What if the integrity of the manager-leader boosted creativity and innovation among the employees in the organisation? Professors Peng He, School of Management Fudan University, and Feng Wei, Tongji University, explore.
Does Leader Integrity Influence Employee Creativity? by CoBS Editor Pavan Jambai Narayanan Sedhu. Related research: Trickle-Down Effects of Perceived Leader Integrity on Employee Creativity: A Moderated Mediation Model, Journal of Business Ethics, Springer.
In the current knowledge economy era, most companies offer freedom to the employees and expect them to be creative rather than simply execute tasks. In this light, we might ask ourselves if the integrity of the immediate supervisor and the manager have an impact on the creativity of the employees? If we consider that integrity is a positive attribute in any ecosystem, we might be inclined to say yes. But how big of an impact can it have on employee creativity?
This is what Profs He Peng and Feng Wei explore in their research by drawing a parallel between the integrity of the people at top management level and the creativity of their employees. They also explore if integrity is a transferable trait through levels of hierarchy – starting from top-management to mid-level managers and finally to the employees.
Integrity in the business world
Scandals in the business world are a regular phenomenon. They seem to be a common enough occurrence to prevent us from remembering one for a substantial period since we are served with another scandal. Among the many examples, the Enron Scandal and the Global Financial Crisis of 2006-2009 are perhaps the most memorable.
Existing research shows that apart from helping to prevent scandals and ethical meltdowns in organizations, integrity is also a key ingredient of leadership and organizational effectiveness and growth. Leader integrity is also positively related to subordinates’ attitudes, organizational behaviour, and performance while having a remedial effect on employee tendencies towards negative behaviour and absenteeism.
So, what exactly is integrity? Is it a tangible quality? Even among the experts, a universal definition remains elusive. Although a complex and subjective notion, Professors Peng and Wei see integrity as a leader’s moral values that are expressed in his/her words and actions in a consistent way.
Creativity as a function of Integrity
What does a leader with integrity offer to the organization? Leaders with integrity provide freedom to speculate, supervisory support, and tolerate mistakes and failures which are key situational factors to facilitate creativity in organizations. So, considering employee creativity as a function of top-management integrity, they both have a strong positive correlation.
The researchers suggest that in practical terms, the integrity of a leader is synonymous with three main traits – reliability, trustworthiness, and being open and empathetic – all of which are propellers/drivers of creativity among employees.
Reliability is important for fostering creativity because followers will believe that if they contribute to the creative performance they will be rewarded in return. Employees contribute to creative performance in order to reciprocate to leaders who are reliable according to social exchange rules. If a leader is high in trustworthiness, followers are more willing to interact with him/her, share information, feel safe to take risk, and subsequently be willing to put new ideas. And finally, open-minded and empathetic leaders are more likely to evaluate their subordinates’ new ideas favorably and are less likely to punish employees for unconventional ideas or failed innovations.
Is integrity contagious?
According to the research findings, it turns out that leaders with higher-level integrity are more likely to attract followers with higher-level integrity. Individuals are more likely to imitate those with high status and power than models of low standing and power. As such, lower-level managers and employees are inclined to observe their leaders’ behaviour and imitate their upper managers.
Moreover, there seems to be a specific group of employees who are prone to be the most influenced by the top management. People ‘‘who lack self-esteem, who feel incompetent, and who are highly dependent are especially likely to pattern their behaviour after successful models. As such, first-line managers who want to improve themselves are more inclined to learn from their supervisors. And these are the type of people who create a long-term positive atmosphere among the employees.
Besides setting an/the example, higher-level managers can also influence employees in other ways. These include establishing policies that set clear expectations in their departments, using values-based leadership, and being aware of individual differences among subordinates.
Creating creative confidence
In a nutshell, Profs Peng and Wei’s research establishes a strong positive correlation between manager integrity and employee creativity. Although it is generally acknowledged that integrity is an essential quality, and certainly an admirable one in a manager, the fact that it manifests in employee creativity can be used by the firms to boost employee creativity.
Moreover, supervisors who discern a high level of professional ethical standards are more likely to mimic their leaders’ integrity. As such, Profs Peng and Wei recommend that/urge organizations to develop employees’ professional ethical standards through training and corporate social responsibility activities.
With technology becoming more and more accessible to companies and people, differentiation via a product or service is becoming increasingly difficult. In this light, we can argue that employee creativity is a key differentiating factor between companies today. And when leaders at the top demonstrate integrity, managers mimic them, creating a positive and empowering atmosphere in the firm which enables creativity among employees.
- Link up with Professor Peng He on LinkedIn
- View Prof Peng He’s academic profile and research
- Read a related article: What Makes Employee Voice Stronger?
- Discover and study at School of Management Fudan University, Shanghai.
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