It is well-established that leaders play an essential role in shaping employee creativity. Several field studies have found relationships between leader support for creativity and follower creativity. However, few studies have examined this through the lens of experimental research, a method that would establish that leader support can actually cause follower creativity. The current study (Maliakkal & Reiter-Palmon, 2022) aimed to do exactly this.
LEADERS SUPPORT AND CREATIVITY OUTCOMES
Researchers collected survey data from a sample of 247 working adults via an online data collection platform (MTurk). Participants responded to a series of demographic questions and were then randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions.
All participants were presented with a scenario describing a hypothetical problem occurring in a fictional organization. Upon reading the scenario, participants were presented with a note that was written by their supervisor that asked participants to solve the problem by generating as many ideas as possible. Participants were also asked to select the solution they thought would be best to implement. Leader support was manipulated by using different phrases. For example, to portray high leader support, the note said, “I believe your ideas will solve our organizations issues.” To portray low leader support, it said, “Your job is to generate as many ideas (as possible) to solve the organization’s problem.”
Results indicated that high leader support for creativity increased the number of ideas that followers generated. Additionally, it was revealed that high leader support for creativity led followers to produce a greater number of original ideas, as well as a greater number of high quality ideas. Results also indicated that employees led by a woman (versus a man) had a higher average level of originality. Leader gender did not affect the number of ideas generated by followers or the average quality of ideas.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
According to the authors, leaders should know that their support for creativity can actually cause their employees to be more creative. Specifically, these employees may have better capacity to generate more new ideas. The authors also explain that women leaders may have a slightly heightened ability to galvanize their employees to generate original, “outside the box” ideas. Even though the authors say that this finding requires further research to confirm, they suggest that organizations pay close attention, especially because it appears to contradict existing stereotypes.
Maliakkal, N. T., & Reiter‐Palmon, R. (2022). The effects of leader support for creativity and leader gender on subordinate creative problem‐solving performance. The Journal of Creative Behavior.
Image credit: istockphoto/Ridofranz