Leader opening and closing behaviors are assumed to foster high levels of employee exploration and exploitation behaviors, hence motivating employee innovative performance. Applying the ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation, results revealed that leader opening and closing behaviors positively predicted employee exploration and exploitation behaviors, respectively, above and beyond the control variables. Moreover, results showed that employee innovative performance was significantly predicted by leader opening behavior, leader closing behavior, and the interaction between leaders’ opening and closing behaviors, above and beyond control variables.
Over the last decade, there has been an enormous interest in theory and research on organizational ambidexterity. Long-term development and success rely on the organization’s ability to exploit its current competencies while simultaneously exploring essentially new competencies. Organizations are constantly facing accelerating macro- and microlevel environmental changes, challenging to become dynamic and adapt to the unstable and heterogeneous context. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to continuously adapt to external threats and opportunities and react with innovations and structural alignments. Organizational literature claimed that successful organizations within dynamic environments are ambidextrous which are aligned and efficient in the present while adaptable to future changes (Kauppila and Tempelaar 2016; Taródy 2016; Cao et al. 2009).
Researchers have claimed that ambidexterity is not only a significant antecedent of innovation at the organizational level, but also teams and individual workers have to deal with the tension between exploration and exploitation to be innovative. Leadership has been considered to be one of the most influential predictors of worker innovation and organizational development (Zacher et al. 2016; Hunter et al. 2011; Bledow et al. 2009). It has been argued that leaders have to encourage both exploration and exploitation behaviors among their employees, and hence the combination of high levels of both employee exploration and exploitation behaviors should result in high innovative performance (Rosing et al. 2011). The ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation posits that leaders who engage in ambidextrous leadership behavior, i.e., opening and closing, are complementary with innovation requirements due to the fact that they encourage exploration and exploitation behaviors in an individual worker and a group (Zacher and Rosing 2015; Rosing et al. 2011). It is said that in order to be ambidextrous, workers should be able to explorative and exploitative simultaneously in equal amounts. Ambidexterity at an individual level is not only a possible level at which an organization can balance both exploration and exploitation behaviors, but is also needed for combining and gaining synergies between exploration and exploitation activities at a higher organizational level. March’s analysis of two interrelated modes of strategic organizational option, i.e., exploration and exploitation can be deployed in a way where management deals with not only an organization as a whole, but also an individual worker pertain to that whole (Costea et al. 2012; Raisch et al. 2009; Levinthal and March 1993; March 1991).
So far, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no such empirical research in southern Saudi Arabia to examine the core proposition of ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation. Moreover, despite the fact that individual ambidexterity is widely recognized, research devoted to examine ambidexterity at an individual level of analysis is still very scantly (Kauppila and Tempelaar 2016). Therefore, the current study examines the association between two elements of ambidextrous leadership, i.e., opening and closing leadership behaviors, and two elements of employees’ ambidextrous behavior, i.e., exploration and exploitation behaviors, respectively, and the interaction between leader opening and closing behaviors and their influence on employee innovative performance.
The roots of ambidexterity, as an organizational concept, are well recognized. Duncan (1976) first coined the term organizational ambidexterity in the context of duality of organization’s structures to support innovation. Twenty years later, the idea gained prominence in organizational learning by March (1991) and Tushman and O’Reilly III (1996). They suggested two modes of organizational learning exploration and exploitation by which organizations could utilize their resources. Ambidexterity refers to the ability of an organization to simultaneously engage in exploitation of current organizational capabilities and exploration of future opportunities. Exploitation is concerned with refinement, efficiency, selection, and implementation, whereas exploration is concerned with search, variation, experimentation, discovery (Ketkar and Puri 2017; Birkinshaw and Gupta 2013). This definition requires an organization to deal well with two conflicting elements: efficiency and flexibility (Adler et al. 1999), evolutionary and revolutionary change (Tushman and O’Reilly III 1996), low cost strategy with differentiation (Porter 1996), incremental and radical innovation, and the alignment of existing resources while becoming adapted to a changing environment at the same time (Gibson and Birkinshaw 2004).
The organizational ambidexterity was defined through two forms, namely structural ambidexterity and contextual ambidexterity. The former obtained through structural interventions and is based on the idea of a trade-off, which attained by outlining activities pertaining to exploration and exploitation (separation of exploration and exploitation into independent units with a leadership-integration and coordination at the top of an organization, while the latter requires exploitation of a current capability and exploration of a future opportunity (Ketkar and Puri 2017; Taródy 2016). This can be done by creating an organizational context, allowing organizational employees to engage in both explorative and exploitative behaviors and to determine autonomously how divide time and energy between both behaviors (Rosing and Zacher 2017; Gibson and Birkinshaw 2004). The ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation (Rosing et al. 2011) posits that ambidextrous leadership includes three elements: opening leadership behavior to encourage explorative behavior, closing leadership behavior to encourage exploitative behavior, and flexibility over time to switch between both behaviors once a situation entails.
Opening leadership behavior is referred to leader behavior that increases variance in subordinates’ behaviors through encouraging them to do things differently and to experiment, giving subordinates’ opportunity for autonomous thinking and executing, and underpinning subordinates’ attempts to contest a current situation. Hence, the ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation claims that opening leadership behavior results in subordinates exploration activities. On the other hand, Closing leadership behavior is defined as leader behavior that decreases variance in subordinates’ behaviors through taking corrective actions, putting specific guidelines, and monitoring goal attainment. Therefore, the ambidexterity theory of leadership for innovation claims that opening leadership behavior results in subordinates exploitation activities (Zacher and Rosing 2015; Rosing et al. 2011).
Having combined two forms of leadership behaviors, ambidextrous leadership defines as “the ability to foster both explorative and exploitative behaviors in followers by increasing or reducing variance in their behavior and flexibly switching between those behaviors. That is, ambidextrous leader are able to support their followers in the attempt to be ambidextrous” (Rosing et al. 2011, p. 957). Opening and closing leadership behavior are pertained to, yet different from, concept of transformational leadership. Transformational leaders might communicate an opening vision, concentrating on experimentation and developing breakthrough innovations, or they might communicate a closing vision, seeking to attain specific and clear-cut objectives (Zacher and Rosing 2015). Nevertheless, ambidextrous leaders engage in complex cognitive processes (Mom et al. 2015) such as integrative or paradoxical thinking (Martin 2007; Smith and Tushman 2005) to accommodate the tensions that are likely to come out when pursuing a sort of diverse opportunities, goals, and needs. They may conflict as for time horizon (O’Reilly 3rd and Tushman 2004), risk profile (March 1991), link to the present strategy (Probst et al. 2011; Andriopoulos and Lewis 2009), and leader’s responsibilities (Floyd and Lane 2000).
At the employee level, i.e., human side, exploitative activities include utilizing current knowledge and skills to make short-run improvements to efficiency and effectiveness. On the other hand, explorative activities comprise behaviors such as seeking out for new product and process innovation as well as for competitive solutions and behaviors. That require employees to learn new skills or knowledge and adapt present routines. Both exploitation and exploration are learning-related activities. Employee ambidexterity is a multidimensional construct refers to behavioral orientation of employees to combine exploitation and exploration associated activities in a definite period of time (Caniëls and Veld 2016; Kang and Snell 2009; Gibson and Birkinshaw 2004). Instead of being a psychological trait, ambidexterity is an individual behavioral capability to engage in and rotate between paradoxal task elements (Kauppila and Tempelaar 2016).