When Is It Important for Leaders to Get Angry?

Unethical behavior is prevalent in the workplace – most employees have either been victims or witnesses of it. When it happens, employees may turn to leaders to vent their feelings and seek justice. Still, not all leaders are willing to act in response, even when it may benefit their employees. The researchers in this study (Zhang et al., 2024) investigated the outcomes of leaders expressing anger at injustice, and how that affected the employees and teams under them.


The researchers conducted two studies, in the process gathering data from 753 participants across 151 teams. Both studies used a multi-wave design in an effort to establish the order in which the various factors occur.

Across both studies, the researchers found that when leaders show their anger toward unethical behavior, their teams and employees perceive higher levels of justice. This leads to higher levels of team organizational citizenship behavior (going beyond formal job descriptions) and higher team viability (the extent to which people want to continue working together). These relationships are even stronger when leaders seem to judge an employee’s ethical standards as being an integral part of job performance itself – something that generally seems fair to people.


In line with this research findings, leaders should do the following:

  • Stay aware of unethical behavior and respond with an appropriate amount of anger or a fair punishment. This will help leaders foster a sense of justice within their team, which will lead to good team outcomes.
  • Consider ethics while conducting performance assessments. This demonstrates that leaders “practice what they preach” and truly care about the importance of upstanding ethical behavior on their team.
  • Select or train leaders in both emotional intelligence and ethical behavior. By promoting these traits in leaders, organizations can promote a sense of justice among their employees and experience beneficial outcomes.


Zhang, S., Mo, S., & Liu, W. (2024). Anger for good? Unethical-behavior-targeted leader anger expression and its consequences on team outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 45, 57-80.

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