An Empowered Employee Equals A Proactive One

I suspect that most companies wish their employees to be empowered and emboldened to take initiative and make the most of their talents.  A recent study highlights how important leadership is in enabling such an approach.

“Despite the well-documented benefits of proactive behavior, the question of how to promote employee proactivity in the workplace is relatively under-explored,” the authors say. “Our research elaborates a theoretical model that explains why, and when, empowering leadership might promote this.”

Empowering a proactive workforce

The benefits of a proactive workforce are fairly well established, from improvements in productivity to creativity.  Such behaviors have typically been associated with empowering leadership, with managers sharing their power with their team and giving them significant levels of autonomy.  The researchers wanted to examine just how this works.

“Most studies on empowering leadership focused at the team rather than the individual level, and did not separate out the influence of the leader from the employee’s personality,” the authors say. “The mechanism by which empowering leadership encourages proactivity has also not been studied in detail.”

The researchers deep dived into a medium sized organization to assess the level of empowering leadership among managers, and the proactive behaviors exhibited in their teams.

The analysis reveals that there is indeed a positive link between empowering leadership and proactive behavior, and what’s more, this link remains even when the proactive personality of the staff is discounted.  The authors believe this occurs because the sharing of power leads to greater role breadth self-efficacy in team members, which results in higher proactive behaviors.  What’s more, this is stronger when the team are confident in the ability of their leader.

“When you think your leader is capable, you may view their sharing of power as an opportunity to learn new things,” the authors explain. “This gives you confidence to go beyond your job description – which increases your experience and mastery of different skills.”

What’s interesting however is that it isn’t always necessary for trusted leaders to give up power in order to prompt proactive behavior within their team, but this only occurs if the team believe the leader is incompetent.

“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,” they explain. “Therefore, empowered employees with lower level of trust in leader competency are more likely to seize opportunities to exert more proactive behaviors.”

Leadership implications

The authors believe this has several implications for managers.  For instance, managers can empower proactivity by sharing their power and encouraging their team to be proactive in their search for solutions.  Organizations can train their leaders to this end, or even use proactive characteristics as part of their recruitment.

It could also be beneficial to focus on role breadth self-efficacy.  This could also be used as part of the selection criteria when staff are employed, but it can also be encouraged by things such as job rotation and information sharing.

With proactivity a characteristics that most organizations crave in employees, these are some tips that should be worth heeding.

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