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Transformational leadership and work engagement in public organizations: promotion focus and public service motivation, how and when the effect occurs

Mashhour Alamri (COBA, Al Yamamah University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 14 February 2023

Issue publication date: 8 March 2023

2279

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of the present study is twofold. First, the authors examine the potential mediating role of promotion focus in terms of the relationship between transformational leadership and work engagement. Second, the authors set out to examine whether the indirect effect of transformational leadership and follower work engagement through promotion focus is stronger when followers' public service motivations are higher versus lower.

Design/methodology/approach

The present study examines the association between transformational leadership behavior and employees' work engagement. Data included measures of transformational leadership behavior and promotion focus as well as public service motivation and work engagement. Utilizing a field sample of 316 employees, the study tested the proposed relationships with robust data analytic techniques. Results were consistent with the hypothesized theoretical framework, in that promotion focus mediated the relationship between transformational leadership behavior and work engagement stronger when public service motivation was high and weaker when public service motivation was low. Based on the findings, the study concludes that the connection between transformational leadership behavior and work engagements partially mediated by promotion focus and this mediated connection is stronger when employees' public service motivation is high and weak when employees' public service motivation is low—thereby yielding a pattern of moderated mediation.

Findings

The study findings suggest five main conclusions. First, consistent with previous studies (Aryee et al., 2012; Bui et al., 2017; Hetland et al., 2018; Li et al., 2021; Ng, 2017; Tims et al., 2011; Zhu et al., 2009), the study found a positive relationship between transformational leadership and employees' work engagement. Second, along the same lines of previous research (Brockner and Higgins, 2001; Hetland et al., 2018; Johnson et al., 2017; Kark et al., 2018; Tung, 2016), this study found a positive association between transformational leadership and employees' promotion focus. Third, as hypnotized, the study found a positive association between employees' promotion focus and their work engagement. Fourth, as hypothesized using regulatory focus theory, promotion focus positively mediates the relationship between transformational leadership and employees' work engagement. This result elucidates the underlying mechanism that enables leadership to influence employees' work engagement, particularly, through the self-regulatory promotion focus. The result demonstrates that leadership relates to and affects basic motivations of the promotion systems, which have been known as a basic human need for development and growth. The study demonstrates that leaders may be able to promote followers' motivations by provoking a promotion focus frame and this motivational frame further shapes followers' outcomes in terms of employees' work engagement. Hence, this finding support previous research claiming that promotion focus acts as a mediating mechanism in the relationship between transformational leadership and various outcomes(e.g. Johnson et al., 2017; Kark et al., 2018). However, this study adds significantly to existing research by being the first study to empirically test and pay attention to the promotion focus frame as the underlying psychological mechanism through which transformational leaders motivate followers to higher levels of work engagement. Finally, consistent with the study hypothesis, public service motivation has a moderating effect on the promotion focus-work engagement association. In addition, as the study hypothesized, public service motivation has a moderating effect on the mediating relationships between transformational leadership and employees' work engagement through promotion focus in public sector organizations. It appears that the relationship between transformational leadership and followers' work engagement through promotion focus is enhanced by the role of employees' PSM. In other words, the employees' public service motivation increases employee engagement further for employees with high situational promotion focus than for employees with a low situational promotion focus, which could be explained by the fact that more public service motivation is more meaningful to followers with promotion focus motivational framework to be more engaged. That is, public servants who are predisposed to respond to motives grounded primarily or exclusively in public institutions and organizations are more engaged at work due to their self-regulatory promotion focus spirit. This result is in congruence with findings that indicate that PSM is an important driver of organizational performance and has a positive impact on organizational behavior (Ritz et al., 2016). This finding does provide support to Bakker's (2015) proposition that PSM may strengthen the positive relationship between personal resources (e.g. optimism and self-efficacy) and work engagement because public servants with high levels of enduring PSM find their work important and meaningful. Therefore, they are likely to invest their resources in public service work, be engaged in their work and perform well.

Research limitations/implications

First, it examines the extent to which transformational leadership contributes to employee work engagement. That is, the current study adds to the literature by using promotion focus attributes to probe the underlying mechanism through which transformational leaders enhance employee engagement in the workplace (Kark and van Dijk, 2019). Second, by combining insights obtained from the literature on the self-regulatory theory (Higgins, 1997) and the PSM theory (Perry and Wise, 1990), this study adds to work engagement literature by showing the importance of PSM as an institutional factor in work engagement. Lastly, the study expands the transformational leadership literature by using a moderated mediating model that recognizes PSM as a situational variable in the mediating relationship between transformational leadership and employee engagement.

Practical implications

The results have several implications for practice. Findings reveal that transformational leaders can enhance follower work engagement by inducing their promotion focus orientation. Managers can, therefore, display more transformational behaviors, such as providing a compelling vision, communicating high expectations, promoting new ideas and giving personal attention to each employee in the workplace. In addition, managers may develop a promotion-focus orientation among their followers by appealing more to their ideals and aspirations than to their duties and responsibilities (Brockner and Higgins, 2001). Organizations, on the other hand, could offer leadership training and development programs designed to enhance transformational leadership Behaviors. As for employees' PSM, public organizations have to be more creative in attracting, selecting and retaining employees with high levels of public service motives (Kim, 2021). Public organizations can also train their employees on public service values and enhance their incentives structures to align their motivational predispositions with the organization mission and values.

Originality/value

The present study adds to the existing theory in two ways. First, despite significant progress in exploring the process and boundary conditions for transformational leadership with beneficial work behaviors, the study findings paid attention to the underlying psychological mechanism, precisely the self-regulatory promotion focus frame through which transformational leaders motivate followers to higher levels of work engagement. A second theoretical contribution of the present study is that it adds to the long line of research supporting a more concerted effort to understand both the moderating and mediating mechanisms that link transformational leadership to follower outcomes. By using the moderated mediating model, this study shows that transformational leaders can induce a promotion focus within followers who have developed a public service motivation profile to be more willing to engage in their organizations. The current study also has several practical implications that can be drawn from the study findings. First, organizations should become more sensitive to their employees' (promotional and preventive) self-regulatory foci. Managers should be trained to be strategically oriented toward people's growth and development. Second, by serving as role models, managers can shape their subordinates' regulatory foci. The more managers' actions suggest that they are focused on promotion, the more likely it is that their subordinates will follow suit. Third, managers may emphasize the use of positive feedback, such as praise, by giving it when employees succeed and withholding it when they fail. This feedback style is more likely to elicit a promotion focus, especially if the praise for success focuses on what the employee was able to accomplish (e.g. “You aided in the advancement of an important task!”) rather than negative occurrences that the employee was able to avoid (e.g. “You were extremely cautious and as a result, you avoided making the wrong judgment.”) (Brockner and Higgins, 2001). Moreover, the moderating role of public service motivation in the effects of transformational leadership on work engagement through a promotion focus mechanism suggests that managers should not assume all employees would engage in their work similarly to their transformational leadership behaviors. Managers may find that followers who have values that are consistent with public service are more inclined to their promotion focus frame and thus are likely to internalize both motivations, which ultimately leads to more work engagement. As a result, managers should help employees, for example, feel a sense of accomplishment and recognize that they are contributing to society as an intrinsic reward. Finally, human resource managers must be mindful of their selection and placement decisions. Ensure that members are highly motivated to serve in the public sector and have the desired regulatory focus.

Keywords

Citation

Alamri, M. (2023), "Transformational leadership and work engagement in public organizations: promotion focus and public service motivation, how and when the effect occurs", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 137-155. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-12-2021-0544

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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