Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Relationship Building in Empowering Leadership Processes: A Test of Mediation and Moderation

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Relationship Building in Empowering Leadership Processes: A Test of Mediation and Moderation

Article excerpt

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INTRODUCTION

Empowerment is a construct that reflects a paradigm change in the managerial focus from control to autonomy in organizational research (Conger & Kanungo, 1988; Spreitzer, 1995). As lower-level employees' initiatives and autonomous performance were recognized as significant assets for organizational success, the concept of organizational empowerment - which refers to granting power to employees or enhancing employee efficacy level (Conger & Kanungo, 1988) - has been readily implemented as shown in various management practices such as quality circles, total quality management, and self-directed teams. In accordance with this relatively new paradigm in management, the necessity for pertinent leadership styles has also emerged given that leaders are presumed to be those who dominantly take charge in empowering processes in organizations.

For the last decade, leadership scholars have attempted to capture a spectrum of leader empowering behaviors in both an inductive and a deductive manner (Ahearne, 2000; Arnold, Arad, Rhoades, & Drasgow, 2000; Konczak, Stelly, & Trusty, 2000) and to examine the outcomes of such behaviors (Srivastava, Bartol, & Locke, 2006; Wu, Tsui, & Kinicki, 2010). These studies suggest that empowering leaders demonstrate particular empowering behaviors and that a subordinate's psychological empowerment is perhaps the most proximal outcome of these behaviors. Little attention, however, has been paid to the possibility that there may be important intervening mechanisms, which could further explain the relationship between ethical leadership and psychological empowerment. Drawing from the literature on leader-member exchange (LMX), we propose that empowering leaders influence employees' psychological empowerment through the high-quality work relationship that a subordinate perceives to be formed between his or her self and a leader.

Research on empowering leadership has shown that a leader's relationship-building with a subordinate might be crucial for empowering the subordinate. Specifically, Arnold et al. (2000) found that when employees working in self-managing teams (i.e., empowered teams) were asked to describe effective leader behaviors, they indicated and listed several relationship-developing or relationship-oriented leader behaviors (e.g., showing concern for subordinates' personal well-being; patiently discussing subordinates' individual concerns) that were perceived to be empowering. These behaviors aggregately were proposed to be a dimension of empowering leadership (Arnold et al., 2000). Although this inductive proposition (Arnold et al., 2000) was not clear regarding why and how those relational leader behaviors were empowering, it might be that a subordinate's perceived quality of a leader-subordinate work relationship, which should be strengthened due to relational leader behaviors, played a crucial role. Thus, the first purpose of this study is to investigate the potential yet ignored role of relationship-building in leader empowering processes. In this regard, we examine a subordinate's perceived LMX as an indicator of a subordinate's perceived quality of the dyadic work relationship with his or her own leader.

Researchers have acknowledged that leader empowering processes should vary significantly depending on higher-level work unit contexts (Chen, Kirkman, Kanfer, Allen, & Rosen, 2007) and that 'the nature of effective [empowering] leadership is different in an empowered setting' (Ahearne, Mathieu, & Rapp, 2005: 946). Accordingly, to better understand empowering leadership effectiveness, it is essential to examine how leader empowering processes would be moderated by higher-level work unit contexts. We argue that LMX differentiation, which represents the way LMXs are differentially formed between a leader and several subordinates in the same work unit (Boies & Howell, 2006; Liden, Erdogan, Wayne, & Sparrowe, 2006), is a particularly relevant work context for understanding under what conditions leader empowering processes would impact subordinates' perceptions of LMX. …

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