The Dark Side of Empowering Leadership: A Multilevel Study of Differentiated Leadership on Team and Individual Dynamic Performance
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In this study I integrate self-determination theory and social comparison theory to create a new theoretical lens that highlights the multilevel dark side of empowering leadership. Examining how team leaders differentially empower team members stands in contrast to prior research, which has limited its analyses to the effects of individual-focused or team-focused empowering leadership. I examine the social underpinnings of empowering leadership by analyzing differentiated empowering leadership (DEL) within teams and its effects on team dynamics. In so doing, I propose that DEL triggers team members to engage in social comparisons among one another regarding the empowering leadership they receive. These social comparisons generate negative relationships among team members, restricting the team’s collective ability to initiate and adapt to change, particularly among teams with higher levels of task interdependence. I also theoretically argue the existence of two unique cross-level processes through which DEL impacts team member psychological empowerment, and in turn individual proactive and adaptive performance. First, I theorize that DEL stimulates team member psychological empowerment through empowering leadership-social comparisons (ELSC). Second, I propose that DEL undermines team member psychological empowerment by producing relationship conflicts among team members. In summary, I highlight the multi-level processes and boundary condition through which DEL negatively impact team dynamic performance and individual team member motivation and subsequent dynamic performance. To test the proposed relationships I gathered data from 72 teams across four industries. Although the data revealed that ELSC is positively linked to psychological empowerment, revealing the impact of ELSC above and beyond the direct effects of individual empowering leadership and leader-member exchange (LMX), the data did not fully support any of the other hypotheses. Nonetheless, the data reveal that DEL does impact team learning and individual adaptability through team and individual engagement. Thus, team leaders should consider how they go about empowering their team members, because the more differentially they empower them, the less engaged they will be in their collective and individual work. These subsequent findings also display that DEL is unique from LMX differentiation and that future research should explore other effects DEL has on team and individual outcomes.
Smith, Troy Aaron (2016). The Dark Side of Empowering Leadership: A Multilevel Study of Differentiated Leadership on Team and Individual Dynamic Performance. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from