ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (5): 1158-1167.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01158

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Psychological and behavioral responses of leaders toward proactive behaviors from subordinates

GUO Yudong1, OU Qiwen2, DUAN Jinyun1()   

  1. 1Shanghai Key Laboratory of Mental Health and Psychological Crisis Intervention, School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    2Zhangzhou Health Vocational College, Zhangzhou 363000, China
  • Received:2021-02-11 Online:2022-05-15 Published:2022-03-24
  • Contact: DUAN Jinyun


Employee proactive behaviors have so many benefits for the actors and their organizations that it has received extensive attention from scholars and practitioners. Previous studies on the consequences of proactive behavior mainly explored it from different levels (individual, team or organization) or the direction of influence (positive vs. negative), and left the psychological and behavioral reactions of leaders underexplored. Enlightened by the followership research, which highlights the important and active role of employees in actively shaping leaders’ mind and behavior, and wise proactive behaviors, which call on scholars to do more comprehensive exploration about the consequences of proactive behaviors to provide more effective practical guidance and achieve optimal results, we thus believe that to review and summarize leaders' psychological and behavioral responses to employees' proactive behavior has great theoretical values and practical implications.
Because of different orientations, the same form of proactive behavior (e.g., promotive voice vs. prohibitive voice; positive feedback seeking vs. negative feedback seeking) will lead to leaders’ different attitudinal (likes vs. dislikes) and behavioral responses (support vs. opposition), and the influence process will be shaped by many factors from different aspects. In specific, at present, scholars have made preliminary exploration on the function mechanisms how subordinate proactive behavior affects leaders’ psychological and behavioral reactions based on attribution theory, implicit following theory, self-other rating agreement theory and other explanatory theories. The results found that when facing subordinate proactive behaviors, leaders will experience a series of cognitive appraisal process, then determine their attitude according to the behavioral intention of focal subordinates and the potential benefits and costs of such behavior, and further take action to promote or restrain the development of the proactive behavior and strengthen or break their current relationship simultaneously. In addition, the factors from employees, leaders and situations will affect the leaders’ cognitive evaluation and attribution process about subordinate proactive behaviors, and enhance or weaken the leaders’ various psychological and behavioral responses. Specifically, the factors from employees, such as employees’ demographic characteristics, personal traits and some abilities, will affect the attribution process of leaders, which will lead to different coping responses of leaders. As for the factors from leaders’ side, for example, leaders' traits and resources will affect leaders' internal expectations of employees' behaviors. When employees' proactive behaviors conform to or deviate from such expectations, leaders' cognitive evaluation and behavioral responses will change accordingly. The situations, like organizational goals, atmosphere and other situational factors, may reflect leaders' work demands or orientation, and whether employees' proactive behavior is helpful to the realization of leaders' such goals will determine the nature of leaders' responses.
Focusing on the perspective of leaders, this study reviewed and summarized the literature about effect of employees' proactive behaviors on their leaders. We found that scholars had explored the attitudinal and behavioral reactions of leaders toward employees' proactive behaviors, but the research on leaders’ emotional reactions and other psychological states was insufficient, which will limit our understanding about proactive behaviors. Besides, most extant studies inferred leaders’ internal responses from their behaviors or performance evaluations about the focal employees, which indicated the deficiency of straightforward and deep exploration about leaders’ internal responses. Therefore, future research can (1) refine the extant explorations about the relationship between subordinate proactive behaviors and leaders’ attitudes, examine leaders’ responses directly and deepen the research on its influence mechanism; (2) further explore the potential psychological and behavioral responses of leaders induced by subordinate proactive behavior, such as leaders’ self-efficacy; (3) explore the bi-directional causal relationship between employee proactive behaviors and leadership style, and development trend of such bi-directional relationship; (4) expand the multi-level research on leader's responses to employee proactive behaviors.

Key words: employee proactive behaviors, leaders’ responses, boundary conditions, leadership style, followership research