HU, HAN-LIN (2023) The Relationship Between Self-complexity and Leadership Behaviors:
A Dual Mediation Model. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.
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Author-imposed embargo until 15 February 2026.
The importance of self-complexity on leadership has been discussed by several theoretical studies. The present research draws upon Linville’s (1985, 1987) social cognitive perspective of self-complexity, which is defined as a function of two things: the number of aspects that one uses to cognitively organize knowledge about the self, and the degree of relatedness of these aspects” (Linville, 1985, p. 97), to serve as one of the limited empirical studies that examine its associations with leadership behaviors. To assess self-complexity, I develop a measurement that focuses on capturing the structure of the self at the role level and adopt the pairwise comparison method to enrich our understanding of self-complexity. In addition, I also draw upon self-control and goal shielding theories to examine the psychological factors such as time and centrality in self-complexity.
Regarding leadership behaviors, I studied two often-seen leadership behaviors in the current research. For positive leadership behavior, I study servant leadership, which refers to “an (1) other-oriented approach to leadership (2) manifested through one-on-one prioritizing of follower individual needs and interests, (3) and outward reorienting of their concern for self towards concern for others within the organization and larger community” (Eva, Robin, Sendjaya, Van Dierendonck, & Liden, 2019, p.114). For the negative leadership behavior, I study abusive supervision, which is defined as “subordinates’ perceptions of the extent to which supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact” (Tepper, 2000, p.178).
To study the associations between self-complexity and leadership behaviors, I employ two different perspectives: Self-control and cognitive theories. From the self-control perspective, I adopt self-control and conservation of resource theories to examine the indirect associations between self-complexity and leadership behaviors via ego depletion, which is defined as “a state in which the self does not have all the resources it has normally” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p.116). From the cognitive perspective, I employ cognitive theories to examine the indirect associations between self-complexity and leadership behaviors via cognitive flexibility, which is defined as “the ability of individuals to restructure knowledge in multiple different ways depending on changing situational demands” (Gino & Ariely, 2012, p.446).
Four studies were conducted in the current research. The results in Study 1 (U.K. sample, N = 179) showed that the number of self-aspects and the degree of overlap among self-aspects were negatively associated with ego depletion and were positively associated with cognitive flexibility. Moreover, ego-depleted leaders were found to be more likely to behave abusively toward their followers, whereas cognitively flexible leaders were found to be less likely to abuse their followers. Regarding the psychological factors, results in Study 1 showed that the relationship between the interaction of a high number of self-aspects and a high degree of overlap among self-aspects and ego depletion was weaker when the time was short rather than high. The results in Study 2 (Taiwan sample, N = 332) also showed that the degree of overlap among self-aspects was negatively associated with ego depletion and positively associated with cognitive flexibility. Nevertheless, the number of self-aspects was not found to be negatively associated with ego depletion nor positively associated with cognitive flexibility. Study 2 also showed similar findings regarding leadership behaviors; ego depletion was positively associated with abusive supervision, and cognitive flexibility was negatively associated with abusive supervision.
Study 3 specifically focused on testing the differences between the traditional pen and paper trait sorting task (N = 98) and the newly introduced method of measuring self-complexity (N = 110) and on examining the positive leadership behavior (i.e., servant leadership) in the current research model. The results in Study 3 showed that both methods had similar findings to Studies 1 and 2. However, the newly introduced method that measures the structure of the self at the role level seems to be a better approach than Linville’s free-response format in predicting ego depletion and cognitive flexibility. In addition, ego-depleted leaders were not found to be less likely to display servant leadership in the workplace, and cognitively flexible leaders were found to be more likely to display servant leadership behaviors in the workplace. The results in Study 4 (N = 144 leaders and N = 450 followers) showed that the number of self-aspects and the degree of overlap among self-aspects were negatively associated with ego depletion and were positively associated with cognitive flexibility. Moreover, ego-depleted leaders were more likely to be perceived as abusive supervisors, and cognitively flexible leaders were less likely to be perceived as abusive supervisors and more likely to be perceived as servant leadership by their followers.
|Item Type:||Thesis (Doctoral)|
|Award:||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Keywords:||SELF-COMPLEXITY; ABUSIVE SUPERVISION; SERVANT LEADERSHIP|
|Faculty and Department:||Faculty of Business > Management and Marketing, Department of|
|Copyright:||Copyright of this thesis is held by the author|
|Deposited On:||16 Feb 2023 08:04|