LMX-Differentiation Strengthens the Prosocial Consequences of Leader Humility: An Identification and Social Exchange Perspective

0

Author Information : Joel B. Carnevale (Syracuse University)
Lei Huang (Auburn University)
Ted Paterson (Oregon State University)

Year of Publication : Journal of Business Research (2019)

Summary of Findings : We find that humble leaders motivate their followers to engage in helping behavior by fostering a sense of shared identity; however, these positive impacts only occur when humble leaders treat followers differently within the work group - high leader-member exchange (LMX) differentiation.

Research Questions : How and why does leader humility motivate followers to assimilate and model their leader's prosociality?

Does variation in the types of relationships the leader forms with his/her subordinates further influence these processes?

What we know : Although humble leaders are said to instill an other-oriented mind-set in their followers, questions regarding how, why and under what circumstances followers assimilate and behaviorally model their leader’s other-oriented nature remains.

Novel Findings : We demonstrate that humble leaders can instill in followers a shared sense of identity. Furthermore, as followers begin to view their humble leader as an important aspect of their self-definition, they are, in turn, more likely to model their leader's other-oriented nature by helping their fellow group members.

Finally, prior research suggests that situations of high LMX differentiation - where the leader forms relationships with followers that vary in quality - typically have a harmful impact on follower outcomes because followers view the leader as unfair or self-interested. Yet, we found that high levels of LMX differentiation actually enhances the relationship between leader humility and follower identification and helping behavior. We suggest that when humble leaders treat followers differently, followers may attribute the variation in types of relationships to their leader’s humble interest in developing and supporting those followers who need the most help.

Implications for Practice : Results of this research has important implications for practice. First, our study emphasizes the important role humility should play during the leadership selection and training process. Although managers may fear that demonstrating a sense of humility – such as by acknowledging their limitations and being open to others’ suggestions – could be perceived as sign of weakness, our study demonstrates that followers identify with such behavior, and are likely to respond by modeling the leaders’ other-oriented nature in their own work. Thus, organizations should tailor their leadership training to encourage leaders to foster a sense of humility, and emphasize how doing so can help them motivate their employees to go the extra mile.
In addition, our results suggest that managers may want to consider how they balance their humility with the relationships they form with followers. Although it is typically advisable for managers to develop high-quality relationships with all their employees, our results suggest that humble leaders should recognize that distributing their attention, support, and resources equally may cause followers to question the leaders’ attentiveness to their unique needs and abilities and genuine interest in developing them to reach their full potential. Thus, in conjunction with humility training, organizations can emphasize the importance for these leaders to be aware of their employees’ relative capabilities in order to understand when they should provide support and resources, or conversely, become more “hands-off” when interacting with employees.

Abstract : The current study proposes a cross-level moderated-mediation model to explain how and when leader humility motivates followers’ prosociality. Drawing on social identity theory, we theorize that humble leaders motivate their followers to engage in helping behavior by fostering a sense of shared identity. Moreover, consistent with research emphasizing the inclusion of the larger social environment in exploring leader-identity relationships, we draw from social exchange theory to investigate the role of LMX-differentiation in moderating this positive indirect effect. We collected survey data in three waves with a time lag of three weeks between each wave from 233 employees and their 45 supervising managers working at a large Chinese internet company. Our results provide support for the positive indirect effect of leader humility on follower helping via their identification with the leader. Further, our results show that this positive indirect effect is significant only in the presence of high LMX-differentiation, and becomes non-significant in the presence of low LMX-differentiation.

Click here to access Full Paper

We demonstrate that humble leaders can instill in followers a shared sense of identity. Furthermore, as followers begin to view their humble leader as an important aspect of their self-definition, they are, in turn, more likely to model their leader’s other-oriented nature by helping their fellow group members.

Follow

Joel Carnevale

Joel Carnevale teaches management and organizational behavior courses. His research interests include employee ethicality and prosocial behavior, including within a leadership context. He also researches neuroimaging technology (e.g. fMRI) as it applies to ethical decision-making and prosocial behavior. He earned a B.S. in economics and MBA from Radford University in Radford, Virginia, and a Ph.D. in management, focused on organizational studies, strategy and change from the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University.
Joel Carnevale
Follow
Share.

Leave A Reply