Reciprocal Care in Hierarchical Exchange: Implications for Psychological Safety and Innovative Behaviors at Work

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Abstract

The emerging literature on relational leadership views leadership as a multidirectional social influence process in which relationships are a key source of leadership effectiveness. The core assumption in this line of research shifts the focus from a top-down influence to a process in which both leaders and followers mutually influence each other’s perceptions and actions. In a view complementary to the social exchange perspective, this stream also considers work relationships as generative in nature. This study develops and tests a conceptual model in which reciprocal care in leader–member relationships helps shape the perceived climate of participative psychological safety, which in turn fosters innovative behaviors among employees. The results of time-lagged data collected from both employees and their direct managers lend general support to this model and hypotheses. Specifically, reciprocal care had both a direct and an indirect influence on innovative behaviors through the perceived climate of participative psychological safety. Our model specifies how a humanizing leadership approach in which leaders and members interact in ways that convey a sense of genuine care for each other’s inner needs can help foster innovative behaviors through the creation of a “holding environment” in which members feel psychologically safe to admit errors, voice dissent, and enter into potentially conflictual discussions about alternatives. In so doing, we shed light on how care in relationships can also be linked to negatively valenced dynamics that involve innovative behaviors.

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