Purpose: The aim of this paper is to explore how visionary leadership influences employees’ creativity in R&D teams in China, and the role of employee knowledge sharing and goal orientation.
Design/methodology/approach: A survey was conducted on 331 professional technical engineers in R&D departments of 62 high tech corporations in China. Hierarchical regression was used to model the relationships between visionary leadership style, employee goal orientations, knowledge-sharing and employee creativity.
Findings: The results show that visionary leadership is positively associated with employee creativity in Chinese organizations and the relationship is positively mediated by employee knowledge-sharing. Furthermore, employee “learning goal” orientation strengthens the relationship between visionary leadership and employee knowledge-sharing, whereas employee “performance-avoid goal” orientation weakens the relationship between visionary leadership and employee knowledgesharing.
Originality/value: This study contributes to the literature on the effects of leadership on employee creativity by showing that, contrary to Western organizations, where a less directive leadership style is generally recommended to enhance employee creativity, in Chinese organizations, visionary leadership is positively associated with employee creativity, but the effect is contingent on employees’ goal orientations and knowledge-sharing.
Employee creativity is the basis for organizational creativity, an organization's core competency and ultimately an organization’s competitive advantage (Woodman et al., 1993). Hence, many organizations have been looking for various ways to foster employee creativity, including examining the use of different leadership styles (e.g. Amabile et al., 2004; Mathisen et al., 2012; Bai et al., 2016). However, while some studies have found that leadership style plays an important role in promoting employee creativity, limited empirical research has been conducted in non-Western contexts. In China, as in many transition economies, in order to compete globally and as a result of Western education, many Chinese organizations have adopted Western management practices. However, the applicability of Western management theories to vastly different cultures such as China is increasingly being questioned. For example, it has been shown that leadership behaviours in China show evidence of cultural, political and economic influences (Fu and Tsui, 2003) and influences of Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism and Daoism (Ma and Tsui, 2015). Cross-cultural leadership researchers have long argued that in cultures such as China, which show high-power distance and collectivism, directive leadership plays a much more important role compared with Western cultures (Dorfman et al., 1997). For example, Hui et al. (2004) showed that in contrast to Western cultures where directive leadership tends to be viewed as stifling creativity, in some Asian cultures highly directive leadership may have a positive effect on creativity. There is also some evidence that national culture may affect employee knowledge-sharing and goal orientations. Knowledge-sharing has been argued to be stronger in collectivistic cultures (Chen and Choi, 2005) and some studies have shown that learning goal orientation is stronger in certain cultures (Tweed and Lehman, 2002). However, the relationships between leadership style and employees’ knowledge-sharing, goal orientation and creativity in Chinese organizations have not been investigated.