Leader Inconsistency, Subjective Attitude Ambivalence and Follower Outcomes
Leadership research has a long and impressive history in identifying how followers are affected by their leaders’ behaviours. Such research, however, has tended to study one leadership “style” at a time, which does not answer the question of the effects of leader inconsistencies on followers. The study of attitude ambivalence has the potential to meaningfully enhance our understanding of how followers view and react to their leaders. In the current research, I consider how inconsistencies in leaders’ behaviours and attributes influence followers’ attitudes toward their leaders and their own well-being. To do so, I draw on the work stress framework, the attitude literature, implicit leadership theories and empirical evidence. Results across three studies using different methodologies (experimental and survey), different samples (full-time employees and students) and different operationalizations of leader inconsistency (i.e., leader behaviours and leader attributes) provide support for a conditional indirect effect such that leaders’ inconsistent behaviours and attributes predict an array of follower outcomes through the mediating effect of followers’ subjective ambivalence. In Study 3, leader gender moderated the relationship between leaders’ perceived warmth and competence, and followers’ subjective ambivalence, with the impact of leader inconsistencies being more pronounced for female than male leaders. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.