Research profile: Anika Cloutier


Anika Cloutier, Rowe School of Business

Does mental health affect who becomes a leader?

Why do some people apply for leadership roles, while others do not? Of those who apply, what determines their selection into or exclusion from the role? Research has overwhelmingly identified stable attributes that predict leader role occupancy, while less research has considered who is excluded. One attribute that might facilitate and simultaneously hinder leader role occupancy is one’s mental health.

The purpose of this research is to investigate how employees’ mental health affects their likelihood of attaining a leadership role. Mental health is conceptualized along two dimensions: wellbeing (psychological, emotional and social functioning) and mental illness (internalized and externalized symptoms). We expect wellbeing will facilitate leader role occupancy while mental illness will derail occupancy. Specifically, we predict that wellbeing will increase applications for leadership roles, while mental illness will decrease applications. Additionally, we predict that indicators of employee wellbeing will increase selection into leadership roles, while mental illness will hinder selection. Finally, we will explore whether these predictions differ depending on gender identify.

Drawing on nationally representative samples, we will examine whether past wellbeing and mental illness independently correlate with leader role occupancy. Using experimental methods sampling young adults, we will investigate whether mental health influences application behaviour. Finally, using a randomized experimental vignette study to sample human resource professionals, we will study whether mental health indicators determine selection behaviour.

Results will extend leadership theory by identifying a pertinent predictor of leader role occupancy and inform practice by identifying organizational barriers to leadership emergence.