Being Aware of Death: How and when Mortality Cues Incite Leader Expediency Versus Servant Leadership Behaviour

Chidiebere Ogbonnaya, Mayowa T. Babalola, Moazzam Ali, Shuang Ren, Muhammed Usman, Zhining Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The COVID-19 crisis has been associated with existential concerns regarding mortality. These concerns, described as ‘mortality cues’, can influence people's emotions, behaviours, and the quality of leadership in organizations. Using the contingency model of death awareness (CMDA; Grant and Wade-Benzoni, 2009), we provide new evidence on how mortality cues can incite negative and positive leadership behaviours via two forms of death awareness: death anxiety and death reflection. Specifically, we theorize that mortality cues can increase leader death anxiety, giving rise to leader expediency (a leader's use of unethical practices to expedite work for self-serving purposes); however, mortality cues can also facilitate leader death reflection and, consequently, servant leadership behaviour. We further suggest that leaders’ responses to mortality cues depend on their psychological capital (PsyCap), such that leaders with high (vs. low) PsyCap respond to mortality cues with less expediency (via death anxiety) and more servant leader behaviours (via death reflection). We support our hypotheses through three separate studies using an experiment, time-lagged data from healthcare workers, and daily diary data from non-healthcare professionals. We conclude that mortality cues have a double-edged influence on leadership behaviour. We also discuss the theoretical and practical implications of the findings.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2024


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