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The influencing mechanisms of paternalistic leadership in Mainland China

Min Wu, Xu Huang and Simon C. H. Chan

Asia Pacific Business Review, 2012, vol. 18, issue 4, 631-648

Abstract: In leadership research, Western leaderships are quite dominant while insufficient attention has been paid to Eastern leaderships, including Chinese leadership. Paternalistic leadership, an indigenous Chinese leadership, is prevalent in Chinese society given that it has been bounded by the cultural tradition. Yet, it is necessary to further explore the divergent influencing mechanisms of paternalistic leadership in Mainland China. The primary objective of this research was to replicate and empirically test a model on paternalistic leadership and in-role/extra-role performance by using trust-in-supervisor as the mediating variable. With the data of 239 supervisor--subordinate dyads collected from a textile firm in Mainland China, we conducted statistic analysis of structural equation modelling, multi-level analysis and so on by applying Amos 5.0 and SPSS 12.0. The results showed that trust-in-supervisor completely mediated the relationship between supervisors' authoritarian leadership and subordinate's in-role/extra-role performance, and trust-in-supervisor completely mediated the relationship between supervisors' moral leadership and subordinate's in-role/extra-role performance, whereas trust did not mediate the relationship between supervisors' benevolent leadership and subordinate's in-role/extra-role performance. Overall, by investigating the influencing mechanisms of the three elements of paternalistic leadership in the Chinese context, the current research not only adds a cultural perspective to paternalistic leadership literature but also advances our knowledge of the underlying psychological processes that paternalistic leadership works. The research confirms that paternalistic leadership is applicable in the context of business organizations in Mainland China. Since prior research has provided little theoretical guidance on the effect of paternalistic leadership on performance, this research contributes to the literature by identifying and examining the social exchange and social identity mechanisms of trust-in-supervisor. It highlights the great significance of trust-in-supervisor in explaining paternalistic leader effectiveness and leader--employee relationships in Mainland China. It explains how the three elements of paternalistic leadership have the differential effects upon subordinate's trust-in-supervisor, and it provides some cultural insights on paternalistic leadership. The results of the current research also shed light on how practicing managers may foster appropriate leadership styles in order to facilitate subordinates' in-role/extra-role performance. The results indicate that moral leadership and benevolence leadership are positively related to trust-in-supervisor, while authoritarian leadership is negatively related to trust-in-supervisor. Hence, supervisors who wish to obtain subordinates' trust and trigger their motivation would better abandon authoritarian leadership and adopt moral leadership and benevolent leadership instead. When subordinates have unsatisfactory in-role performance and extra-role performance, supervisors need to look into the details for the solutions, especially, in the areas of ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘paternalistic leadership’. In addition, human-oriented human resource practice is advocated, and leadership programme could be developed accordingly for business organizations in Mainland China. This research also highlights the fact that further research should be conducted in order to advance our knowledge of paternalistic leadership.

Date: 2012
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