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Leadership behaviors and group creativity in Chinese organizations: The role of group processes☆

Ann Yan Zhang a,⁎, Anne S. Tsui b,d,e,f,1, Duan Xu Wang c,2

a The Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China b W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85278, USA c School of Management, Zhejiang University, Zhejiang, 310058, China d Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China e School of Management, Fudan University, Shanghai, 200433, China f Antai College of Economics & Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, 200052, China

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Available online 9 August 2011 In seeking to understand the factors contributing to work group creativity in Chinese organizations, we explored the roles of two different leadership styles (transformational and authoritarian) that Chinese leaders play in group creativity through influencing internal group processes, i.e., collective efficacy and knowledge sharing among groupmembers. We tested our hypotheses with a sample of 163 work groups involving 973 employees in twelve Chinese companies. We found transformational leadership to relate positively but authoritarian leadership to relate negatively to group creativity, mediated by both collective efficacy and knowledge sharing among members within the group. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on group leadership, group creativity and cross-cultural management.

© 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Leadership Group creativity Group process Collective efficacy Knowledge sharing China

1. Introduction

To maintain or enhance effectiveness within rapidly changing and extremely competitive environments, organizations have to be creative at the individual, group, and organizational levels (Drazin, Glynn, & Kazanjian, 1999; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002). The challenge for organizational researchers is to identify the factors that contribute to creativity at these different levels within the firm. The majority of the research on creativity has focused on individual traits, abilities and cognitive styles (Shalley, Zhou, & Oldman, 2004). At the group level, the tendency for individual members to conform and align with the views of the majority of the members in the group (De Dreu & West, 2001) may discourage the creative thinking that is necessary for innovation. In this context, group leaders play a critical role in counteracting this tendency toward conformity and in releasing group members’ creative potential. Empirical research has reported that leaders can enhance subordinate creativity by showing technical and creative problem-solving skills (Mumford et al., 2002); providing support (Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002; Oldham& Cummings, 1996), building intrinsic motivation (Shin & Zhou, 2003), or creating a positive mood (Madjar et al., 2002). This stream of research has focused primarily on leaders’ influence on individual teammembers. However, the role of leadership in stimulating the entire group’s creativity remains underexplored (Zhou & Shalley, 2008). The current study extends our understanding of how leaders influence group creativity through creativity-enabling group processes. The specific research question that the current study seeks to answer is: What behaviors of the leader are conducive to group creativity and what are the group processes that serve to bridge leader behaviors and group creativity?

The Leadership Quarterly 22 (2011) 851–862

☆ This research was supported by grants from The National Natural Science Foundation of China (70802001and71032001). ⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 10 62751831; fax: +86 10 62761081.

E-mail addresses: (A.Y. Zhang), (A.S. Tsui), (D.X. Wang). 1 Tel.: +1 480 965 3999; fax: +1 480 965 8314. 2 Tel./fax: +86 571 88206856.

1048-9843/$ – see front matter © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.07.007

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

The Leadership Quarterly

j ourna l homepage: www.e lsev ie locate / l eaqua

To address the above questions, we conducted a field study involving 163 work groups and 973 group members in 12 Chinese companies. We propose that collective efficacy and within-group knowledge sharing among members are two important group processes that account for the influence of leadership behaviors on group creativity. The changing nature of management practices in China due to economic reforms and globalization provides an interesting setting to test our hypotheses on the comparative role of modern leadership theory (transformational) with traditional Chinese leadership (authoritarian). Our study can contribute not only to knowledge about team leadership and group creativity, but also to management practices within a cross-cultural context, such as leading multi-cultural teams. The results should be both locally relevant and globally meaningful.

2. Conceptual background and hypotheses

Creativity refers to the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or a small groupof individualsworking together and it is different from innovation that refers to the successful implementation of creative ideas (Amabile, 1988). Creative ideas are the basic ingredients of innovation in products and services and have potential to produce value for the organization (George, 2007).

Despite a rich body of research focusing on the creativity of individuals (Drazin et al., 1999; Oldham& Cummings, 1996; Shalley et al., 2004), groups (De Dreu & West, 2001), organizations (Amabile, 1996) and even multilevels in organizations (Taggar, 2002; Zhou & Shalley, 2008), “most earlier research has focused on antecedents of individual employee creativity” (Shalley et al., 2004, p. 951). Although some insight can be gained from the research on group brainstorming, team innovation, and creative performance (e.g., Jaussi & Dionne, 2003), little empirical work has been conducted on conditions that contribute to group creativity (Shalley et al., 2004).

At the group level, creativity is a function of group processes in addition to group composition and group characteristics (Shalley & Gilson, 2004; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). These group processes include the development of shared objects, participation in decision making, managing conflict effectively, and developing members’ integration skills (West, 2002). The input-process-output model (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Shalley et al., 2004) suggests that a group’s creative output is a result of the group’s processes, and a small body of research has empirically examined the role of group processes in creativity. For instance, Leenders, Van Engelen, and Kratzer (2003) found that a moderate amount of communication was best for fostering creativity in new product development teams. West and Wallace (1991) reported that a low level of cohesiveness was necessary for new idea generation while a high level was required for idea implementation. Taggar (2002) investigated the interaction between group members’ individual dispositions (e.g., cognitive ability, openness to experience, and conscientiousness) and group processes (e.g., involving others, providing feedback, and effective communication) in the creation of products by groups of college students. West et al. (2003) found that group processes (e.g., group participation, commitment to team objectives) consistently predicted group creativity.While these studies have focused on group processes as themajor antecedents to group creativity, they beg the question of what produces these creativity-generation processes.

The group leader has been suggested as one of the organizational contexts in input-process-output model to induce group processes for creative performance (Woodman et al., 1993). Mumford, Connelly, and Gaddis (2003) proposed a conceptual process model of leaders’ creative thought from the perspective that the leader actively contributed to the production of creative ideas in shaping creative ventures. Mumford and his colleagues (Mumford et al., 2002) also proposed a systematic model on tactics and skills that a group leader uses to manage creative people, including leader expertise, creative problem solving, planning skills, and social skills. West et al. (2003) found leadership clarity predicted group creativity partially through group processes in health care teams.

Focusing on the role of group leadership, O’Hara (2001) found that participative leadership improved group creativity through promoting groupmembers’ engagement and reducing conflict. Jung (2001) confirmed that divergent thinking (as a proxy of group creativity) would be higher under transformational than under transactional leadership. However, more research is needed to understand the intervening process that group leaders induce. In line with the input-process-output framework, this study examines the role of two types of leadership behaviors in group creativity through two specific group processes.

Group leadership influences group dynamics through influencing both individuals within the group and the group as a whole (Kark, Shamir, & Chen, 2003; Wu, Tsui, & Kinicki, 2010). Given that leadership substantially influences employee individual motivation and behavior (e.g., individualized consideration), group leadership could shape an individual member’s behavioral tendency toward other group members and toward the whole group. Group leaders also direct the group as a whole to influence group outcomes. For example, leaders can address the whole group when they deliver speeches about attractive visions to the group. By focusing on both individual members and the group as a whole, group leadership encourages knowledge sharing and increases collective motivation of a group, which in turn contributes to group creativity. The following section reviews the two leadership styles that may impact group processes and group creativity.

2.1. Two types of leadership behaviors

The general idea of leadership is that it is a universal phenomenon, since no society exists without some kind of leadership (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). Bass (1997) proposed that the transformational leadership paradigm is sufficiently broad to provide a basis for understanding leadership in all situations and settings. Indeed, transformational leadership has been found to be meaningful and effective in Hong Kong (Yu, Leithwood, & Jantzi, 2002), Taiwan (Spreitzer, Perttula, & Xin, 2005), and mainland China (Wang, Law, Wang, & Chen, 2005), similar to that in the United States (Bass & Avolio, 1990). Transformational leaders (1) raise followers’ consciousness about the importance and value of designated outcomes; (2) encourage followers to transcend their self-interests for the good of the group, organization or society; and (3) expand

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followers’ portfolios of needs to improve themselves and what they are attempting to accomplish (Bass, 1985; Burns, 1978). Research has found that transformational leaders in China influence followers’ commitments to change (Yu et al., 2002), task performance and organizational citizenship behavior (Wang et al., 2005), leadership effectiveness (Spreitzer et al., 2005), and employees’ creativity (Gong, Huang, & Farh, 2009).

Tsui, Wang, Xin, Zhang, and Fu (2004) identified several leadership styles among a sample of executive leaders in China. One of these is the authoritarian style, which is similar in some ways to the authoritarian communication style found in small group decision making studies (Hackman & Johnson, 1996) and to the authoritarian management style (Smither, 1993) in Western settings. Bond and Hwang (1993) observed that “…many Chinese leaders tend to adopt an authoritarian pattern of leadership, making all the important decisions, assigning tasks to subordinates…” The Chinese style of authoritarian leadership reflects the cultural characteristics of familial ties, paternalistic control, and submission to authority (Farh & Cheng, 2000).

Authoritarian leadership should be distinguished from abusive supervision (Aryee, Chen, Sun, & Debrah, 2007) in that the latter is not a leadership style but a behavioral tendency of supervisors perceived by subordinates. Examples of abusive supervisory behavior include criticizing publicly, shouting, giving subordinates the silent treatment, andmaking aggressive eye contact (Aryee, Sun, Chen, & Debrah, 2008). While authoritarian leaders are likely to engage in abusive supervision since it “will satisfy the authoritarian leaders’ need for control and/or yield power” (Aryee et al., 2007, p.193), not all authoritarian leaders are abusive. Aryee et al. (2007) reported a correlation of .38 (pb .01) between these two constructs.

In traditional Chinese society influenced by Confucianism, Chinese people observe obligations associated with different roles. For example, it is a virtue for subordinates to show respect for and obey their superiors. Power and rights are unequal between superiors and subordinates, with superiors demanding and subordinates expressing compliance, respect, and trust. This Confucian role obligation is the basis for large power distance in this culture. Bond and Hwang (1993) observed that it was dangerous and self-destructive to struggle openly against authority until the early 1980s.

The modernization of contemporary Chinese society has to some degree weakened the foundation of authoritarianism. Nevertheless, the authoritarian leadership style is still found among Chinese leaders (Tsui et al., 2004). As researchers observe, “[T] he reforms have changed people’s behaviors on the surface, but deep inside, their values, which were formed at an early stage in life, are still there” (Fu, Wu, Yang, & Ye, 2007, p. 892). Even now, social rights and privileges remain closely tied to one’s status, indicating the lingering influence of traditional values for hierarchical power and order (Fu et al., 2007). A study using a sample of military leaders in Taiwan found a negative relationship between authoritarian leadership and followers’ organizational citizenship behaviors (Liang, Ling, & Hsieh, 2007). Even though authoritarian leadership is a hallmark of military leaders and hence expected by employees, it is not surprising that this leadership behavior suppresses citizenship behavior among the followers. This study focuses on individual responses, the authoritarian leader’s influence on group creativity remains unknown.

2.2. Leadership behaviors and group creativity

Leadership is one important input (Oldham & Cummings, 1996) in the input-process-output model to influence group output (Mumford et al., 2002). Transformational leadership has been found to enhance the creativity potential of individual employees (e.g., Shin & Zhou, 2003). Mumford and his associates (Mumford, 2000; Mumford et al., 2002) proposed conceptually that transformational leadership could facilitate the introduction of new ideas and creative potential by providing vision, motivation, and intellectual simulation to followers, individually or as members of groups. Shin and Zhou (2007) found transformational leadership to enhance the influence of a team’s educational specialization heterogeneity on R&D teams’ creativity. Empirical evidence on how transformational leadership serves as a direct enabler of team creativity is still lacking.

Through intellectual stimulation, transformational leaders stimulate followers by questioning their assumptions, challenging the status quo, and encouraging problem reformulation, imagination, intellectual curiosity, and novel approaches (Shin & Zhou, 2003). Intellectual stimulation could also help groupmembers to build creativity-relevant cognitive processes of problem solving, problem construction, information searching, and solution generation (Reiter-Palmon & Illies, 2004). Through individualized consideration, transformational leaders recognize the unique growth and developmental needs of followers as well as offering coaching and consulting to followers. They foster group creativity by developing domain-relevant skills for individual group members. Leaders with a high level of individualized consideration also support individual members’ initiatives and viewpoints and encourage creative thinking by inspiring them to express ideas without fear of receiving negative evaluations from the leader and other group members, elevating the group’s creativity as a whole.

Transformational leaders, who have charisma or idealized influence, provide a clear sense of purpose to the team that energizes and builds identification with the leader and the articulated vision (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1999). They inspire group members to recognize what they are able to accomplish through extra effort and they help followers to find opportunities in situations appearing to be threatening and to overcome problems seen as insurmountable (Bass & Avolio, 1990). These actions encourage followers to be persistent and tenacious in finding creative solutions. A compelling vision serves as inspirational motivation for followers. By using symbolic actions and persuasive language, leaders with attractive visions stimulate enthusiasm, build confidence, and energize followers’ intrinsic motivation to break from tradition and increase creative activities.

Transformational leaders can build a creative climate in the group through processes such as questioning the status quo, stimulating followers to question critical assumptions in their previous cognitive frames, and suggesting newways of looking atwork processes (Keller, 2006; Nemanich & Keller, 2007).Moreover, the transformational leader’s individualized consideration ensures that all teammembers feel recognized and appreciated in their uniqueness (Kearney & Gebert, 2009), which develops an atmosphere of tolerating diversity and differences of viewpoints. Intellectual stimulation also implies that leaders encourage divergent thinking

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within a group even if the voiced views deviate from the general consensus, increasing the potential for collective creative problem solving. Further, transformational leaders encourage followers to transcend their self-interests for the sake of the collective (Bass & Avolio, 1990). They motivate interpersonal collaborations or discourage interpersonal conflicts among group members to achieve collective goals (Jung, 2001). Such mutual collaboration behavior influences group creativity. The role of transformational leadership in group performance in the R&D setting (Keller, 2006) partially supports the above arguments.

Based on previous research and our further elaboration of how transformational leadership may influence group creativity, we hypothesize that:

H1. Transformational leadership will relate positively to group creativity.

Farh and Cheng (2000) introduced a conceptual framework of paternalistic leadership, which comprises three components: authoritarianism, benevolence, andmorality. An authoritarian leader asserts absolute authority and control over subordinates and demands unquestionable obedience from subordinates (Cheng, Chou, Wu, Huang, & Farh, 2004). Tsui et al. (2004) described authoritarian leaders as stressing personal dominance over subordinates, centralizing authority in themselves, and making unilateral decisions. Aryee et al. (2007) noted that authoritarian leaders tend to provide information, determine what is to be done, issue rules, promise rewards for compliance, and threaten punishment for disobedience.

Given that Chinese people have a higher level of tolerance for inequality of power in society (Fu et al., 2007), subordinates are willing to respect the authoritarian leader and behave obediently. As such, under an authoritarian leader, group members will comply without dissent and conform to the leader’s authority and decisions. A dominance-submission relationship between the leader and group members is developed and strengthened. The conformity pressure is likely to be counterproductive to creativity (Mumford et al., 2002). It is reasonable to expect that followers would not have any initiative to produce alternative or new approaches to performing their tasks when the leader demands absolute obedience from the subordinate.

Moreover, absolute compliance to authority leads to less communication and weaker information flows among group members (Wood, 2005). It would cause low levels of involvement of group activities, especially activities beyond prescribed job duties. Authoritarian leaders are likely to produce a group climate of fear and caution (Aryee et al., 2007; Smither, 1993). Group members are reluctant to voice personal ideas or participate in problem solving in the group. This inhibits the generation of creative ideas, both as individuals and as a group. Thus, we hypothesize,

H2. Authoritarian leadership will relate negatively to group creativity.

2.3. Group processes as mediating mechanisms

A group process is defined as the interaction pattern among group members (Jehn & Shah, 1997). According to the input- process-output model, internal group processes are determining factors that influence the level of group creativity. We examine two group processes, i.e., knowledge sharing among group members from the behavioral perspective and collective efficacy from the cognitive integration perspective. We suggest that leadership can enhance group creativity through both processes.

It has been shown that transformational leadership influences the originality of solutions from a group through specific creativity-relevant group processes, such as cooperation (Kahai, Sosik, & Avolio, 2003). Shalley and Gilson (2004) suggested that group leaders enhance group creativity by increasing communication of ideas and information. As such, one of group processes that leaders may influence is knowledge sharing process among group members.

During the interactive process, group members’ beliefs in the creative capabilities of the whole group may influence actual creative performance (Tierney & Farmer, 2002). Employees rely on cues from others in the group to judge their ability to be creative. Leaders could work with all members to build the feeling of collective confidence in the group’s abilities in creativity success (Mumford, 2000). Thus, we also examine the cognitive group process of collective efficacy.

2.3.1. Knowledge sharing among group members As recognized by Mumford (2000), knowledge plays a key role in creative achievements by employees. Knowledge sharing

among group members should be an important process for a group to develop its creative potential. Knowledge sharing is defined as sharing task-relevant ideas, information, and suggestions among group members (Bartol, Liu,

Zeng, & Wu, 2009; Srivastava, Bartol, & Locke, 2006). This process helps group members to broaden knowledge resources and to reduce redundant learning. Without sharing knowledge, individual group members might not have access to the cognitive resources of other members within a group and they may not collaborate based on better understanding among each other. In general, sharing ideas, information, and suggestions provides a basis for group members to be involved in the four-stage creative process of identifying a problem, gathering information, generating ideas, and evaluating the outcome (Amabile, 1996).

However, knowledge sharing is not an automatic interaction process in a group. The group leader is an important driver in promoting this process. Transformational leaders encourage group members to think divergently, to review questions from new perspectives, to explore alternative solutions, and they support groupmembers in expressing their own thoughts and ideas. These behaviors facilitate the sharing of information and knowledge among group members.

More importantly, transformational leaders urge groupmembers to transcend their self-interests for the benefit of the group or the organization (Bass, 1985), eliminating the perception that sharing would hurt their own self-interest if other members utilize their knowledge but not share their own knowledge with them. They encourage each member to focus on the group and remind them that knowledge sharing among members serves group functioning and effectiveness.

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Group members have strong motivation to conform to authoritarian leaders given that these leaders dominate decision making without asking for any input from the members in the decision-making process (Hing, Bobocel, Zanna, & McBride, 2007). Further, authoritarian leaders foster a centralized pattern of downward communication and discourage upward or lateral interaction between members (Wood, 2005). The paucity of communication amongmembers interferes with the development of an information-sharing climate. Under this situation, there will be little incentive to exchange knowledge and information among group members.

2.3.2. Collective efficacy Collective efficacy held by all group members indicates what the group thinks of the abilities of the group as a whole (Bandura,

1982). Zaccaro, Blair, Peterson, and Zazanis (1995) proposed a refined definition of collective efficacy as “a sense of collective competence shared among individuals when allocating, coordinating, and integrating their resources in a successful concerted response to specific situational demands” (p. 309). They emphasized not only judgments of members’ abilities but also perceptions of collective coordination and integration. The perceived efficacy involves high-level, within-group interdependence along with cognitive interaction and integration among group members (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Locke & Sadler, 2007).

Efficacy is a person’s expectations regarding his/her ability to perform a specific task and is one of the most important determinants of work motivation (Gibson & Earley, 2007). These expectations motivate people to work for excellence and to push group members to produce a variety of new ideas and useful approaches, which lead the group to be creative. A group with high collective efficacy is more adaptable and more willing to explore and experiment with new perspectives, facets, and procedures (Gibson & Earley, 2007). Empirical evidence has shown the group’s belief in its potency is associated with performance, goal attainment (Gully, Incalcaterra, Joshi, & Beaubien, 2002), and individual effort in laboratory groups (Zaccaro et al., 1995).

Leadership behavior in a group is an important determinant of collective efficacy (Zaccaro et al., 1995). Transformational leaders contribute directly to the collective sense of efficacy by directing actions toward the group as a whole to facilitate group interactions (e.g., Lester, Meglino, & Korsgaard, 2002; Sosik, Avolio, & Kahai, 1997). By transferring a compelling vision of the future to their groups, members come to agree on a shared vision, priorities and desired outcomes. When group members hold shared goals, they invest more concerted effort in effective communication and smooth collaboration. The shared vision is also a source of energy to integrate efforts and resources of all members within the group (Bass & Avolio, 1990). When individuals in groups synchronize their actions extremely well, they create a flow and efficiency that contribute to positive beliefs about the group’s coordination capabilities.

Authoritarian leaders, on the other hand, may play a negative role in the formation of collective efficacy. Authoritarian leaders demand that subordinates perform tasks according to their requirements. Subordinates do not have discretion to solve work- related problems. This weakens subordinates’ self-learning and self-development aspirations, or may even destroy their self- confidence in their ability to accomplish their jobs. The specific and clear work goals set by authoritarian leaders direct individuals’ attention toward fulfilling their own responsibilities while simultaneously diverting their attention away from interpersonal collaboration and resource sharing with other group members. Absolute compliance toward the authority of the leader would produce an inert work climate that inhibits individuals’ perceptions of group capabilities. At the worst, the group may develop a sense of learned helplessness resulting in a very low level of collective efficacy.

Based on the above, we hypothesize that:

H3a. Transformational leadership behavior will relate positively to knowledge sharing and collective efficacy among group members.

H3b. Authoritarian leadership behavior will relate negatively to knowledge sharing and collective efficacy among group members.

H4. Knowledge sharing and collective efficacy among group members will mediate the relationships between leadership behaviors and group creativity.

3. Method

3.1. Sample and procedure

The study was conducted in 12 companies in China. These companies were in four industries (i.e., Pharmaceuticals, Telecommunications, Information Technology, and Manufacturing) in four cities (i.e., Beijing, Xi’an, Wuxi, Lishui). Nine were state-owned firms. Two firms were joint ventures. One was wholly foreign owned. The average age of the companies was 9.75 years (SD=4.52) and the average company size3 was 276 employees (SD=532). In total, 1269 employees (1052 of them were group members) in 217 workgroups in these 12 companies were invited to participate in this study.

We collected data in two phases, onemonth apart, to reduce the commonmethod variance problem.We focused onwork units in the lowest level of the organization. We first asked each firm’s human resourcemanager to provide a list of work units (we refer to these as work groups hereafter) withmembers’ names.We used a code on the questionnaire to identify groupmembership and to link the questionnaires from the two phases. The use of the codes in place of respondent names ensured the confidential nature

3 The total number of employees in the company unit or subsidiary where we conducted the study.

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of the survey. We conducted the survey on-site in all the companies. An HR manager in each company assisted us in collecting questionnaires from those who were absent. These respondents put the completed survey in sealable return envelopes.

In the first survey, 970 group members responded (92.2% response rate) while 866 responded (82.32% response rate) in the second survey. We excluded groups that had only one respondent and those with low group-level response rates.4 The final sample consisted of 973 valid individual cases from 163 groups. The number of groups from each company ranged from 5 to 37.

Nearly half of the sample (48.9%) was male, and the average age of the respondents was 30 years old (SD=7.26). The average company tenure was 7.8 years (SD=3.60). Eighty-one percent of the respondents had a college education. The average group size was six (SD=4.61). Sixty-eight percent of the groups were general work groups, which included functional groups and manufacturing groups; the rest were management teams and cross-functional groups. Task characteristics for the general work groups were procedural and standardized whereas tasks for the other types of groups were flexible and non-routine.

3.2. Measures

In the first survey, group members described leadership behaviors and their demographic information, and group leaders reported on group creativity and group characteristics.5 In the second survey, a month later, group members reported on knowledge sharing and collective efficacy.6

3.2.1. Leadership behaviors We adopted the 20-item scale on transformational leadership from Bass and Avolio (1995). A sample item was “My group

leader instills pride in our group for being associated with him/her”. We used the Chinese version of the scale used by Wang et al. (2005) with a reliability of .93. Five items from Tsui et al. (2004) were used to measure authoritarian leadership. A sample item was “My group leader has personal control of most matters”. This scale was originally in Chinese. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of the two scales were .96 and .80, respectively.

3.2.2. Group process Group process measures included knowledge sharing and collective efficacy. Six items were adapted from Lu, Leung, and Koch

(2006), developed in Chinese, and from Lester et al. (2002) tomeasurewithin-group knowledge sharing behavior.We used the back translation procedure (Brislin, 1981) for the items from Lester et al. (2002). A sample itemwas “Our groupmembers are willing to share information with each other about our work”. The alpha coefficient was .73. Eight items adapted from Riggs and Knight (1994) and Salanova, Llorens, Cifre, Martinez, and Schaufeli (2003) were used to measure collective efficacy. A back translation procedure (Brislin, 1981) was used. A sample itemwas “My group as awhole is able to allocate and integrate available resources to perform the tasks well”. The alpha coefficient was .94.

Group creativity was measured by seven items from Anderson and West (1998), focusing on new idea generation. A sample item was “People in my group are always searching for fresh, new ways of looking at problems”. The back translation procedure (Brislin, 1981) was used for this scale. The reliability was .95.

The response options for all the measures were the same. They ranged from 1, “strongly disagree”, to 5, “strongly agree”.

3.2.3. Control variables Group creativitymay be affected by group size (Curral, Forrester, Dawson, &West, 2001), members’ group tenure (Shin & Zhou,

2007), or group type (Shin & Zhou, 2003). We included these as controls. Group type had two categories, i.e., general work group and others. As demographic diversity was found to influence group creativity (Shin & Zhou, 2007), we included group diversity in members’ age, gender, education, and job function as control variables. Diversities in age and education were measured by the index coefficient of variation (Allison, 1978). Diversities in gender and job function were measured by the Teachman index (Teachman, 1980).

We coded industry into four dummy variables and examined their effects on creativity by using ANOVA. The results showed that the pharmaceutical industry had a significant effect on group creativity (F=10.15, pb .005), whereas other industries did not (informational technology: F=3.28, n.s.; telecom: F=1.82, n.s.; manufacture: F=2.48, n.s.). We included the pharmaceutical industry as a control variable.We did not find a significant effect of organizations (12 firms) or ownership type on group creativity.

4 Dawson’s (2003) selection rate was used to exclude groups with low group level response rates. The selection rate is a formula that assesses the accuracy of incomplete group data in predicting true scores as a function of number of responses per group (n) and group size (N). The cut-off point chosen was a selection rate ([N-n]/Nn) of .32. Scores from groups with a selection rate value of .32 or below are generally correlated with true scores of .95 or higher.

5 It would have been a better design if the supervisors had completed the survey during a separate phase of survey administration. However, most of the companies asked that we conduct the survey of group leaders at time one when the study was announced in a company meeting when the researcher and all participants were on-site.

6 We also collected group creativity data from group members at time two. The correlation coefficient between supervisor ratings and group member ratings was r=0.24 (pb .005). We performed two robustness checks. First, we used the employee ratings of group creativity as the dependent variable. Second, we used the group creativity score by group members and that by group leaders as two indicators of the latent group creativity variable. Both analyses produced similar results as that using the group leaders’ rating of group creativity. We used group leaders’ rating of group creativity as the dependent variable in the study to avoid common method variance between the mediators and the dependent variable.

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3.3. Construct validity

We conducted confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) by using individual-level data to test the construct distinctiveness of the four major variables of transformational leadership, authoritarian leadership, collective efficacy, and within-group knowledge sharing. The hypothesized four-factor baseline model provided a good fit with all fit indices within acceptable levels (χ2 (696)=6338.72, CFI=0.96, NNFI=0.96, IFI=.96, SRMR=.06, RMSEA=.09). To check the validity of the hypothesized four-factor measurement model, we compared it to four alternative models. Model 1 was a three-factor model with the two leadership styles as one factor (Δχ2 (3)=1779.97). Model 2 was a three-factor model with knowledge sharing and collective efficacy as one factor (Δχ2 (3)= 534.17). Model 3 was a two-factor model with the two leadership styles as one factor and the two mediators as another (Δχ2 (5)=2311.73). Model 4 was a one-factor model with all the items loading on a single factor (Δχ2 (6)=28929.49). The hypothesized four-factor measurement model had a significantly better fit than the four alternative models based on the Chi Square difference test.

3.4. Within group agreement and aggregating of data

Since all the hypotheses were at the group level, we aggregated the individual-level data to the group level by computing the average score amongmultiple members of each group before the hypothesis testing. We assessed within-group agreement before aggregation by using Rwg (James, DeMaree, & Wolf, 1984) and ICC1 and ICC2 (Bliese, 2000). The median inter-rater agreement coefficients (Rwg’s) for the four variables of transformational leadership (.97), authoritarian leadership (.86), collective efficacy (.97), and knowledge sharing (.96), indicated high inter-rater agreement. The intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC1) values were as follows: transformational leadership, .23; authoritarian leadership, .15; collective efficacy, .10; and knowledge sharing, .09. The test statistics (F-ratios) associated with the ICC1 values of all four variables were statistically significant. The intra-class correlation coefficient ICC2 values were as follows: transformational leadership, .66; authoritarian leadership, .53; collective efficacy, .39; and knowledge sharing, .37. The ICC2 values of collective efficacy and knowledge sharing were lower than 0.50, which is generally exceeded in group research (Klein et al., 2000). Bliese (2000) argued that low ICC2 values attenuate relationships among group- level variables. In this sense, the low ICC2 valuemade the tests of the group-level relationships somewhat conservative (Srivastava et al., 2006).

3.5. Analyses

To avoid the common method problem, we used a randomly selected half of the members of the group to measure the leadership scales and the other random half to measure knowledge sharing and collective efficacy from 102 groups that had more than 4members. From the remaining 61 groupswith fewer than 4members, we used the original average team scores of the entire team for the analysis in order to conserve the sample size for the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM).7,8

We used latent variable models to test the hypotheses and verified the mediating effect of group processes on group creativity. We used the four dimension scores as indicators for transformational leadership, and created three parcels for each of the other variables: authoritarian leadership, knowledge sharing, collective efficacy, and group creativity. To conserve statistical power, we only included the three control variables that correlated significantly with the dependent variable based on the information in Table 1 (i.e., pharmaceutical industry, gender diversity, and group size). We compared the hypothesized mediation model with two alternative models. The first alternative model adds the direct paths of the two leadership variables to group creativity. In the second alternative model, we reversed the order of the mediators and the dependent variable.9

4. Results

Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, reliability coefficients, and zero-order correlations of all the variables. Transformational leadership was positively associated with group creativity (r=.21, pb .01), and authoritarian leadership was marginally and negatively associated with creativity (r=−.14, pb .1). The two leadership behaviors were each significantly correlated with knowledge sharing (r=.51, −.27, pb .01) and collective efficacy (r=.53, −.21, pb .01). Knowledge sharing and collective efficacy were significantly associated with group creativity (r=.24, .25, pb .01). These correlations satisfied the conditions for mediation (Baron & Kenny, 1986).

Fig. 1 shows the standardized path coefficients for the hypothesized mediation model. All the hypothesized paths are significant. Transformational leadership has a strong positive relationship with group creativity through group knowledge sharing (β=.45, pb .05) and collective efficacy (β=.47, pb .05). Authoritarian leadership has a negative effect on both knowledge sharing

7 H=−SumPi(LnPi). 8 The analysis using this data set yielded good fit indices and path coefficients very similar to the model derived from original data (χ2 (136)=338.03,

NNFI=.91, CFI=.93, IFI=.93; RMSEA=.09). Analysis using only 102 groups also yielded similar results (χ2(136)=240.85, NNFI=.90, CFI=.92, IFI=.92; RMSEA=.09). To conserve sample size, we reported the results of the total sample in this paper.

9 This is to examine the possibility of reverse causal order between group creativity and knowledge sharing, especially in light of the fact that the creativity score was obtained a month before the group process measures.

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(β=−.37, pb .05) and collective efficacy (β=−.27, pb .05). Knowledge sharing (β=.27, pb .05) and collective efficacy (β=.21, pb .05) have positive relationships with group creativity. These results support all four hypotheses.

The fit indices for the hypothesized model were χ2/df=1.72, pb .05; CFI=.97, RMSEA=.07, and SRMR=.06. The alternative model (adding direct paths from the two leadership variables to group creativity) did not have a better fit based on the non- significance of the Chi square change (Δχ2(2)=1.43, n.s.). The direct paths between the two leadership variables and group creativity were not significant either (β=.03, n.s.; β=−.13, n.s.). The second alternative model (reversing the mediators and the dependent variable) did not yield better fit indices, relative to the baseline theoretical model with the SRMR value increasing from .06 to .14 in this alternative model. Thus, the hypothesized mediation model was demonstrated to be the best model.

5. Discussion

We sought to understand how different leadership behaviors of Chinese group leaders influence work group processes and group creativity. We found support for our hypotheses that transformational leadership was positively and authoritarian leadership was negatively associated with group creativity through collective efficacy and knowledge sharing among group members.

CH = charisma; II = idealized influence; IS = intellectual stimulation; IC = individualized consideration




.42* .38*.39*




.21* .18*



..55*.58* .52*


P1 P2 P3


.55* Knowledge














.64* P2 P3

.40* .40*








P1 P2 P3



Group creativity



Fig. 1. Standardized path loadings of the impacts of leadership on group creativity.

Table 1 Means, standard deviations, and correlations (N=163 groups).

Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

1. Group creativity (time 1 group leader) 3.98 0.58 .95 2. Collective efficacy (time 2) 4.21 0.37 .25⁎⁎ .94 3. Within-group knowledge sharing (time 2) 4.16 0.37 .24⁎⁎ .85⁎⁎ .73 4. Transformational leadership (time 1) 3.37 0.58 .21⁎⁎ .53⁎⁎ .51⁎⁎ .96 5. Authoritarian leadership (time 1) 2.67 0.55 −.14† −.21⁎⁎ −.27⁎⁎ −.04 .80 6. Industry (pharmaceutical) 0.29 0.45 .24⁎⁎ .14 .09 .04 .07 7. Group size (time 1 group leader) 5.97 4.59 .16⁎ −.09 −.18⁎ −.04 .23⁎ .23⁎⁎ 8. Group tenure (time 1 group leader) 5.45 2.67 .12 .02 .04 −.01 −.01 .41⁎⁎⁎ .20⁎⁎ 9. General work group (time 1 Group leader) 0.68 0.47 .05 .07 .10 .03 −.01 .06 −.09 −.12 10. Group diversity on age (time 1) 0.14 0.08 −.03 .00 −.01 .06 .08 .28⁎⁎⁎ .21⁎⁎ .20⁎⁎ .02 11. Group diversity on education (time 1) 0.23 0.16 −.03 −.02 −.07 .03 .10 −.09 .14 −.04 .14 .20⁎ 12. Group diversity on gender (time 1) 0.37 0.30 .22⁎⁎ −.10 −.14 .06 .08 .07 .18⁎ −.00 −.13 .14 .03 13. Group diversity on job function (time 1) 0.25 0.33 .04 .04 .01 .01 .04 −.11 .06 .13 −.09 .10 .01 .17⁎

Group members completed the measures unless otherwise noted. ⁎⁎ pb .01 level (2-tailed). ⁎ pb .05 level (2-tailed). † pb .1 level (2-tailed).

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Our findings extend previous research in several important ways. First, this study confirms that transformational leadership is meaningful at the group level in the Chinese context and can stimulate creativity in groups. The negative relationship between the Chinese managers’ authoritarian leadership style and group creativity is consistent with recent research on the negative effect of this leadership style on employees’ attitudinal and behavioral responses (e.g., Liang et al., 2007).

These findings add to the emerging body of knowledge on the negative consequences of authoritarian leadership in the Chinese context. It is possible earlier finding that Chinese employeeswhohold traditional values are less sensitive to perceived injustice (Farh, Earley, & Lin, 1997) may not apply to employees in the rapidly modernizing China. As the Chinese economy continues to develop, international exchanges continue to increase, and young employees become less traditional, the authoritarian leadership style may become a liability. Examining the influence of time and societal changes on the nature and influence of different leadership styles within and beyond Chinese organizations are clearly worthwhile topics for future research (Morris & Leung, 2010; Zhou & Su, 2010).

The growth of firms in a highly competitive and dynamic context depends critically on the firms’ capacity to be creative and innovative. However, authoritarian leaders may promote a “culture of silence” (Huang, Van de Vliert, & Van der Vegt, 2005) that may suppress speaking up and deviant behaviors that may be essential for creativity. As this study reveals, teams led by authoritarian leaders have low collective efficacy and engage in less knowledge sharing. In such groups, creativity is unlikely to be high and innovations are unlikely to flourish. Can organizations develop systems to encourage knowledge sharing and creativity among employees (at both the individual and group levels) to overcome the influence of authoritarian leaders? For example, Lu et al. (2006) reported that information technology utilization promoted knowledge sharing among managers. Future research could explore how impersonalized creativity enhancing management systems could neutralize the negative effect of personalized leaderships that suppress creativity.

Our study confirmed that knowledge sharing is an important intervening factor in translating leadership effects to group creativity. Cabrera and Cabrera (2002) discussed the knowledge-sharing dilemma. They pointed out that knowledge in a group is a public good. People “can improve their work performance by employing methods and ideas available from co-workers, and their use of these ideas does not diminish their potential value to others” (p. 693). However, “sharing personal knowledge with one’s groupmembers may carry a cost for some individuals, whichmay yield a cooperation dilemma” (p. 687). There is a temptation for individuals to enjoy the resourcewithout contributing to its provision sincewithholding from cooperation yields individual utility. The current study provides one clue from the leadership perspective to increase knowledge sharing by encouraging group members to transcend individual interests for collective ones. However, other potential solutions to the knowledge sharing dilemma need to be explored. Further research could investigate the role of reward systems, procedural justice, and group climate along with group leadership in knowledge sharing and group creativity.

The relationship between collective efficacy and group creativity also adds value to the literature. Prior research (e.g., Gong et al., 2009; Tierney & Farmer, 2002) focused on domain-specific creative self-efficacy to predict individual employee’s creative performance. Gibson, Randel, and Earley (2000) also proposed that domain-specific efficacy beliefs predicted specific group outcomes while general group efficacy predicted general group outcomes. They recommended using a specific type of group efficacy to reflect specific group outcomes. Our study demonstrated the role of a general efficacy belief in a domain-specific (creative) performance. Future research could further explore the predictive scope of general versus domain-specific efficacy beliefs in generating group creativity.

The role of leadership in initiating group processes deserves further attention. It is of particular importance to unpack how a leader intervenes group process given that past research mainly focused on the direct impact of leadership on group performance (Burke et al., 2006). Future work could examine if leadership evokes other functional group processes, such as interpersonal communication, constructive conflict, and team empowerment, to stimulate creative idea generation of a group. A multilevel perspective could be adopted to further test how a leader influences group processes and individual psychological processes to result in effective group and individual outcomes.

The two types of leadership behavior should not be confused with their underlying motives or values regarding the leadership role.While it may appear that transformational leaders are collective-oriented, because they appeal to followers to forgo their self- interest for the benefit of the group, it has been suggested that transformational leaders may have a self-interest motive. Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) used the term pseudo-transformational leadership to describe those transformational leaders whose outward behaviors appear to focus on the group’s well-being but their internal desires are for satisfying their own interests. Similarly, authoritarian leaders may appear to be self-focused since they demand followers to obey their goals. However, it is also possible that authoritarian leaders hold the group’s well-being in their hearts. As Fu, Tsui, Liu, and Li (2010) found, in their study of Chinese CEOs, a discrepancy between inner values and outward behavior may reduce the positive effect of transformational leadership. Future research could perform more fine-grained analysis of leadership effects by incorporating the leader’s internal values or motives as a factor in influencing group creativity or other outcomes.

Another line of inquiry concerns the possibility that the influence of transformational or authoritarian leadership may be modified when the leader also demonstrates other types of leadership behaviors. Scholars (Avolio, 1999; Bass, 1985) have suggested that transformational and transactional leadership can co-exist in varying degrees within the same individual. Avolio (1999) maintains that the best leaders can simultaneously express two types of leadership styles. Just like organizations may be ambidextrous, leaders may be both transformational and authoritarian at the same time, or exhibit different behaviors as the situation requires (Fiedler, 1978). More research could be conducted to explore the interaction effects of leadership behaviors.

Beyond leadership, research could also focus on how other group factors, such as group diversity and in-group conflict, play a role in creativity. In this study, group size and the group’s gender diversity had a positive relationship with group creativity (β=.13, pb .1, .18, pb .05, respectively). In China, other forms of diversity may be relevant, e.g., the hometown of the employees

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and the schools attended (Tsui & Farh, 1997). How leaders manage such diversity in groups in the Chinese context to garner creativity or team performance in general would be a promising direction for future research.

5.1. Limitations

We recognize several limitations in this study. First, even though we separated the data collection on some of the variables by one month, the research design is essentially cross-sectional. Ideally, there should be a meaningful time lag between measures of leadership styles, collective efficacy, knowledge sharing and creativity. The second limitation is the subjective measure of creativity. It is difficult if not impossible to have an objective measure of creativity across different kinds of groups and firms. Also, a new idea may be considered creative in one group but not in another group. We relied on group leaders’ judgments of creativity and they may vary across groups. However, team leader judgment is a typical approach to measuring creativity in research at the individual and team levels (Zhou & Shalley, 2003). Future research could use groups with concrete creative outputs, such as new product development teams. Another limitation is the use of static surveys to infer group processes. Processes are dynamic events involving interactions among multiple agents, and they are best evaluated with qualitative procedures. Static variables and statistical procedures can only take a snapshot of such processes. To complement the survey data, qualitative methods could be employed in the study of group processes. For example, experiments can be set up to observe how different types of leadership may influence team processes and how such processesmay trigger creative ideas in the group. Observing and analyzing such social procedures as a dynamic process may provide a clearer understanding of the creative process in groups resulting from different leadership styles.

Last but not least, these findings describe a sample of Chinese group leaders. The generalizability to multinational corporations in China should not be assumed. Future research could examine whether Chinese employees respond differently to authoritarian leaders with different national origins.Would they bemore or less tolerant of the authoritarian behavior of Chinese leaders than of leaders from Western or other Asian countries?

6. Conclusion

As simple as this study may seem, the implications of the findings for both practice and research are non-trivial. China’s economic growth through imitation and exploitation of learning has led to incredible results. China recognizes that its future growthwill require creative employees and innovative firms.We hope that this study hasmade a small contribution by identifying how group leaders promote or thwart group creativity and by filling a gap in the group leadership literature.


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  • Leadership behaviors and group creativity in Chinese organizations: The role of group processes
    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. Conceptual background and hypotheses
      • 2.1. Two types of leadership behaviors
      • 2.2. Leadership behaviors and group creativity
      • 2.3. Group processes as mediating mechanisms
        • 2.3.1. Knowledge sharing among group members
        • 2.3.2. Collective efficacy
    • 3. Method
      • 3.1. Sample and procedure
      • 3.2. Measures
        • 3.2.1. Leadership behaviors
        • 3.2.2. Group process
        • 3.2.3. Control variables
      • 3.3. Construct validity
      • 3.4. Within group agreement and aggregating of data
      • 3.5. Analyses
    • 4. Results
    • 5. Discussion
      • 5.1. Limitations
    • 6. Conclusion
    • References