C01 “You must succeed!”: The role of leader irrational language on follower irrationality.


  • Chloe Young Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Martin Turner Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Andrew Evans Salford University




Extant literature has shown the impact of leadership styles on followers’ cognitive, behavioural, and emotional outcomes. Irrational beliefs are a set of thoughts about oneself, others, and the world, that are rigid, extreme, illogical, and non-empirical. Literature has demonstrated that holding irrational beliefs can be detrimental to one’s well-being and performance (Ellis, David, & Lynn (2010). Rational and Irrational Beliefs: A historical and Conceptual Perspective. In Ellis, David, & Lynn (Eds). Rational and Irrational Beliefs: Research, Theory, and Clinical Practice (pp. 3-22). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.). However, the extent to which the use of irrational language by leaders can influence the irrational thoughts of followers remains unexplored. Using a performance context, this study investigated the leader-follower belief transaction and its impact on participants’ cognition and performance in a Stroop test competition. We explored the differential effects of rational vs irrational leadership language styles on psychological outcomes and performance. This is the first study to examine the effects of manipulating language styles (rational vs irrational) on followers’ irrational beliefs. We hypothesised that participants in the irrational leader condition would: (1) endorse greater performance-related irrational beliefs, (2) demonstrate a greater performance decline from baseline to competition, (3) report a greater increase in performance anxiety compared to the rational condition, (4) report a greater increase in negative appraisal towards the performance compared to the rational condition, (5) report a greater decrease in performance-related self-efficacy compared to the rational condition. We recruited 73 participants (24 ± 5 years) from undergraduate (N=49), postgraduate (N=18), and doctorate level (N=6) cohorts. Participants were recruited using convenience and snowball sampling via university platform (Moodle), SONA-system and Prolific. The participants came from MMU (N=10), Staffordshire (N=1), Salford University (N=2) and other universities (N=60). The study was granted institutional ethical approval and all participants completed informed consent before data collection. All data were collected using an online questionnaire (Qualtrics), a performance task (PsychoPy), and data were analysed using SPSS. Results demonstrate no significant between-groups differences in performance-related irrational beliefs (P = 0.158), performance-related appraisal (P = 0.640), performance anxiety (P = 0.587), self-efficacy (P = 0.392), or performance scores (P = 0.448). In other words, participants’ approach to performance was not impacted by leaders’ language style. Our null findings have several implications. First, the manipulation was not strong enough and maybe too subtle. Hence, we should consider making the language style more explicit in the next study. Secondly, it is possible that a single interaction with the leader is not enough. After all, we were observing acute responses to leadership behaviour and should consider observing the long-term effect of exposure to irrational language. Finally, the performance task was maybe deemed as not relevant or purposeful enough for the participants.