The potential contradictory impact of empowering leadership may obfuscate its effectiveness. Empowering leadership is characterized not only by increased employees' autonomy but also by additional responsibilities and work demands, which may trigger different motivational processes for employees and lead to different perceptions of job stressors. This research aims to explore such contradictory impacts of empowering leadership on employees' perceived stressors by clarifying the complex motivational processes (intrinsic/extrinsic) experienced by employees when facing empowering leadership, as well as the boundary condition of employees' regulatory focus based on regulatory focus theory and self-determination theory (SDT).
The authors examine the proposed theoretical model using a two-wave survey, with the data being collected from 294 employees working at a hotel in China.
The results show that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation mediate the relationship between empowering leadership and employees' perceived stressors and demonstrate the moderating role of an employee's regulatory focus. Specifically, a high promotion focus strengthens the relationship between empowering leadership and intrinsic motivation, while a high prevention focus strengthens the relationship between empowering leadership and extrinsic motivation.
Managers should consider the attributes of front-line service employees (e.g. are they promotion-focused or prevention-focused?) when demonstrating empowering leadership to prevent employees from misinterpreting that leadership as a source of stress.
This research helps to reconcile previously conflicting findings on empowering leadership by clarifying the complex motivational processes behind it. Furthermore, this research adopts a regulatory focus perspective to suggest that the reason why employees respond to their leaders differently is inherently associated with each employee's motivational tendencies.
Funding: This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, specifically by Grant 72172074 awarded to Xiaoming Zheng, and was supported by Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (Project 2021THZWJC29) awarded to Xiaoming Zheng.
Li, L., Zhang, Y. and Zheng, X. (2023), "Burden or opportunity? The role of employees' regulatory focus in shaping the motivational processes of empowering leadership", Baltic Journal of Management, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 89-103. https://doi.org/10.1108/BJM-11-2021-0410
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