Your stories—Dr Amy Wei Tian

February 2018

Are employees more likely to thrive if given independence and the responsibility to self-manage? Yes, according to UniSuper member and Senior Lecturer at Curtin University’s School of Management, Dr Amy Wei Tian.

The concept of empowering leadership has generated increasing interest in recent years. While there are many empirical studies on the topic, the results are far from conclusive. Some find positive effects on things like job performance and creativity. Others find an insignificant or even negative effect.

The definition of empowering leadership used by Amundsen and Martinsen identifies three core elements: delegating authority to employees; self-directed and autonomous decision-making; supporting aspects like coaching, sharing information, and frequent feedback for employees’ career development. In these ways, leaders promote their subordinates’ sense of empowerment and capability, leading to more desirable job performance and attitudes.

Our recent analysis aimed to understand the effect of empowering leadership on performance at the individual and team level. We were interested in different types of performance—including how you perform your core tasks and your creativity—plus what we call organisational citizenship behaviour, or ‘extra role’ behaviour. From a theoretical point of view, the effects should be positive—you’re giving people empowerment and autonomy, and they should appreciate this by performing better, right?

Sometimes that isn’t the case, so we wanted to understand it further. Secondly, we wanted to investigate the different mechanisms linking empowering leadership to employees’ job performance. What about the sense of safety and trust? What about the quality of relationship between leaders and subordinates? Does that impact how people behave?

And thirdly, we wanted to find out under which conditions empowering leadership works better than others. What about the environment you’re in, both in terms of industry and cultural environment?

Empowering leaders need to consider at least three things: how they provide autonomy and what level of autonomy they should provide; thoroughly understanding their employees (are they prepared to take on more autonomy and be more empowered?); clearly communicating the motivation for sharing their power. Employees must have a strong sense of trust in their leader’s ability and fairness in dealing with workplace-related issues.

We found that, when done well, empowering leadership does positively influence employees’ sense of trust in their leaders. It enhances their psychological empowerment and the quality of the relationships with their leaders, in turn enhancing performance, creativity and organisational citizenship behaviour.

My ideal retirement?

One word sums up how I’d like to feel in retirement—‘fit’. Physically fit, mentally fit and financially fit. I’d like to be in a position where I’m financially fit to do what I want to do, and physically and mentally fit to actually be able to do it with people I love. I mean, without good health, it means nothing, right?