Author(s), Title and Publication
Binyamin, G., & Brender-Ilan, Y. (2018). Leaders’ language and employee proactivity: Enhancing psychological meaningfulness and vitality. European Management Journal36(4), 463-473. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2017.09.004

Summary
The continuous pressure for improvement and adaption to technological, structural and strategic changes in the work environment, combined with increasing decentralization, has intensified the need for individual proactivity. Previous studies have shown that employee proactivity is related to leaders’ positive behaviors such as support, encouragement, and empowerment, and to various styles of leadership. A survey of 533 employees from 16 organizations in different industries, explored whether and how leaders can motivate employees to act proactively through their communication with employees. The authors of the study focused on leader motivating language (LML) as manifested by three types: direction-giving language (uncertainty reducing), empathetic language (relationships building), and meaning-making language (cultural transmission). Direction giving language is used to reduce worker uncertainty by clarifying tasks, goals, and rewards. Empathetic language is used to establish human connectedness and bonding with workers through genuine consideration. Meaning-making language serves to explain to employees the cultural reasoning behind the organizational process (including its structure, rules, and values) and how their work is integrated therein. More specifically, the authors developed a model in which LML fosters the development of employee proactive behaviors by shaping a context of psychological meaningfulness (the feeling that work is valued according to the individual’s own ideals or standards, and that work is intrinsically motivating and purposeful) and enhancing the motivating state of employee vitality.

The results indicate that when leaders use motivating language (manifested as direction-giving, empathetic, and meaning-making language), they create a psychological context of meaningfulness, which enhances employee vitality and, in turn, their proactivity. In studying the effects of leaders’ language patterns and the communication in leader-follower relationships, the study reveals how people grow, are energized, and feel meaningful through generative relationships between leaders and employees. The study found that leaders shape a psychological context of meaningfulness and motivational state of vitality, thereby indirectly influencing proactivity.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) invest considerable effort in nurturing proactive employees who are self-initiated and can “make things happen” rather than merely adjust to a situation or wait for detailed instructions, (2) develop programs to train leaders to use each of the three types of language in appropriate situations to improve their ability to motivate employees to generate positive outcomes, and (3) organizations can evaluate leaders using LML as criteria and provide them with feedback from their own supervisors and their subordinates.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263237317301184 (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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