Benevolent Leadership Promotes Employee Creativity

LIN, Weipeng | MA, Jingjing | ZHANG, Qi

The success of an organization is largely dependent on the effectiveness of the leadership process, rendering the study of leadership essential. Virtuous leader behavior in form of benevolent leadership, referring to leaders’ individualized, holistic concern for both subordinates’ work and non-work domains, has long been considered to have beneficial impacts on a variety of followers’ outcomes, including job satisfaction, organization commitment, etc. Nevertheless, the mechanism behind and impact of benevolent leadership on subordinates’ creativity remain largely unexplored. The current research attempts to study how and under what conditions these constructs are linked.

More specifically, the researchers hypothesized that benevolent leadership leads to the development of a high-quality leader-follower relationship (LMX), which further enhances followers’ creativity. Moreover, they hypothesized that the relation of benevolent leadership and LMX, as well as the indirect effect of benevolent leadership on followers’ creativity via LMX, would be stronger for employees with higher power-distance orientation who believe they are inferior to their leaders.

Two survey-based field studies are conducted to test the above hypotheses. In Study 1, repeated measured data collected from 284 Chinese employees in an information technology company demonstrates that benevolent leadership has a lagged effect on LMX (but not vice versa). In Study 2, analyses of multisource and lagged data from 391 Chinese employees in 42 research and development teams and their direct supervisors indicate that benevolent leadership is positively related to supervisor-rated employee creativity via LMX. Further, the relationship between benevolent leadership and LMX is stronger for employees high in power-distance orientation.

The current research can provide some suggestions for practice. As benevolent leadership is connected to higher levels of LMX and thus related to higher levels of employee creativity, organizations can provide trainings with the purpose of cultivating and encouraging leader benevolence. In light of the moderating effects of employee power-distance orientation, leaders should employ different strategies when attempting to exert influence on different subordinates, taking into account the subordinates’ cultural values.

Nonetheless, the generalizability of the findings may be limited as the current research collects samples only with relatively short organizational tenures and data solely in a Chinese context. In the future, a fruitful extension of the current research is to expand it to nonpaternalistic, Western contexts.

MA, Jingjing

Assistant Professor