Are you a Disempowering or an Affirmational Leader? New study

Are you a Disempowering or an Affirmational Leader? New study


Leaders play pivotal roles in the success of their organisations and have the power to affect significant change in the communities they serve. There are a lot of skills, knowledge and attitudes wrapped up in successful leadership. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the right people with proper training and favourable personality characteristics are stepping into those roles.

Affirmative leaders

Affirmative leaders who:

• Are supportive and encouraging.
• Who increase their followers’ competences and self-confidence.
• Have situational awareness.
• Are able to understand their followers’ strengths and weaknesses.
• Can adapt and change their approach to fulfil needs.
• Can prioritise strategies that benefit internal and external stakeholders, such as employees and investors.
• Are able to exert a positive influence through encouragement rather than manipulating people.
• Keep the organisation’s vision, policies and politics in focus, whilst dealing with the daily tasks at hand.

Can build trust by treating everyone fairly and encouraging team work to benefit the entire organisation.

Affirmative leaders

Disempowering leaders

In contrast, disempowering leaders, who often reduce the organisation’s effectiveness by stunting followers’ personal and professional growth, frequently:

  • asking or encouraging them.
  • Lose sight of the overall purpose by getting caught up in office politics and interpersonal drama.
  • Express negative emotions, like anger and stress, that translate into unproductive behaviour.
  • Foster a blame culture that thrives on punishing mistakes, instead of encouraging innovation.
  • Create a toxic culture.

Unfortunately, these behaviours are endemic in some organisations.

disempowering leaders

Previous Research

Previous research looking at the results of effective and ineffective leadership have found that:

• Leadership is a process that occurs in unique environments between leaders and followers.
• Affirmative leadership tend to win the hearts and minds of followers, whilst rewarding them and encouraging teamwork .
• Disempowering leadership, on the other hand, frequently creates mistrust and develops a blame culture where constructive feedback is not present.
• Positive leadership tends to increase an employee’s willingness to change when organisations are going through a period of transformation .
• Leaders who are willing to take risks and pursue new business opportunities often inspire better performance in followers .

A new study

A new study by researchers from the University of Worcester in the UK and the University of Sargodha in Pakistan has looked at the differences between ineffective, disempowering leaders and what are known as affirmational leaders, who build followers’ self-confidence and competence.


The study found that most people believe that their leaders tend to fall somewhere between power hungry overlords to friendly dictators capable of building positive working relationships. Most leaders, in the eyes of their followers, are not perceived to demonstrate the characteristics of affirmative leadership.

The study found that the most common characteristics of disempowering leaders include:

• A lack of empathy or friendship/connection with followers.
• An obsession with gaining and increasing personal power, rather than having a focus on making the organisation better.
• Bullying co-workers and followers with less power into doing things.
• Favouritism, that makes some feel valued and others feel excluded.
• Criticising colleagues and peers who are considered to be threats to their status or position.
• Using power and threats to get people to do things (threatening to fire them or rate them poorly, for example).
• Refusing to engage properly in teamwork or consult with others before making decisions.
• High levels of risk-aversion that causes the organisation to miss opportunities for growth, due to their fear of trying new ideas from followers.
• Lack of good trust in delegation, that causes work to backup and keeps the organisation from operating quickly and efficiently.


Characteristics of effective, affirmative leaders

The researchers were able to find the common characteristics of effective, affirmative leaders from the few inspirational leaders found in organisations. The main characteristics valued (by the employees) include:

• Being risk-open and pursuing new opportunities and ideas from followers, which promotes an enterprising work culture.
• Delegating tasks and spreading power downwards throughout the organisation.
• Making decisions with other leaders democratically and based on evidence as a team, combining strengths, whilst lessening the negative impacts of their weaknesses.
• Setting challenging goals for followers and expecting excellence to encourage improvement.
• Mentoring followers by providing social support and training them to become leaders, as well as helping them grow professionally and personally.
• Asking followers for their opinions and ideas before making decisions.
• Encouraging followers to assume more control over their work and to play a more active role in their own career development.
• A set of empowering personal beliefs and a vision that fits the organisation’s needs.
• Being proactive and taking the initiative to handle situations before they become larger problems.

There are many ways to be a good leader and embody affirmative characteristics that support employee well-being and growth, but, unfortunately, there are still too many ineffective leaders with disempowering characteristics. In order to effect change organisations need to go beyond training courses and theory and get into the day-to-day practices and characteristics of leaders.


Bigger, S. (2021). At its Highest Vibrational Frequency: Affirmational leadership. Journal of Interdisciplinary Educational Studies, 5(I), 1-13.

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Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxcognita LLC 2024. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page