Leader and leadership loneliness: A review-based critique and path to future research

Hodar Lam*, Steffen R. Giessner, Meir Shemla, Mirjam D. Werner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Does loneliness matter for leadership? Recent years saw an increase in academic literature trying to answer this question. To evaluate if existing research could support theory and practice of the leader loneliness phenomenon, we reviewed the literature across levels of analysis and research paradigms, including 71 empirical articles. We identified four major conceptual and methodological limitations. First, the conceptual representation of leader loneliness is unclear and often conflates with general loneliness. Therefore, leadership-specific nomological networks are missing in theoretical conceptualizations. Second, the quality of some empirical findings is insufficient to support policy implications based on different research paradigms and levels of analysis have led to some inconsistent and unreconciled conclusions. Specifically, we could identify only two quantitative and three qualitative articles with policy implications. Third, the measurement of leader loneliness is often imprecise: some items are confounded with extroversion-introversion; some others measure the antecedents of loneliness. Fourth, the methodological concerns in prior work hinder the interpretation of many available findings. Specifically, some quantitative studies incur endogeneity issues, lack realism or costly outcomes in laboratory studies, whereas a number of qualitative studies involve research design issues and lack counterfactuals in theorizing. To contribute to better research practices on this timely topic, we offer suggestions for a better definition, improvement areas in measurement, statistical analysis to avoid endogeneity issues, and trustworthy qualitative research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101780
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2024

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© 2024 Elsevier Inc.


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