Lay summary

The amount of resources invested in leadership development is substantial because of the widely-held belief that leaders are important contributors to the effective functioning of teams and organizations (Bass & Bass, 2008). Thus, there is a need to develop evidence-based approaches to leadership development. We propose to use a cognitive-behavioral approach to changing leader behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions have a strong theoretical and empirical base should go beyond “standard” behavioral-change interventions that are currently used by industrial psychologists; a CBT intervention should be particularly useful in helping participants to learn to deal with what we refer to as “leader blockages,” unwanted behaviors that increase autonomous arousal and inhibit the development and maintenance of appropriate leader behaviors.

We will fully cross a CBT intervention with a standard leadership training intervention. That is, we will randomly assign participants to either a (a) leadership training (e.g., as used by Antonakis, Fenley, & Liechti, 2011) (b) CBT intervention, (c) combined CBT-leadership training, and (d) control group. Participants who do not receive the full training or only receive partial training will obtain the missing trainings at the end of the experiment. Our sample will also be unique in that we will use practicing managers in ecologically-valid conditions.

We anticipate finding that a CBT intervention complementing a traditional leadership intervention will engender better acquisition of actual leadership skills (measured in-situ using ratings of participants’ colleagues), a lower level of stress, and better leader performance as compared to the standard approaches (used alone). We will also examine the impact of the intervention on physiological measures (e.g., cortisol, testosterone, and heart rate).

This study will be one of the first to explicitly use a leadership behavior change approach based on CBT coupled with a solid application of leadership theory; the research team is also unique in that it includes an expert in leadership, an expert in CBT, and a collaborator who is an expert in human behavioral neurobiology.


Antonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S. 2011. Can charisma can be taught? Tests of Two Interventions. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 374-396.

Bass, B. M., & Bass, R. 2008. The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.