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Leaders who show their humanity are viewed more favorably, says Rice U. expert

During a crisis, outsiders view a leader who voices both anger and sadness, or even sadness alone, as more effective than a leader who shows only anger, according to newly released research conducted at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Brent Smith, the senior associate dean for executive education and an associate professor of management and psychology in organizational behavior at the Jones School, is available to discuss the study and its implications.

Even in the digital age, the public responds best to leaders who show their humanity, according to the research from Smith and his colleagues. The team explored how specific emotions from leaders resonate with people during a crisis.

The study polled 322 employees from different companies after they had read a newspaper article featuring company leaders involved in a product recall.

Existing literature in organizational psychology holds that a leader who shows anger during a crisis conveys competence, strength and intelligence, and a leader who expresses sadness in the same situation conveys remorse, sympathy, warmth and affiliation. The team wondered whether leaders who express both would be evaluated more favorably.

“Most subjects indeed factored the leader’s public display of emotion into their assessments of her or him,” Smith wrote. “In addition, the subjects reacted more favorably to leaders who publicly voiced both anger and sadness, or even sadness alone. A leader who showed anger alone, the subjects said, seemed less effective.”

Prior to joining the Jones School, Smith was a faculty member at London Business School and Cornell University, where he taught in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley; Oxford University; the Technical University of Denmark and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He has conducted executive education programs around the world for companies such as Shell, IBM, HSBC, Credit Suisse and Barclays.

A radio and television studio is available at Rice for media outlets that want to schedule an interview with Smith. For more information, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at or 713-348-6327.

Related materials:

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