I Like My Boss's Boss but Not My Boss: The Effect of Skip-level Participative Leadership on Performance and the Role of Exchanges with Different Leaders

Project: Research

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Participative leaders share influences and decision-making power with their subordinates (Armenakis et al., 1993) and scholars have acknowledged the potential motivational benefits of this as well as the positive performance implications (Randolph, 2000). The linkage of participative leadership with performance has been extensively examined from the direct leader perspective (Huang et al., 2010; Lam et al., 2002), but research has rarely focused on the effect of participative leadership exercised by leaders with higher hierarchical positions (skip-level leaders who are one level above direct leaders; Detert & Treviño, 2010). Very little is known about: (1) how subordinates and their direct leaders react to skip-level leaders' participative behaviors toward subordinates; and (2) how direct leaders shape the impact of skip-level participative leadership on subordinates. This oversight is surprising because contemporary organizations' development provides employees with ample opportunities to interact directly with leaders other than their direct supervisors (e.g., hierarchy elimination; Rajan & Wulf, 2006; Peters & Waterman, 1982). Skip-level leaders usually have remarkable influence on subordinates' promotion, resources, well-being, and work outcomes (Detert & Treviño, 2010). Furthermore, workplace trends for contemporary businesses such as employee participation plans (Lawler et al., 2001) form the basis for the implementation of participative leadership among higher-ups. Therefore, it is critical to understand the impact of skip-level participative leadership on employees' performance. Following our previous work on the exchange-based model of participative leadership (Huang et al., 2010), we propose that skip-level leaders' participative behaviors promote employee performance by nurturing a positive exchange relationship with employees (skip-level leader-member exchange; SMX; Liu et al., 2013). However, our recent research on triadic relationships (three parties involved; Tse, Lam, Lawrence, & Huang, 2013) suggests that vertical exchange relations are embedded such that the exchange relationship with one partner (e.g., skip-level leader; SMX) is influenced by the relationship with another partner (e.g., direct leader; leader–member exchange [LMX]; Sherony & Green, 2002). Furthermore, these intertwined exchange relations may be shaped by teams' contextual factors (i.e., empowerment climate; Zhou et al., 2012). Building on this foundation, we propose a multilevel model positing that: (1) skip-level participative leadership may influence SMX; (2) subordinates may positively reciprocate skip level leaders' actions by improving their performance; (3) the indirect relationship between skip-level participation and performance through SMX depends on LMX; and (4) team empowerment climate may function as a cross-level moderator, influencing this conditional indirect linkage. Multimethod studies will be used to address these issues. 


Project number9043063
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/21 → …