Is One the Loneliest Number? A Within-Person Examination of the Adaptive and Maladaptive Consequences of Leader Loneliness at Work

Allison S. Gabriel, Klodiana Lanaj, Remy E. Jennings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Although leaders’ daily work is inherently relational, it is possible that leaders can feel lonely and isolated from followers. Integrating theoretical ideas from regulatory loop models of loneliness with evolutionary perspectives of loneliness, we posit that daily leader loneliness (i.e., feelings of isolation stemming from one’s followers) may prompt harmful self-perpetuating as well as beneficial selfcorrecting cycles of loneliness at work via different rumination processes. We expect that leader loneliness will relate to 2 forms of rumination after work—maladaptive affect-focused rumination and adaptive problem-solving pondering. We expect that each form of rumination will hinder or facilitate next-day work engagement and helping, which will then matter for subsequent leader loneliness. In a 10-day experience sampling investigation of 86 leaders, we found that daily leader loneliness exhibits a self-perpetuating pattern via affect-focused rumination because this type of rumination reduces next-day work engagement and helping. At the same time, daily leader loneliness exhibits a self-correcting pattern via problem-solving pondering, as this type of forward-thinking rumination facilitates work engagement and helping the next day. Furthermore, leader self-efficacy enhances the extent to which problem-solving pondering occurs when leaders feel lonely. In a supplemental experience sampling study with leaders and followers, we further show that daily leader loneliness is negatively related to followers’ perceptions of leader effectiveness above and beyond more generalized loneliness. In summary, our work sheds theoretical and empirical light on the complex nature of leader loneliness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1517-1538
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2021


  • Experience sampling methods
  • Helping
  • Leaders
  • Loneliness
  • Rumination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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