Empowering leadership: a study of team leaders & team members.

AuthorSrivastava, Manjari


Today's successful organizations demand employees who can take the initiative to extend beyond job requirements (Lester, Meglino & Korsgaard, 2008). Today's workforce shows a higher need for achievement, innovation, personal control and self-esteem. (Kundu & Rani, 2007). These demand a paradigm shift from the traditional "command and control" style of management to a new "involvement and commitment" style in which managers devolve power while enabling or "empowering" individual employees to take responsibility for performance targets (Fligstein, 1990). This paper aims to explore the antecedents of leader's empowering behavior both from leaders and their subordinates' perspectives. Further, it also examines the moderating role of organization culture between the independent and dependent variables.


It is understood that empowered employees would contribute more and better to their organizational outcomes. This is supported by literature (Bass & Avolio, 1994; Luthans & Avolio, 2003; Walumbwa et al., 2003) which suggested that followers who work with leaders exhibiting high moral standards and expectations, integrity, and optimism feel more comfortable and empowered to do the activities required for successful task accomplishment.

Conger and Kanungo (1988) popularized the concept of empowerment and gave it relational as well as motivational dimensions. 'Employee Empowerment' was referred to as a "process of enhancing feelings of self-efficacy among organizational members through the identification of conditions that foster powerlessness and through their removal both by formal organizational practices and informal techniques of providing efficacy information." Spreitzer (1995) defined Employee Empowerment as "A motivational construct manifested in four cognitions-meaning, competence, self-determination and impact. " 'Bowen and Lawler (1992) focused on empowering management practices including delegation of decision making from higher to lower organizational levels, increasing access to information and resources from higher to lower levels. Arnold, Rhoades and others (2000) emphasized participative unit climate, socio-political support, access to information, and training and development as elements that make up empowerment. The role of coaching, informing, and participative decision-making behaviors in the empowerment process has been suggested by researchers (Blau & Alba, 1982; Bowen & Lawler, 1992).

Management literature has seen the evolution of leadership theories, starting from early trait theories to transactional, transformational, authentic and spiritual perspective of leadership. The early seeds of Empowering Leadership are to be found in Transformational Leadership which emphasized the role of empowerment as a central mechanism to building commitment to the organization's objectives (Avolio, et. al, 2004; Bass, 1998; Yukl, 1998; Lowe et al. 1996; Laschinger, Finegan & Shamian, 2001). While the transactional and transformational line of leadership styles was being developed, a theory on Authentic Leadership (Shamir & Eilam, 2005; Gardner et al., 2005; Cerne, et. al., 2013) has also found its way propagating development of authentic followers.

In our paper, empowering leadership behaviors were preliminarily taken to include the following five dimensions viz. Participative Decision Making (PDM), Showing Concern/Interacting with the Team, Leading by Example, Informing, and Coaching. The paper further describes the independent variables considered from the leaders' perspective i.e. self-esteem & belief about people and variables from team members' perspective i.e. task structure and members' readiness.

Self-Esteem & Leadership Empowerment

Self-esteem is a person's overall evaluation of sense of worth. According to Bass (1990), self-esteem in leaders appeared to be related to their ability to accept people as they were, to trust others, and to be able to work without the constant need for approval or recognition. Locke, McClear and Knight (1996) discovered that leaders with high self-esteem are more effective in setting organizational goals and in motivating subordinates than leaders with low self-esteem. Pierce et al (2004) mentioned that for measuring self-esteem in the organizational context, a leader's Organization-Based Self-Esteem(OBSE) as a construct is all the more relevant. Pierce et al (1989) stated that employees with high levels of OBSE have a deep-seated (absolute, unquestioning) belief that "I count around here", and "I am an important part of this place. These go on to reflect a self-judgment of one's organizational worthiness (Coopersmith, 1967).

In the present study, both global self-esteem and OBSE were taken into consideration. Global self-esteem is defined as the overall value that one places on oneself as a person, a person's self-acceptance, self-liking and self-respect; how he sees his abilities and is satisfied with what he has achieved of his potential; and a general sense of worth when he compares himself with others. OBSE is operationalized through the leaders' feelings of being valuable and important to the organization, being trusted and being seen as a contributing and respected member in the organizational team.

Leader's Beliefs

This variable is a reflection of a leader's values in relation to subordinates. It has been seen that managerial beliefs about people can cause autocratic and democratic leadership behaviors (McGregor, 1960; 1967). McGregor (1960) labeled these beliefs as 'Theory X and Theory Y.' Managers with Theory X mindsets tend to have a negative, pessimistic view of subordinates and display more coercive, autocratic leadership styles using external means of controls, such as threats and punishment. By contrast, managers with Theory Y attitudes tend to have positive, optimistic views of subordinates and display more participative leadership styles using internal motivation and rewards (McGregor, 1960; McGregor& Cutcher-Gershenfeld, 2006). Sager (2008) also examined the concomitant relationship between managers' theory X/Y assumptions and communication styles and found similar significant associations. He argued that these beliefs of managers could affect their empowering behaviors. Drawing upon the literature, it seems important to consider whether leaders' beliefs about his team member would influence his/her empowering behavior.

In the present study, "Leaders' beliefs about people" is included as one of the antecedents to empowering leadership and includes the leaders' beliefs about the team members' attitude to work, motivations, aspirations, the perceived need to supervise them, self control, desire to participate in organizational decisions, commitment and willingness to take responsibility.

Following research question was raised from the leaders' perspective: 1

  1. How leaders' perception of their own global and organization based self-esteem and belief about people is associated with his/her empowering behaviors towards team members?

    Task Structure & Leaders' Empowerment

    Task structure is one of the variables that have probably received the most research attention among all the other environmental variables (Srivastava & Sinha, 2011). The nature of the task that the team member must perform is considered to be one of the important factors that determine the extent to which a leader can actually empower his team members. Bass (1985) suggested that more empowering approach would seem an appropriate choice for followers in unstructured task environments. Leadership theorists have further suggested that a directive leadership style would be most appropriate for unstructured task environments (House, 1971; 1996; Silverthorne, 2001). Pawar and Eastman (1997) went on to suggest that individuals operating within the routine structured tasks will be resistant to leader transformation efforts whereas those in relatively unstructured units will be more receptive to a transformational leader. According to Path-Goal theory, supportive leader behavior will have a positive effect on satisfaction for subordinates who work on highly structured tasks and will have little effect on job satisfaction or performance when task structure is low (House &Mitchell, 1974). Similar assertions have been made by other authors such as Awan, Zaidi et al (2011).

    In our study the task structure is defined as the degree to which the team member is engaged in task performance from beginning to end, freedom in the way the task is completed, how repetitive it is and the degree of compliance that exists around that task.

    Readiness of Team Members

    Johnson & Paper (1998) stated that in order for empowerment to be successful, empowered workers must be knowledgeable, competent, and confident in their job processes and in their decision-making ability. According to Hersey et al. (1996) there is no one best way to influence people and leaders need to assess the readiness level defined as the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task and then use the appropriate leadership style. Irgens (1995) considers the knowledge of the task; skill in performing the task; ability to plan the work; and ability to meet deadlines as...

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