Want more efficient employees? Give them informal leadership responsibilities
An academic research has found that promoting workers into leadership roles can transform them into “more conscientious” employees.
Giving employees added responsibilities at work can significantly help their development and even change their personality traits, found a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School.
However, it found that over time those stressful extra duties may hinder the individual’s adaptability and creativity.
“One of the crucial factors in driving adult personality development is taking on new roles at work,” said researcher Wendong Li, Associate Professor at the Department of Management at CUHK.
“As they take on wider responsibilities and play more important roles in organisations, novice leaders are expected to be more conscientious than when they were employees – more efficient, organised, vigilant, achievement-oriented, and dependable to subordinates.
“Fulfilling the expectations and responsibilities required by leadership roles also means leaders must deal effectively with uncertainties and changes. Therefore, leaders need to be able to remain calm, and handle negative emotions in response to stress.”
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Global study on job performance
Prof Li carried out the research alongside other seven other academics from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Rutgers University, University of Florida, the Asia School of Business and Leuphana University of Lueneburg, University of Leeds, as well as a CUHK Business School PhD candidate.
They tested their ideas in two studies using publicly available US and Australian databases, which compared the personality development of individuals at different stages over lengthy periods.
People were split into a ‘becoming leaders’ group, for employees who were promoted into leadership roles, and a ‘non-leaders’ group” for those staff who remained as employee across time.
The research found that moving into leadership roles led to an increase in a person’s “conscientiousness” and found no significant changes in people’s emotional stability.
Prof Li said the results of the two studies supported their hypotheses about the relationship between becoming a leader and subsequent impact of performance.
“We suggest organisations consider assigning staff with informal leadership roles as a way to encourage them to develop management capabilities,” he said. “This may help them to develop the types of behaviour and traits associated with conscientiousness and prepare them for their future tasks.
“We also encourage organisations to broaden the scope and content of training to include personality development and also focus on more holistic forms of leadership development.”
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Need for long-term training
However, the researchers highlighted two concerns.
Firstly, previous research suggests that highly conscientious staff may not be able to adapt well to new environments and will lack the necessary creativity.
Secondly, companies may need to provide training to leaders to help them balance the benefits and possible disadvantages, such as a more volatile working environment and reduced flexibility.
The latest research, therefore, has important implications about managing employees’ careers.
“Although promotion will lead to them developing greater levels of conscientiousness at work over time, it can also see them become less adaptable and creative,” Prof Li said.
“Taking on extra job demands may also increase the levels of stress they face and have a detrimental effect on their well-being.”