A Blessing and a Curse: How CEOs’ Trait Empathy Affects Their Management of Organizational Crises
Academy of Management Review, 2018, DOI/10.5465/amr.2017.0387
54 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2018
Date Written: September 28, 2018
How does a Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO’s) level of trait empathy affect his or her management of organizational crises? So far, management scholars have highlighted mostly positive effects of CEOs’ empathy in the emotionally charged context of crises. We combine the emerging critical perspective on empathy with research on upper echelons and crisis management to provide a more balanced portrayal of the influence of CEO empathy on crisis management. Specifically, we argue that, on the one hand, highly empathetic CEOs will recognize warning signs more quickly, have access to more crisis-related information, gain greater stakeholder appreciation via displays of compassion, and are more committed to healing the organization’s relational system. On the other hand, they also may be more predisposed to false alarms, more biased in processing crisis-related information, over-inclined towards apologetic sensegiving, and less committed to repairing the organization’s operational system. Ultimately, we propose, CEOs’ empathy influences their effectiveness in the various tasks of crisis management in an inverted U-shaped pattern. Our theory offers an upper echelons view of organizational crises, particularly by illuminating the roles of empathy and emotions in executives’ crisis management. We also introduce a novel, “too-much-of-a-good-thing” perspective on CEO empathy, providing abundant opportunities for future research.
Keywords: Upper Echelons, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Crisis Management, Organizational Crisis, Emotions, Empathy
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