Who are the Empowered Employees: Those with High Work Performance or High Ethical Behavior?

Journal of Business Ethics 186 (3):615-631 (2022)
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Although empowering leadership is central to employees, leaders, and organizations, few studies have examined follower behavior and its role in incentivizing leaders to engage in empowering leadership. We use an exploratory, sequential mixed methods approach to explore comprehensively the influence of employee characteristics (i.e., work performance and ethical behavior) and leader-perceived threats on empowering leadership. We conducted two studies—the first entailed in-depth interviews of 24 managers from different industries to identify (i) the primary employee factors that determine empowering leadership and (ii) the types of leader-perceived threats. The five employee factors and three leader-perceived threats identified lay the groundwork for the quantitative research in the second study. We used leader–member exchange theory and social dominance theory in analyzing data from 357 pairs of employee–supervisor questionnaires. The analysis confirmed the importance of employee ethical behavior (versus work performance) in predicting empowering leadership, and the crucial role of leader trust in connecting employee ethical behavior and work performance with empowering leadership. Leader-perceived power threats negatively influence empowering leadership and mitigate the positive impact of leader trust on empowering leadership. Thus, this study extends the literature’s perspective about empowering leadership to include ethical concerns and leader–member interaction.



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