Empowered Employees are more Proactive, Even When they don’t Trust their Leader

Practical tips for promoting proactivity in the workplace.


According to a new research, employees with empowering leaders are more proactive. This is the first study that demonstrates this effect that causes due to increasing role breadth self-efficacy. In other words, it occurs due to the confidence to do a variety of tasks beyond the job description.

Scientists also demonstrated that when subordinates trust the leader’s competency, the leader’s power-sharing behavior increases the subordinates’ role breadth self-efficacy.

In contrast, scientists suggest that when subordinates confide in the pioneer’s competency, it is less important for the pioneer to share their energy to rouse proactive practices.

Dr. Yungui Guo from China’s Zhoukou Normal University said, “Despite the well-documented benefits of a proactive behavior, the question of how to promote employee proactivity in the workplace is relatively under-explored. Our research elaborates a theoretical model that explains why, and when, empowering leadership might promote this.”

Many studies suggest that proactive behaviors can improve organizational creativity, effectiveness, and competitiveness as well. Although, it is associated with empowering leadership, where managers share power with their subordinates and grant them a fair amount of autonomy.

Those studies had demonstrated the efficiency of proactive behaviors. But, the details of how empowering leadership influences proactivity remains concealed.

Guo said, “Most studies on empowering leadership focused on the team rather than the individual level, and did not separate out the influence of the leader from the employee’s personality. The mechanism by which empowering leadership encourages proactivity has also not been studied in detail.”

For detail analysis, scientists employed 280 leader-follower dyads from a large state-owned Chinese company. They evaluated the level of engaging initiative in bosses, while subordinates were surveyed for proactive conduct, confide in pioneer fitness, proactive identity, and part broadness self-adequacy.

They found that empowering leadership is linked to proactive behavior. It works by sharing power leads to higher role breadth self-efficacy in subordinates, which in turn encourages their proactive behavior.

Guo explained, “When you think your leader is capable, you may view their sharing of power as an opportunity to learn new things. This gives you the confidence to go beyond your job description – which increases your experience and mastery of different skills.”

“In contrast, a low level of trust might make you suspect that delegating power is a way for the leader to shift responsibility. In this case, you may be less willing to take on additional tasks.”

In addition, the study recommends that it is not essential for trusted pioneers to share their energy keeping in mind the end goal to inspire subordinates’ proactive practices.

Guo said, “If you view your leader as incompetent, you may prefer to make your own decisions than follow what he or she tells you to do. Therefore, empowered employees with a lower level of trust in leader competency are more likely to seize opportunities to exert more proactive behaviors.”

“Leaders can foster proactivity by sharing power and adopting empowering behaviors, such as advising subordinates to search for solutions themselves or as a team. Organizations could also train leaders on how to effectively empower employees, or even selectively recruit and promote managers with a higher tendency to empower their subordinates.”

“Role breadth self-efficacy could be used as a selection criterion in the hiring process. Organizations can also foster this by encouraging job rotation and information sharing.”

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