In business, having employees that are proactive can significantly increase effectiveness and competitiveness, as proactive behaviors can improve organizational creativity, processes, and job satisfaction. For that reason, getting your employees to be more proactive would seem like a priority for most business leaders.
Recent research has found that employees with empowering leaders tend to be more proactive. This is believe to be due to increased “role breadth self-efficacy,” which is defined as the confidence to perform a variety of tasks outside one’s job description. Furthermore, this research has found that when subordinates trust a leader’s competency, the leader’s power sharing behavior increases the subordinates’ confidence in performing these tasks.
“Despite the well-documented benefits of proactive behavior, the question of how to promote employee proactivity in the workplace is relatively under-explored,” says Dr. Yungui Guo, from China’s Zhoukou Normal University and one of the study’s authors. “Our research elaborates a theoretical model that explains why, and when, empowering leadership might promote this.”
In determining this, the researchers surveyed 280 leader-follower relationships from a large state-owned Chinese company. These surveys assessed the level of empowering leadership in supervisors and proactive behavior in subordinates, as well as trust in leader competence, proactive personality, and role breadth self-efficacy.
Even after controlling for proactive personality, the results showed that empowering leadership is positively correlated with proactive behavior. This effect only increased when employees had a higher level of trust in their leader’s competence.
“When you think your leader is capable, you may view their sharing of power as an opportunity to learn new things,” says Guo. “This gives you confidence to go beyond your job description – which increases your experience and mastery of different skills.”
This research also found that it is actually less necessary for leaders with high trust levels to share their power in order to motivate the proactive behavior of subordinates. “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,” explains Guo. “Therefore, empowered employees with lower level of trust in leader competency are more likely to seize opportunities to exert more proactive behaviors.”
These findings provide great insight into how managers can be more effective, which in turn can lead to businesses being more effective as well. However, similar studies will have to be done in other countries in order to determine whether or not the results are only specific to one country.