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Self-regulation and Leadership

Social Processes Lab




Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research


Leaders' behavior is one of the keys to organizations' success, because it strongly influences subordinates' motivation and performance. Two strategies have proven to be especially efficient in affecting subordinates' motivation: 
(a) Transformational leadership behavior (TFLB): setting visionary goals and providing subordinates with the freedom to plan goal-striving according to their needs 
(b) Transactional leadership behavior (TALB): setting clear rules for exchange and monitoring subordinates' errors closely.
Research on the preconditions of these two types of behavior in leaders is scarce, especially concerning the effects of leaders' motivation. The project tested a self-regulation model of leadership behavior, which aims at predicting TFLB and TALB based on contemporary motivational theories. The core concept of the introduced model is self-regulatory focus (Higgins, 1997). Regulatory focus theory distinguishes between a focus on ideals and potential gains driven by eagerness needs (promotion focus), which is expected to elicit TFLB, and a focus on obligations and potential losses driven by security needs (prevention focus), which is predicted to elicit TALB behavior. The project studied the impact of regulatory focus on leadership behavior and its underlying processes. Moreover, the effects of high task demands (which can be perceived as threatening or challenging) on leadership behavior and their interplay with regulatory focus were addressed. For instance, we showed here that a fit between leaders’ and subordinates’ regulatory focus can diminish turnover intentions among subordinates.
One part of this research project specifically concentrated on conceptually separating the self-regulatory states threat and prevention focus as well as challenge and promotion focus with regard to their differential consequences on attentional processes, behavioral tendencies and social judgments. Here, we demonstrated that threat and prevention focus do have different effects on attention to negative stimuli.



Hamstra, M. R., Sassenberg, K., Van Yperen, N. W., & Wisse, B.  (2014). Followers feel valued—When leaders' regulatory focus makes  leaders exhibit behavior that fits followers' regulatory focus. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 51, 34-40.

Hamstra, M.R.W., Van Yperen, N.W., Wisse, B., & Sassenberg, K.  (2011). Fit between transformational-transactional leadership styles and  followers’ regulatory focus reduces followers’ turnover intentions. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10, 182-186.

Hamstra, M.R.W., Van Yperen, N.W., Wisse, B., & Sassenberg, K. (2013). Like or dislike: Intrapersonal regulatory fit affects the intensity of interpersonal evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 142, 445-457.

Sassenberg, K., & Hamstra, M. R. W. (2017). Chapter Four – The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Dynamics of Self-Regulation in the Leadership Process. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 193-257.

Sassenberg, K., Sassenrath, C., & Fetterman, A. K. (2015). Threat ≠ prevention, challenge ≠ promotion: The impact of threat, challenge and regulatory focus on attention to negative stimuli. Cognition and Emotion, 29,188-195.