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Empowerment Leadership

In: Business and Management

Submitted By collie
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This paper is organized as follows. First we explain the theory on psychological empowerment and various leadership theories to develop a relationship between empowering leadership and employee creativity. Secondly it provides case studies to support the empowerment theories. We argue that the use positive psychology, specifically empowering leadership, contributes to employee success within an organization. The paper cites research by various highly esteemed professors and the primary sources were various internet articles, journals and websites.


The use of positive psychology, originally proposed by Martin Seligman in his 1998 Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association, has been garnering support in recent studies. It focuses not on why people fail, but rather why they flourish and excel. Recent studies have shown that Empowering Leadership can affect employee creativity. By use of the word “creativity” we refer to the “out of the box’ ideas used in production and problem solving.

Professor Alex Linley of the University of Leicester maintained that part of the empowering process calls for the leader to delegate authority which empowers the employee to make decisions and implement actions without direct supervision. This expression of confidence in the employee results in developing the employees feeling of self-efficacy which manifest “in four cognitions: meaning, competence, self determination, and impact.” (Linley and Harrington, 2005). The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how empowered employees excel with increased creative output and problem solving.

How Organizations can help employees thrive:

“If you give your employees the chance to learn and grow, they’ll thrive – and so will your organization.” (Spreitzer, G. M. 1996). The success of the organization depends largely on the efforts and productivity of its employees. Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan, suggests that in a thriving organization “employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future – the company’s and their own” Satisfied, content employees are often found to be complacent, but when employees are excited about their work, studies have found they demonstrate on average 16% better over all performance.

According to the research of Gretchen Spreitzer, there are “four mechanisms that create the conditions for thriving employees: providing decision-making discretion, sharing information, minimizing incivility, and offering performance feedback.” Helping the process succeed require leaders who are open to empowering their employees

An empowering leader must first help the employee understand the meaningfulness of their work by helping them understand the importance of their contribution to the overall company. (Ahearne, 2005). When a person understands how their work contributes to the organizational goals they are more inclined to contribute more effectively and look for innovative solutions. When Zingernan’s Roadhouse restaurant started a game which tracked how long it took for customers to be greeted and how many more purchases were comped for the “ungreeted” customers to compensate for their expressed dissatisfaction. The game went on to give a modest reward to all servers who greeted their customers within the first five minutes. The inspired servers quickly found ways to expedite the service process which resulted in an increase in revenue for the restaurant. (Spreitzer, 2012)

Theresa M. Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School. She is also a Director of Research at the School. Originally educated and employed as a chemist, Dr. Amabile received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1977. Her research investigates how life inside organizations can influence people and their performance. Her research suggests that a leader must also express confidence in the employee’s ability to perform the task with a high level of performance. Studies have found that that supportive leadership lends to a more positive impact on employee creativity and controlling leadership produces a more negative creative output (Amabile, 2004)

Professor Charles Manz of the University of Minnesota maintains that an empowering leader encourages employee participation in the decision making process which promotes the employee’s feeling that they can make an impact. (Manz & Sims, 1987). Encouraging employee participation is always a good management skill and strategy. But when managers openly discuss organizational issues or problems and solicit employee suggestions and feedback, allowing employees to feel part of the management decision making process, this results in an employee who is energized to give their best since they feel proud of being part of the process that affects their work. There are many successful companies like Facebook foster a culture that encourages employees to make decisions and act.

According to Sims an empowering leader must allow the employee the freedom to determine how to innate and carry out the task. (Sims & Manz, 1996). Aherne also suggests that the leader express confidence in the employee’s competence and prospects for high performance. According to Sims this allows the employee to feel like they have some control and fosters a feeling that they can make a difference in the workplace, thereby influencing the employee’s perception of psychological empowerment.

Empowerment Role Identity

Although research shows that empowering leadership has a positive influence on psychological empowerment there are some studies which show that there is a difference to which some employees welcome empowerment, or see themselves empowered (Ahearene, 2005). The role identity theory (Burke, 1997) suggests that individuals develop expectations and role identities for a particular job. This role identity is the basis of how individuals give meaning for their position, interpret events and channel behaviors (Callero, 1987).

A case study by Labianca, Gray and Brass found that resistance to empowerment was motivated more by “well established, ingrained schema regarding the employees role than self interest.” (Labianca, G., Gray, B., Brass, D. J. 2000). Kirkman and Shapiro (1997) proposed that employees differ in their desire for self-management and suggested that some employees are more likely to be resistant with making work related decisions and will assume a more passive role rather than be proactive approach to work goals. Much of this reliance has been shown to be associated with employees who have lower job satisfaction and lower organizational commitment. This supports Labinaca’s notion that some employees resist empowerment because it is not inline with their desires and role perceptions.

Forrester (2000) promulgates that some employees do not believe they are ready to handle new responsibilities, or may have other reasons for not wanting to take on an empowered role. Conversely the role identity theory (Striker 2000) suggests that when an employee views empowerment positively will regard it as fitting with their role and will experience greater psychological empowerment and a stronger relationship with their empowering leader.


Research Settings and Participants

The following study on psychological empowerment was conducted among professional-level employees at an information technology (IT) company in China. A web based survey tool was e-mailed to 670 employees. An e-mail was also sent by the president of the company, supporting the survey and encouraging all employees to participate. The survey had a 74% usable response rate from both the employees and their direct supervisors. The survey participants worked in three jobs: R&D (48%), strategic marketing (43%), and functional professionals (9%). The average age of the participants as 30 years and the average organizational tenure was 3.6 years. 63.2% were male: 68% held bachelor’s degrees and the remaining 38% had graduate degrees. The survey responses to questions were measured using a five-point Likert type scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

Empowering Leadership To measure empowering leadership, Ahearne’s (2005) measure was used. “This 12-item measure has multi-item subscales corresponding to four dimensions: (1) enhancing the meaningfulness of the work, (2) fostering participation in decision making, (3) expressing confidence in high performance, and (4) providing autonomy from bureaucratic constraints.” (Zhang, 2010)

Psychological empowerment Psychological empowerment was measured using Spreitzer’s (1995) “12-item scale as manifested in four dimensions of 3 items each: meaning, competence, self determination, and impact.” (Zhang, 2010)

Empowerment Role identity To measure empowerment role identity, an adaptation from Callero’s (1985) donor role identity measure, combined with Farmer’s (2003) creative role identity measure was used.

Creative process engagement Based on the work of Amabile (1983) and Reiter-Palmon and Illies (2004) an 11- item scale was developed. Employees responded on a scale from “never” to “very frequently.”

Intrinsic motivation To capture the intrinsic motivation an adaptation of the work of Amabile (1985) and Tierney (1999) was used.

Leader encouragement of creativity An adaptation of the work of Scott and Bruce (1994) was used for this study.

Creativity Employee creativity, which reflects thinking about old problems in new ways through use of new concepts, was measured using a 13-item creativity scale developed by Zhou and George (2001). This was section was completed by supervisors only.

Results Several different hypothetical analyses were conducted to evaluate the process for engagement and intrinsic motivation. “Hypothesis 1 states that empowering leadership is positively related to psychological empowerment.” The results supported this view. “Hypothesis 3, which states that psychological empowerment is positively related to intrinsic motivation, was also supported. Similarly, Hypothesis 4, which states that psychological empowerment is positively related to creative process engagement, received support as well. Hypothesis 6 says that intrinsic motivation is positively related to creative process engagement. Results supported this hypothesis. Finally results support the Hypothesis 7 contention that creative process engagement is positively related to employee creativity, as well as Hypothesis 8 prediction that intrinsic motivation is also positively related to employee creativity” (Zhang, 2010).

Five alternative models were also examined to examine theoretical arguments presented earlier. The first model tested the direct effect “of empowering leadership on the employee’s intrinsic motivation” (Zhang, 2010). Based on the results, a case proving that empowering leaders help engage their employees in the process, helping them gain confidence, emphasizing the importance of their work, and provide freedom to carry out their work. As a result, the employee is becomes more engaged in their work which ultimately leads to finding more creative processes.

The second model which had “a direct path from empowering leadership to creative process engagement” had an adequate fit but not better than the first model. (Zhang, 2010). The third model explored a direct path from empowering leadership to creativity, which provided insignificant results. The survey also considered two alternative models that focused on the relationship between “intrinsic motivation, creative process engagement, and employee creativity (Zhang, 2010). These models proved to be a less plausible fit. The study proved “that the hypothesized model was more consistent with the data than any of the five alternative models” (Zhang, 2010).

Conclusion This paper examined the relation ship between psychological empowerment with the creative process involvement. Using survey data, it was found that as anticipated, “empowering leadership positive influenced psychological empowerment, which in turn influenced both intrinsic motivation and creative process engagement (Zhang, 2010). More specifically, this paper shows a positive relationship, proving that employees who felt empowered, felt more involved, and thrived within the organization. However, as Burke’s (1997) role identity theory suggests that there are differences in the extent to which employees wish to be empowered – role identity. Therefore, “managers may find that their empowerment efforts are more successful in engendering cognition of psychological empowerment in those who view empowerment as part of their role identities” (Zhang, 2010). “Fortunately, role identity theory suggests that adding role identity is possible…over time” (Stryker, 1980).


Cowardin-Lee, N., & Soyalp, N. (2011). Improving organizational workflow with social network analysis and employee engagement constructs. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice And Research, 63(4), 272-283. doi:10.1037/a0026754

Crabb, S. (2011). The use of coaching principles to foster employee engagement. Coaching Psychologist, 7(1), 27-34.
(Labianca, G., Gray, B., Brass, D. J. 2000. A grounded model of organizational schema change during empowerment. Organizational Science, 11: 235-257.

Spreitzer, G., & Porath, C. (2012). Creating Sustainable Performance. (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 90(1/2), 92-99.

|Other Resources |
|[pic] |
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|Author |
|Axelrod, Richard H., 1943- |
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|Title |
|Terms of engagement : new ways of leading and changing organizations / Richard H. Axelrod |
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|Publisher |
|San Francisco, CA : Berrett-Koehler Publishers, c2010 |
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Empowering Woman

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