How to Re-Energize Leaders Through Self-Reflection

woman in front of computer
Topic(s): engagement, leadership, performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2019)
Article: Energizing leaders via self-reflection: A within-person field experiment
Authors: K. Lanaj, T.A. Foulk, A. Erez
Reviewed by: Emma Williamson

Being a leader is a tough job, and a tiring one too. Leaders, like everyone else, have a finite reserve of energy to expend each day. Problematically, many leaders report feeling burnt out and unengaged at work. Research shows that when energy is depleted, leaders perform poorer, are less supportive towards their followers, and are more likely to incur work violations. Accordingly, it is in an organization’s best interest to re-energize its leaders.


What is the solution? Research shows that people have greater potential energy than they actually use. By tapping into this potential energy reserve, leaders can increase the energy that they utilize throughout the day. Researchers (Lanaj, Foulk, & Erez, 2019) designed an intervention intending to re-energize leaders through the activity of self-reflection. A sample of leaders reflected on, and then wrote about, three personal strengths that they hold as leaders. They did this each morning for two weeks. This simple task reduced the depletion of energy experienced throughout the day and increased engagement levels.

Why did this intervention work? Self-reflection through writing has been shown to free up inner resources and increase understanding of personal needs, priorities, and emotions. By having leaders engage in this activity, it likely motivated the leaders to expend their energy on work activities that aligned with their personal goals. As a result, leaders believed that they had a more positive and powerful influence on their followers on the days where they engaged in written self-reflection.


The researchers list two key organizational implications of this intervention. First, a simple and costless task can be easily used to positively impact how leaders manage their energy at work and engage in their jobs. Second, the results of this simple task can have an important impact on followers, as engagement may trickle-down the hierarchy within organizations. In other words, a highly engaged leader may result in highly engaged followers and a generally more productive workforce.


Lanaj, K., Foulk, T. & Erez, A. (2019). Energizing leaders via self-reflection: A within-person field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(1), 1-18.