Thought Self-leadership & Performance: Examining the Role of Work Engagement.

AuthorGupta, Bindu


In the present turbulent and uncertain environments, organizations increasingly rely on the strengths and talents of their employees and aspire for tools and techniques to develop them. For a long time, the primary focus of research was on exploring how the vertical influence process (i.e., top-down) facilitates the creation and development of an engaging and high performing workforce. Although in certain situations this leadership style is appropriate, the present business scenario requires a shift in leadership skills. With the changing work context such as the introduction of the virtual environment, flexi-time, telecommuting, and so on, employees may not always work under direct supervision. In this context, it has become critical for the employee to learn to self-lead which is an acceptable leadership theme (Bennis, 1994; Drucker, 1999; Goleman et al., 2002; Senge, 1990; Yukl, 2002).

Manz and Sims (1980) were the pioneers to introduce the concept of self-leadership which proposes that even though external forces influence behavior, internal forces more than external forces ultimately control the actions (Manz, 1986). Self-leadership is" a process through which individuals control their behavior, influencing and leading themselves through the use of specific sets of behavioral and cognitive strategies" (Manz, 1986; Manz & Neck, 2004). It is based on the self-regulation framework (Carver & Scheier, 1981; 1998) which explains the reasons underlying the behavior. Self-leadership theory suggests the strategies that may be used to augment self-regulatory effectiveness. Employees with self-leadership skills can adjust well and have more confidence, which increases the likelihood of their success (e.g., Murphy & Ensher, 2001; Raabe, Frese, & Beehr, 2007; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998). Self-leadership leads to higher job satisfaction (Neck & Manz, 1996; Uhl-Bien & Graen, 1998), low absenteeism (Frayne & Latham, 1987; Latham & Frayne, 1989), and numerous positive health- and work-related outcomes in organizations (e.g., Stewart et al., 2010).

Research in the self-leadership domain suggests that increasing individual effectiveness has a positive influence on organizational outcomes (e.g.,Manz & Sims, 1980, 2001; Manz & Neck, 2004; Houghton & Neck, 2002). There have been continuous efforts to understand the effect of self-leadership on employee performance. A series of studies opined that self-leadership has a direct effect on performance (e.g., Konradt et al., 2009; Manz, 1986; Neck & Houghton, 2006). Other research suggests mediating variables linking self-leadership and performance (e.g., Breevaart et al., 2016; Prussia et al., 1998). Prussia et al. (1998) testified the mediating effect of self-efficacy and reported the positive effect of self-leadership strategies on self-efficacy and the direct effect of self-efficacy on performance. Breevaart et al.(2016) examined the relationship between self-leadership and performance through work engagement using a uni-dimensional measure of self-leadership. A recent study on sales employees demonstrates that TSL strategies can influence performance through selling skills and adaptive behavior as a mediator between self-efficacy and performance (Singh et al., 2017).We have tried to integrate the research linking self-leadership and performance, and by following the multi-dimensional model of leadership, have explored the cognitive and motivational explanation of employee performance. We include the cognitive variables: thought self-leadership (TSL), and self-efficacy and motivational variable, work engagement. This study proposes self-efficacy as a distal predictor of performance unlike as suggested by the previous study (Prussia et al. 1998). We argue that TSL leads to high self-efficacy and high self-efficacy leads to enhanced performance through work engagement. This research contributes to the domain of self-leadership and performance by integrating the earlier research and explores the effect of specific self-leadership strategies on larger job-roles. This study has used the social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 1991) and job demands-resources (JD-R) theory (Crawford et al., 2010) to explain the effect of TSL on self-efficacy and of self-efficacy on performance and mediating role of work engagement on the proposed relationship (Fig. 1)

The other contribution of the study lies in identifying the mediating relationships among the study variables in Indian contexts compared to western culture. Most of the research on the application of self-leadership is in the western context which is characterized by low power distance and high on individualism. There is a debate that the research findings that appear in the western context may not apply to another cultural context like India, which is high on power distance and low on individualism (Hofstede, 2001). Adler (1997) opined that there are no universal theories of leadership. Neck and Houghton (2006: 286) suggested that "the usefulness and applicability of self-leadership should be examined across a variety of international settings". Endeavors in this direction suggest that use of self-leadership strategies varies in different cultural contexts (e.g., Jose et al. 2006; Georgianna, 2007) and employees from western culture are high on self-leadership compared to eastern group (Georgianna, 2007).

Theoretical Background & Conceptual Model

TSL, an important component of self-leadership, suggests the cognitive strategies that employees can use for self-influence (Manz & Neck, 1991; Neck & Manz, 1992; 1996b; Neck & Milliman, 1994; Neck et al., 1995). These strategies comprise identifying and replacing dysfunctional beliefs and assumptions, practicing mental imagery, and using positive self-talk (Neck & Manz, 2012). These strategies influence one another and produce constructive thought patterns or habitual ways of thinking (Manz, 1983; 1992; Neck & Manz, 1992).

Dysfunctional beliefs and assumptions cause dysfunctional thinking (Burns, 1999). Therefore, it is desirable that for an individual to inspect his/her thought patterns and substitute dysfunctional beliefs and assumptions with constructive ones (e.g., Burns, 1980; Manz & Neck, 2004; Neck & Manz, 1992). Employees have a positive perception of their job when they can replace and avoid irrational thoughts (Judge & Locke, 1993; Wanberg & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000).

Self-talk can be defined as speaking to oneself. Individuals who use self-talk as a strategy covertly tell themselves (Neck &Manz, 1992; 1996a), mentally self-evaluate, and react (Ellis, 1977; Neck & Manz, 1992). A person can replace negative or pessimistic self-talk with more optimistic self-dialogues by carefully analyzing his/ her self-talk patterns (Seligman, 1991). Employees build up the confidence for learning complex skills (Kanfer & Ackerman, 1996) and complete the task better by using positive self-talk (Neck & Manz, 2012).

Mental imagery involves imagination or visualization of the successful performance of a task before it is completed (Manz & Neck, 1991; Neck & Manz, 1992). Driskell et al. (1994) reported a significant positive effect for mental imagery on performance after a meta-analysis of 35 empirical studies. Hotel room cleaners who saw their performance as a result of effort stayed longer compared to others who linked performance to luck (Parsons, Herold & Leatherwood, 1985). Individuals also perform better when they visualize the successful completion of an activity in advance of its actual accomplishment (Manz & Neck, 2004).


Thought Self-Leadership Strategies and Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy is defined as an individual's self-assessment of his/her capability to perform a required...

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