Workplace aggression, of which workplace bullying is a type, continues to gain an increased profile in Australia. It is a recognised workplace psychosocial hazard that causes harm and injury.  Employers, under health and safety legislation, are required to prevent all harm, including workplace aggression.

How harm is eliminated or mitigated is achieved can be broad and varied. However, better and safe leadership approaches is one way it can be achieved in our workplaces.

In this article, based on a recent meta-analysis, we look at the role of leadership styles and its influence on workplace aggression. In this paper, they describe workplace aggression as behaviours that include workplace bullying, incivility, exclusion/ostracism, discrimination, harassment, psychological aggression, undermining, interpersonal deviance, victimisation and violence.

An important learning and key finding that the meta-analysis points to is the potential for values-based and moral leadership, and more specifically ethical leadership, as the most effective of leadership styles in creating safer, less harmful, workplaces for our employees.


In understanding leadership, the term is defined as “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. This analysis considered six overall leadership styles:

  • change-oriented
  • task-oriented
  • relational-oriented
  • values-based and moral
  • passive
  • destructive leadership

The study noted that while the different approaches to leadership are distinct from each other, leaders in their work may use multiple approaches in their roles.

Ethical Leadership Tops the List

When examining the results of 165 individual papers, the most effective leadership style of the six in reducing the incidence of workplace aggression is that of values-based and moral leadership. At the centre of this style of leadership is individual morals and values of the workplace leader. A leader within this approach utlises a sense of empathy for others and their positions, they walk the walk, and this has a trickle down effect characterised by emulated behaviours within their teams and employees.

In further narrowing down of their analysis, what was highlighted was that ethical leadership, as a sub-category of the values-based and moral leadership, rated higher still in creating an aggression free workplace. In understanding the characteristics of ethical leaders, they hold themselves accountable for their actions. In decision making, the incorporate integrity within their decision making process. They lead by example, communicate openly and honestly, and don’t blame others for their own shortfalls.

Of the other leadership styles, relationship based and change oriented leadership styles also resulted in positive reductions of workplace aggression. As could be expected, passive leadership, that completely hands off laissez fair approach, and destructive leadership, where leaders engage in abusive abusive supervision, are more likely to lead to aggressive behaviours at work from the teams they lead.

Task related leadership styles were deemed non-significant in leading to workplace aggression.

A Pathway to Leadership Development

At a very simple level, knowing the type of leadership styles that create safe behaviours (a reduction in harmful workplace aggression) allows us to focus leadership education on those styles and approaches that ensures employees can stay safe and well.

In particular, ensuring that not only our overall workplaces, but our individual leaders have developed, understand and operate within an ethical framework is a vital to creating a safe workplace. Training could include a range of topics including how to emphasise ethical standards within their teams; and reward moral behaviour at work, and investigate and punish aggression where it occurs.

A key impact of values and moral based leaders is that they often serve as role models and employees will tend to emulate those safe behaviours. It’s the type of workplace most of us want to work in; isn’t it?


Reference are linked in the above article