Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

When Does Empowering Leadership Enhance Employee Creativity? a Three-Way Interaction Test

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

When Does Empowering Leadership Enhance Employee Creativity? a Three-Way Interaction Test

Article excerpt

The contribution of creativity to organizational survival and success has been increasingly recognized (Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004). When they are considering the importance of a leader as an agent of an organization, researchers have focused on the leader's ability to increase employee creativity (Hon & Chan, 2013). Because empowering leaders' behavior involves sharing power, and can, thus, increase employee motivation and commitment to work (Tierney, 2008), empowering leadership has been identified as an important positive factor influencing creativity (Zhang & Bartol, 2010b).

However, previous researchers have argued that there is a potential dilemma inherent in empowering practice (Humborstad & Kuvaas, 2013). That is, empowering behavior may increase employee role ambiguity owing to the flexibility it encourages while motivating employees. This dilemma relates to the trade-offbetween the span of control and the level of autonomy (Humborstad & Kuvaas, 2013). Thus, the impact of empowering leadership on employee creativity is likely to vary depending on whether or not the employees voluntarily exert autonomy, and if the work is well controlled. In this study, we investigated a combination of variables, namely, empowering leadership, intrinsic motivation, and task visibility, by testing the three-way interaction effect of these factors on employee creativity. Therefore, our main aim was to expand the literature on creativity, by simultaneously investigating the role of employees' personal characteristics, work environment, and leadership, in their creativity, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the person-environment fit as it relates to employee creativity (Zhang & Bartol, 2010a).

Literature Review and Hypotheses Development

Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity

Previous researchers have emphasized that leaders play a key role in enhancing employee creativity (Shalley & Gilson, 2004). On the basis of prior research, creativity can be defined as the production of novel and useful ideas concerning products, services, procedures, and processes to the organization (Amabile, 1996). Leaders should not only strive to develop and maintain a work environment that fosters, encourages, and supports creativity, but also provide their employees with opportunities to take a risk with a new, and potentially better, approach (Shalley & Gilson, 2004). Empowering leadership involves providing decisionmaking autonomy, expressing confidence in employees' abilities, and removing constraints to performance (Ahearne, Mathieu, & Rapp, 2005). These factors are vital conditions for creative outcomes (Amabile, Schatzel, Moneta, & Kramer, 2004); thus, leaders' empowering behavior can encourage employees to think beyond their comfort zone, and to explore new and creative alternatives. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Empowering leadership will be positively related to employees' creativity.

Three-Way Interaction Among Empowering Leadership, Intrinsic Motivation, and Task Visibility

Intrinsic motivation refers to a desire to perform a work task for its own sake rather than for extrinsic rewards (Alge, Ballinger, Tangirala, & Oakley, 2006). Previous researchers have suggested that intrinsic motivation is one of the most important factors affecting employee creativity (Amabile et al., 2004). Employees high in intrinsic motivation are more likely to be creative at work because they are interested in, or fascinated with, the task itself (Zhang & Bartol, 2010b). In contrast, employees low in intrinsic motivation are less likely to expend effort that is based on their interest in work. Thus, they may not become actively involved in creative work, even if leaders provide them with more authority and autonomy. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Intrinsic motivation will moderate the relationship between empowering leadership and employee creativity, such that when it is high, the positive effect of empowering leadership on employee creativity will be stronger than when it is low. …

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