, good relationships, service to others) or externally by extrinsic rewards (e.g., compensation, fame, others’ opinions of us)? If you have been in the workplace for a while, you have probably seen leaders who were perceived one way or the other by employees.
2. Do you know your aspirations? Some people go through life without goals or serious thought to what they want out of life. Others set goals and strive to achieve. Some of these goals are extrinsic; some, intrinsic. Most of us probably have intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations. Perhaps what is important is how these aspirations play out in our day-to-day interactions, how they affect our decisions, our relationship with others.
3. The great psychologist Joseph Rychlak would not have found these findings difficult to understand. We come at life and give it meaning. Our aspirations affect how we come at life.
4. As much as I admire this study, I think it only hints at a potential goldmine of programmatic research. As the authors suggested, the results may be different in collectivistic societies such as in East Asia. Likewise, I think it is important to note that leaders in this study were defined as in many leader studies, basically managers in leadership positions. My guess is that authentic and servant leaders would be high on intrinsic aspirations.
Roche, M., & Haar, J. M. (2013). Leaders life aspirations and job burnout: a self-determination theory approach. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 34(6), 515-531.
Image courtesy of STS-116 Shuttle Crew & NASA.