The existing literature on the relationship between self-sacrificial leadership and employee work-related behaviors has primarily focused on the influence of this leadership on “good soldier” behaviors. Empirical investigations of the effect and the impact mechanism of self-sacrificial leadership on “good change agent” behaviors remain blank. Using proactive behavior as an example, this study aimed to expand the behavioral outcomes of self-sacrificial leadership to employees’ “good change agent” behaviors to fill the gap mentioned above. Specifically, we examined the influence of self-sacrificial leadership on employee proactive behavior, and investigated the mediating role of felt obligation as well as the moderating roles of proactive behavior efficacy and ambiguity tolerance playing in the relationship between self-sacrificial leadership and employee proactive behavior.
A structured questionnaire was employed as the research instrument for this study. It consisted of five scales designed to measure the variables of interest, namely self-sacrificial leadership, proactive behavior, felt obligation, proactive behavior efficacy, and ambiguity tolerance. To avoid the Chinese people’s tendency of choosing the mid-point of the scale regardless of their true feelings or attitudes, all of the items on the survey were responded to on 6-point Likert scales which did not include a mid-point. Data were collected in two waves from 309 dyads of employees and their immediate supervisors from five high technology companies located in southern Jiangsu. Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the above measures were from 0.79 to 0.92, demonstrating good measurement reliabilities. Results of confirmatory factor analysis indicated the discriminant validity of the measurement was also satisfactory. Hierarchical regression modeling and PROCESS were used to test the hypotheses proposed.
Results revealed that: (1) Self-sacrificial leadership had a significant positive influence on employee proactive behavior. (2) In the process of self-sacrificial leadership impacting on employee proactive behavior, the simple mediating effect of felt obligation was insignificant, while both proactive behavior efficacy and ambiguity tolerance moderated the relationship between felt obligation and proactive behavior, as well as the mediated relationship self-sacrificial leadership and employee proactive behavior via felt obligation. The relationships were stronger for employees high rather than low in proactive behavior efficacy or ambiguity tolerance.
The present study, with dyadic and time-lag design, offered robust evidence for the role of supervisors’ self-sacrificial leadership in facilitating employee proactive behavior. Moreover, our study confirmed the mediating role of felt obligation and its boundary conditions. As to the practical implications, this study suggested that more efforts should be made to encourage managers’ self-sacrificial leadership. Meanwhile, organizations should strengthen employees’ felt obligation in order to promote proactive behavior. Another important managerial implication of our findings is that higher proactive behavior efficacy and ambiguity tolerance can enhance the positive effect of self-sacrificial leadership on employee proactive behavior via felt obligation, so managers should take steps to enhance employees’ efficacy beliefs of proactive behavior, and pay attention to the behavioral response of employees high in ambiguity tolerance.