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How Leaders Regulate Emotions Experienced During Organization Change Events

aGriffith Business School, Australia
bGriffith University, Australia

Emotions During Times of Disruption

ISBN: 978-1-80382-838-1, eISBN: 978-1-80382-837-4

Publication date: 20 January 2023



Organizational change is endemic and can be disruptive for leaders' emotions and subsequent behaviors. While many studies focus on employees' reactions to change, there are few that focus on leader responses to change. The focus of our study is on leaders. In this chapter, we outline a qualitative study examining a leader's emotion regulation during organizational change. The aim of our research is to better understand the emotions leaders experience during organizational change and what emotion regulation strategies they enact to support positive outcomes.


Data were collected through interviews with 25 middle and senior management who were involved in organizational change at the time of interviews. The day reconstruction method was used to evoke and more accurately capture leaders' memories of an emerging or actual change event, the emotions they experienced, and the emotional regulation strategies utilized. Conceptualizing the change as a disruptive affective event, we asked participants to recall scenarios related to the change that triggered an emotional response and drew on the process model of emotion regulation (Gross, 1998a) to interpret these data. To round off the interviews, we captured the leader's personal outcomes from the emotion regulation strategies enacted.


Based on the data, leaders managing organizational change processes described the experience as a series of disruptive affective events that were more often associated with experiences of negatively valanced emotions (compared to positive emotions). Further, leaders were most likely to respond to these affective disruptions with the specific emotion regulation strategy of suppression (i.e., masking negative feelings with neutral or positive affective displays). A major reason leaders report responding with suppression is to maintain their professionalism, even if this undermines their health and well-being.


Qualitative research seeking to understand a leader's emotion experiences during organizational change is rare. These findings provide a more nuanced understanding of the affective nature of leaders' experiences and responses when managing the disruptive processes of change. This knowledge can assist organizations to develop processes and tools to support leaders dealing with the emotional realities of change to enable better outcomes for themselves and their followers.



Hudson, A.J., Jordan, P.J. and Troth, A.C. (2023), "How Leaders Regulate Emotions Experienced During Organization Change Events", Troth, A.C., Ashkanasy, N.M. and Humphrey, R.H. (Ed.) Emotions During Times of Disruption (Research on Emotion in Organizations, Vol. 18), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 239-260.



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