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Description Including Abstract(s) & Bio(s) (if available) for Concurrent Session# 79 

CS3 Thursday, Oct. 27, 14:45 - 16:15     Plaza Suite 4

Session Type: Presentation     Accepted by Track(s): Development     Time Allotted: 90

Attachment Theory: Implications of New Developments for Leadership, Followership, and Organizational Change

Description: Do people bring their families of origin to work? In many ways, yes! Attachment security, relatively stable internal “working models of relationships” derived from early childhood, has significant yet under-recognized influences on leadership, followership, and many other work-related variables. This panel will bring together complementary perspectives on attachment from practitioners and academics from the U.S., U.K., and continental Europe.

Abstract: Do people bring their families of origin to work? In many ways, yes! Attachment security, relatively stable internal “working models of relationships” derived from early childhood, has significant yet under-recognized influences on leadership, followership, and many other work-related variables. Basically, attachment theory holds that early in life individuals develop schemas, or working models, of life situations they experience. A powerful set of schemas are built on experiences with caregivers, which form the basis for secure personal and interpersonal relationships or insecure, untrusting ones (e.g. Bowlby, 1969; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978). This panel brings together complementary perspectives on attachment from practitioners and academics in the USA, UK and continental Europe.

Originally used primarily to study close relationships, attachment theory now has robust research evidence showing its applicability to leadership, followership, and organizational change. In working adults, having secure attachment predicts more transformational leadership, emotional intelligence, positive working relationships, ability to delegate, and less work-family conflict (e.g. Hazan & Shaver, 1990; Manning, 2007, Popper, Mayseless, and Castelnovo, 2000). Attachment security of followers influences their preference for certain types of leaders, satisfaction with leaders, as well as their ratings of group morale and cohesion (e.g. Gillath & Hart, 2009; Popper, Amit, et al, 2004). Attachment insecurity is a key factor in the appeal of charismatic leaders, while priming individuals with a reminder of their secure attachments can lower preference for a strong, charismatic leader (Gillath & Hart, 2009).

Mounting research evidence indicates that the impact of attachment security - and insecurity - on leadership and followership is more powerful and dynamic than previously thought (e.g. Berson, Dan, & Yammarino, 2006; Davidovitz, Mikulincer, Shaver, Itzak, & Popper, 2007). In a critical and stressful situation, leaders’ insecure attachment is associated with decrements in followers’ mental health and coping over time, first impacting insecure followers, then even secure followers (Davidovitz et al, 2007). One panelist will examine the implications of this body of research for effective organizational leadership and followership.

Research also demonstrates attachment theory’s relevance to organizational commitment and organizational change initiatives (e.g. Kahn, 1995). People can be attached to their jobs, their professions, their specialist academic subjects, their organizations (Robertson, 2005). A second panelist will present cases from a number of sectors in different countries showing the spectrum, and workplace implications, of people’s attachment to such ‘content’. These highlight the need for leaders and followers to understand their own, and each other’s, attachment preferences.

Different forms of attachment produce a secure base, from which people can begin to explore. In adults, exploration relates to innovation and creativity. The third panelist will examine differing preferences between stability and exploration with implications for teams and organizations. The two spectrums of attachment and exploration can provide a framework for understanding individual preferences, team composition and, crucially, how best to map these onto different stages of the business cycle. Examples will be presented of the effectiveness of this framework in use in financial services, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, education, IT and government service in different countries.

Lastly, participants will be offered the opportunity to experience these differing attachment and exploratory preferences through a participatory exercise and to identify attachment and exploration implications for their own organizations or practice.

    How Attachment Security Influences Leadership and Followership: Implications for Leadership and Leadership Development

    Description: Leadership and followership are dynamic relationships affected by attachment security, i.e. individuals’ relationship assumptions. These assumptions underlie implicit leadership theories, leadership style, and work relationships. Recent research on leaders’ insecure attachment shows negative, even destructive, impacts on insecure and secure constituents in crisis times. This presenter will explore how leadership development can mitigate this issue.

    Abstract: Considerable evidence supports attachment theory’s basic premise that humans have an innate “attachment system,” an inborn tendency to relate to and rely on others for comfort in distressing situations, for a secure base from which to explore surroundings, and for closeness. Based on early experience, children apparently develop individual, relatively enduring working models of relationships, activated throughout life in interpersonal situations. Secure attachment includes beliefs in one’s own and others’ trustworthiness and dependability, leading to interpersonal competence and satisfying relationships, while insecure attachment takes different forms. Insecure anxious attachment describes those who seek interpersonal relationships but are over-dependent in and anxious about them, while insecure avoidant attachment shows itself in self-sufficiency, distrust of relationships, and preference for emotional distance. About 55% of adults describe themselves as secure, 20% as insecure anxious, and 25% as insecure avoidant.

    “Beyond close personal relationships, attachment theory has been successfully applied to one of the most central social domains: leadership processes and leader-follower relationships” (Mayseless, 2010). Evidence has mounted for attachment security’s important role in the workplace. In working adults, secure attachment is associated with more transformational leadership, emotional intelligence, emergent leadership, positive working relationships, and ability to delegate. Secure leaders have more socialized motives for leadership and desire power for pro-social reasons, e.g. to serve their constituents and society’s greater good.

    Insecure attachment also significantly affects leadership. The companies of small business owners with insecure avoidant attachment have more centralized decision-making, micromanagement of employees, and less delegation than those of securely attached owners. Insecure leaders report personalized motives for leadership and desire power for their own purposes. Despite these drawbacks, insecure avoidant adults are often seen as leaders because they work long hours, show high work satisfaction and achievement, and devote themselves to work versus their personal lives. They are often promoted to management in organizations that prioritize technical over interpersonal competence. Insecure anxious adults are less likely to be seen as leaders because of their inconsistent and high-maintenance relationship behavior, and because their relationship issues often drain energy from their work performance (as well as, presumably, from others’ work performance).

    Follower attachment security is also an important factor in the workplace. It influences preferences for and evaluation of authority figures, as expected from attachment’s influence on implicit leadership theory. Workers with insecure avoidant or anxious attachment described lower levels of supervisor support and less cohesion in their teams, compared to securely attached workers, but this lower perceived supervisor support didn’t negatively affect the job satisfaction of insecure avoidant workers as it did that of anxious workers. Similarly workers with insecure anxious styles expressed a stronger preference for relational leadership than other workers. Followers’ attachment security makes an independent, often unrecognized, contribution to the leadership-followership dynamic.

    This research could lead leaders or leadership developers to consider attachment as another personality characteristic correlated with leadership, like optimism, self-efficacy, and emotional intelligence. But it can legitimately be argued that attachment security, arising earlier in life, is critical for the development of these positive characteristics, including leadership. Surprisingly, attachment security is rarely considered in more general leadership development literature. For instance, the American Psychologist special issue on leadership (2007) never addressed attachment security, though a letter to the editor subsequently challenged that omission. “Inclusion of attachment theory in the study of leadership could strengthen leadership theories as a whole” by providing an overarching theoretical framework (Bresnahan & Mitroff, 2007).

    Research in the last ten years indicates that attachment security has a broader and deeper reach in leadership than previously realized. It seems to affect more leadership-related domains and influence both leaders and followers dynamically and powerfully. This ratchets up the need for leaders and leadership developers to be aware of attachment research and its implications.
    The results of several studies by Davidovitz and associates are particularly troubling for those responsible for developing leadership and followership, though they were conducted with a unique sample, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, and haven’t yet been replicated in non-military organizations. One study found that officers’ and soldiers’ attachment security both contributed to soldiers’ appraisals of their officers. This confirmed the self-report results from other studies, with subordinates describing insecure avoidant and insecure anxious leaders as showing more personalized leadership motivation and less socialized leadership styles. Officers with avoidant insecurity had lower cohesion in their units, while subordinates of officers with anxious insecurity showed lower self-reported socio-emotional functioning.

    Their most troubling study examined attachment and leadership over six months of combat training, a potentially threatening situation likely to evoke attachment-related behavior in anyone. Soldiers reported on their own mental health and how well their officer functioned as a “secure base,” a supportive presence in time of trouble. Officers’ insecure avoidance was the strongest predictor for their soldiers’ drop in reported mental health from Time 1 to Time 2, but the drop was mostly among insecurely attached soldiers. Securely attached soldiers were coping significantly better at Time 2, regardless of their officers’ attachment security. But by Time 3, both securely and insecurely attached soldiers reported significantly worsening mental health WHEN their officer was insecure avoidant. So, over time and in crisis situations, leaders’ insecure avoidance predicted diminished mental health and coping for both secure and insecure personnel. This study of leadership in combat training can arguably serve as a metaphor for the tough times that civilian employees are having in their organizations today, with results probablyapplicable to constituents of those organizations as well as military ones.

    How can our organizations select and develop leadership to foster peak performance in both secure and insecure employees? Particularly in turbulent times, how can managers be helped to provide a “secure base” for employees? The afore-mentioned studies call for a urgent and considered look at how leaders, and those who develop leadership, can recruit, screen, train, and mentor leaders and followers to address the facilitating impact of secure attachment and mitigate the negative impact of insecure attachment. This presentation will examine both the research and the implications for improving leadership and followership across diverse organizations.

      Tracey Manning, University of Maryland
      Bio: Dr. Tracey T. Manning, leadership development consultant and research associate professor, Health Services Administration Department, University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), has 30 years of experience in transformational leadership development and leadership education. At the UMCP School of Public Health, she teaches the graduate leadership course and coordinates a Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment in Howard County. As an independent leadership consultant, she has worked with many organizations, government, nonprofit, and educational. With a British colleague, she offers master classes in the UK for leadership development directors. Prior to this, as a Senior Scholar at the Burns Academy of Leadership, she was a principal investigator on a large study of leadership and civic engagement.

    Forms of Attachment: New Insights for Leaders and Followers

    Description: Attachment theory usually applies attachment to people. This presentation will introduce the complementary concept of attachment to non-personal concepts such as professional identity. Evidence from several sectors worldwide demonstrates how individuals find security on a spectrum between people and professional identity. The implications for understanding between leaders and followers will be examined.

    Abstract: The overwhelming majority of literature on attachment theory describes attachment to people (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007). Yet Bowlby (1969) conceived of attachment to a wide range of animate and inanimate objects. Attachment has been applied to the political agenda (Kraemer & Roberts, 1996; Marris, 1996), widening the focus from individuals to a community or society.

    In the business world, Robertson (2005) suggested the idea of attachment to concepts such as an idea or profession. Harle (2007) cites two examples of such attachment in a business setting: a group of actuaries during a large corporate merger in the financial services sector, and the replacement of an old computer system. In both cases, the project team addressed primarily questions relating to people (introducing new colleagues, training). This led to unnecessary anxiety in those who found security through attachment to their professional identity or a trusted IT system.

    Robertson (2005) described such attachment as to ‘matter’ or ‘content’. He went on to describe a spectrum where individuals have a varying tendency to find security through attachment to people or content. He developed a questionnaire to identify these preferences: normalised results (n=15000) will be presented from a wide range of sectors and countries, including healthcare, retail banking, IT and government in Europe, the USA, and the People’s Republic of China.

    These cases demonstrate that it is important not simply to study attachment between leaders and followers (Davidovitz et al., 2007). Motivation, team composition and relationships, and attitudes to organizational change are all impacted by attachment preferences. The presentation concludes by noting some of the implications of this approach for leaders and followers, and those engaged in leadership development and education.


    Bowlby, John. (1969) Attachment And Loss: Volume 1. Attachment. London: Hogarth.
    Cassidy, Jude & Phillip R Shaver, eds. (2008) Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications, 2nd edn. New York: Guilford.
    Davidovitz, Rivka et al. (2007) ‘Leaders as Attachment Figures: Leaders’ Attachment Orientations Predict Leadership-Related Mental Representations and Followers’ Performance and Mental Health’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(4), pp632–650.
    Harle, Tim (2007) ‘The Prairie and the Rainforest: Ecologies for Sustaining Organizational Change’, Business Leadership Review, 4(3), pp1-15.
    Kraemer, Sebastian & Jane Roberts, eds. (1996) The Politics of Attachment: Towards a Secure Society. London: Free Association.
    Marris, Peter (1996) The Politics of Uncertainty: Attachment in Private and Public Life. London: Routledge.
    Mikulincer, Mario & Phillip R Shaver. (2007) Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics and Change. New York: Guilford.
    Robertson, Peter P. (2005) Always Change a Winning Team: Why Reinvention and Change are Prerequisites for Business Success. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Business.

      Peter Robertson, Human Insight Ltd
      Bio: Peter is a founding partner of Human Insight Ltd, a thought leader, business ecologist and specialist in leadership issues. He has written widely on leadership and has developed the AEM-cubeTM, ACT-cubeTM and RPA® set of organisational assessment tools. Peter is a high level business consultant who specialises in strategy facilitation and leadership support and development. His assignments have ranged from executive team coaching to board alignment to small- and large-scale strategy and culture development interventions. Peter has deep experience of global change, growth and renewal programmes in the USA, Europe and Asia. In March 2007, Peter was appointed visiting professor at the Management School at the Zhejiang University
      in Hangzhou, China..His focus is always to achieve a high level of value-driven consistency and alignment in teams, and proven, sustainable cultural change in organisations.

    Exploring from a Secure Base: Implications for Leading Change

    Description: People vary in attachment security and preferences for exploration or stability. Building on theory and research on secure attachment to people or professional identity, this presentation will examine organizational attachment and other work-related attachment based on cases from business and popular culture. Implications for team composition and leading change will also be explored.

    Abstract: The concept of a secure base was pioneered by Mary Ainsworth. Observing infants in Uganda, she noted how they used their mothers as a secure base from which to explore (Ainsworth, 1977). John Bowlby came to see this concept as crucial for children, adolescents and adults as they set out to explore and to which they return from time to time (Bowlby, 1988). The importance of exploration continues to be emphasised in work on attachment (Heard et al., 2009; Holmes, 2010), while the relevance of attachment theory is noted in work on the emotions in organizations (Huffington et al., 2004).

    But what is the nature of the secure base? Attachment security is usually conceived as involving relations between people (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007; Cassidy & Shaver, 2008; Obegi & Berant, 2009). Robertson (2005) introduced the concept of attachment to ‘matter’ or ‘content’: Harle (2007) demonstrated an example of this in a merger in the financial services sector. Recognising different attachment preferences is crucial for the success of any change initiative: in times of uncertainty, people will attach to their secure base. Leaders need to understand these different preferences in themselves and others.

    Robertson (2005) observed a spectrum between people and content attachment: he noted a similar spectrum in preferences between stability and exploration. The two spectrums of attachment and exploration enable a two-dimensional framework to be used to examine individual preferences. An example from popular culture quoted by Harle (2007) introduces this framework, which will also be illustrated with examples from education and pharmaceuticals.

    The presentation examines a case from the retail banking sector which demonstrates the power, and danger, of exploratory behavior. Innovative e-banking products were launched to great acclaim, but the project team moved on to new innovations before the first products had bedded down. This demonstrates the linkages between attachment and exploration preferences, team composition and different stages of the business cycle.

    The panel presentation concludes with participants being offered an experiential opportunity to begin to appreciate their own attachment and exploration preferences, and the implications of this for leading change.


    Ainsworth, Mary. (1977). ‘Social Development in the First Year of Life: Maternal Influences on Infant-Mother Attachment’ in James M Tanner, ed. Developments in Psychiatric Research. London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp1-20.
    Bowlby, John. (1988). A Secure Base. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Cassidy, Jude & Phillip R Shaver, eds. (2008). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications, 2nd edn. New York: Guilford.
    Harle, Tim. (2007). ‘The Prairie and the Rainforest: Ecologies for Sustaining Organizational Change’, Business Leadership Review, 4(3), pp1-15.
    Heard, Dorothy, Brian Lake & Una McCluskey. (2009). Attachment Therapy with Adolescents and Adults: Theory and Practice Post-Bowlby. London: Karnac.
    Holmes, Jeremy. (2010). Exploring in Security: Towards an Attachment Informed Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Hove: Routledge.
    Huffington, Clare et al., eds. (2004) Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organizations. London: Karnac.
    Mikulincer, Mario & Phillip R Shaver. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics and Change. New York: Guilford.
    Obegi, Joseph H & Ethy Berant, eds. (2009). Attachment Theory and Research in Clinical Work with Adults. New York: Guilford.
    Robertson, Peter P. (2005). Always Change a Winning Team. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Business.

      Tim Harle, Working Through Change
      Bio: Tim Harle’s breadth of perspective comes from working as a senior executive, project manager and consultant. Currently, Tim serves as Director of Working Through Change, a UK-based company. His experience includes leading a strategic change programme for a FTSE100 company, transforming it from the worst performer in its sector to the best, and managing up to 1000 co-workers. He specialises in not simply implementing new systems and structures, but embedding cultural change in values and behaviours to sustain the transformation. Earlier in his career, Tim worked with UK government ministers. He is equally at home as a personal mentor, and has worked with clients in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Tim is also a writer and business school speaker, contributing to three books on leadership as well as publications covering business ecology and business ethics. A graduate of Cambridge University, Tim undertook advanced management studies at INSEAD Fontainebleau.