Today’s highly competitive business climate requires organisations to rely on the workforce’s innovation to differentiate themselves from competitors and achieve business success. This longitudinal study will examine whether leader emotional intelligence (EI) is linked to staff creativity in the long-term. Leaders’ EI is hypothesised to positively correlate with their immediate staffs’ creativity over an 18-month period. Participants will be eight middle managers and 80 staff working in advertising agencies across Victoria. All will have at least 2 years of work experience in the marketing sector. Participants will complete a 3-wave online survey over 18 months. Managers will complete the Wong and Law emotional intelligence scale (WLEIS; Wong and Law, 2002), whilst staff will fill Zhou and George’s (2001) 13-item employee creativity scale. Highly emotionally intelligent managers will foster employee creative productivity to produce novel and differentiated products. This enhances the organisation’s ability to gain a competitive advantage and sustainably pursue business objectives.
The growing focus on marketing prospective audiences emphasises the need for organisations to achieve objectives through increased creative productivity. Theories surrounding creative stimulation by an individual’s emotional intelligence (EI) and that of others, have consequently risen in the past decade. However, few studies have focused on organisations in the marketing industry, where creativity has not traditionally been prioritised. Hence, it is essential to analyse leader EI’s correlation with employee creativity in professional selling, given the development of the business world where humans are considered an organisation’s most vital resource.
Considerable research has recognised EI as being a significant determinant of professional success compared to general intelligence (García et al., 2014). Hence, EI is broadly accepted as being an indicator of the ideal employee and is key to career progression. Mayer and Salovey (1997) describe EI as the ability to recognise, display and understand emotions, as well as regulate feelings in the self and others. In the business context, it allows employees to communicate with others effectively via conflict resolution skills, thus promoting individual and team productivity.
Creativity is defined by Amabile et. al, (2005) as a two-step process that involves generating novel ideas and implementing it to solve an issue. It is viewed as an invaluable asset in sales performance, allowing individuals to adopt judicial thinking styles to facilitate customer-employee interactions and adapt to changing conditions (Groza et al., 2016). For instance, such individuals are able to utilise previously used solutions to assist customers in different industries.
Several authors have proposed psychological frameworks linking elements of EI with creativity. For example, Cooper and Sawaf’s (1998) EI model includes emotional alchemy, a concept allowing individuals to seek new opportunities and build on current ideas. Zhou and George (2003) expand on this notion, proposing how employees’ creativity is influenced by their leader’s EI via identification, information gathering, idea production, evaluation, and implementation. Consequently, researchers have explored the relationship between employee EI and their creativity to promote organisational growth. Tsai and Lee (2013) found that EI promotes staff creativity among travel agency employees, such that EI dimensions were positively related to new idea implementation and job efficiency. The researchers attributed this to how different emotional states contribute to different mental processes and comprehension (Salovey and Mayer, 1997), such as employee happiness stimulating creative performance. Likewise, Khalid and Zubair’s (2014) study yielded similar results demonstrating EI to be a significant predicator of creativity, further accelerated by self-efficacy. They attributed this to an individual’s efficient ability to be mentally alert before developing creative solutions for overcoming issues, reinforced by a high internal locus of control. EI thereby aids in emotion management to allow for effective information processing.
Studies have also investigated the impact of a leader’s EI on staff creativity, rather than focusing on the individual employee. Castro et al. (2015) established a statistically significant link between leaders’ EI and employee innovation. They found that supervisors’ EI were positively correlated with creativity-centred variables in their employees. This can be explained by the employee’s interpretation of their environment based on EI trait-related cues instigated by their leaders. Further, Rego et al.’s (2007) suggested that leader EI’s positive relationship with employee creativity is a result of leaders’ restraint against criticism that would otherwise limit employee openness to seek feedback. Such self-control encourages a supportive organisational climate that stimulates innovative performance. A similar study conducted by Lassk and Shephard (2013) yielded findings indicating that highly emotionally intelligent leaders foster employee creativity. On an individual level, EI results in adaptive functioning capabilities, which assists leaders to socialise effectively in high emotional affordance situations with employees.
Whilst previous research has provided significant insights, limitations of these EI and creativity studies have also been brought to attention. The brevity of the studies’ duration means that there is limited insight on whether the positive effect of EI on creativity can be sustained over time. Adopting a longitudinal research design may be useful to investigate this concern. Studies have also been criticised for their methodologies. For instance, studies using a cross-sectional design, such as Khalid and Zubair’s (2014), have a limited ability to draw inferences on additional causes of creativity in their sample. This further highlights the benefits of conducting a correlational study to investigate leader EI impact on employee creativity.
The present study aims to address the lack of EI and creativity research focusing on advertising agencies. A longitudinal study design will also be used to explore the long-term and correlational impacts of leader EI on employee creativity. It is therefore hypothesised that middle-managers’ EI will positively correlate with their immediate staffs’ creativity over an 18-month period.
The sample will include eight middle managers and 80 staff-level employees working in advertising agencies across Victoria. Through this, data from 80 leader-employee dyads will be drawn. All employees must have at least two years of work experience in advertising and must be at least 25 years of age (Segrest et al., 2010). Recruitment will occur on a volunteering basis from eight selected agencies. Ten followers per manager and organisation will therefore be collected through convenience sampling. All procedures will be approved by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee.
Employees will be made aware of the study through email notifications to managers and their agency’s website for employees. Those interested will be contacted by study personnel via email and given a full description of the study, detailing the completion of a 3-wave online survey over 18 months. They will also be told of their withdrawal rights and assured that all responses remain anonymous. Online survey consent will be obtained before being redirected to the initial questionnaire.
At time 1, an email will be distributed to participants with a survey link containing the measures provided in English. Managers will be sent the WLEIS, whilst staff will receive the creativity scale. At time 2 (6 months later), both scales will be distributed in the same way to employees who responded to the first measure. At time 3 (6 months later), these surveys will be sent to those that responded to the second survey. Participants will be given one week to complete their allocated survey and will be emailed a reminder 24 hours prior to the due date. Code numbers will be used to match time 1, time 2 and time 3 surveys for each participant to assure confidentiality. Further, a gift coupon will be distributed to each respondent at every data collection point as financial incentive to participate. A summary of the study’s findings will also be distributed in exchange for their participation.
Expected outcomes and implications
If the hypothesis is supported, then the positive correlation between leader EI and employee creativity over an 18-month period may be mediated by the impact of self-efficacy. Previous research has shown that the intrinsic motivation developed along with high EI levels (Deniz et. al, 2009), amplifies the individual’s ability to achieve creative outcomes in the long-term (Khalid and Zubair, 2014). Hence, participants with a greater internal locus of control are likely to report higher scores on the WLEIS (Omoniyi and Adelowo, 2014) and thus, are likely to be able to organise emotions to facilitate problem solving and restrain negative extreme emotions to fixate on objective achievement. Studies have also suggested that leader EI’s positive relationship with employee creativity is a result of their self-restraint against employee criticism and empathy (Rego et al. 2007). This enhances employee dependency on managers to use EI to handle work issues and be receptive towards unconventional ideas.
If the hypothesis is not supported, then the lack of positive correlation between leaders’ EI and employees’ creativity over 18 months may be related to the absence of proactive personality as a mediating factor. Some studies have shown that proactivity must be a pre-existing condition for EI to be positively correlated with creativity (Farabohd et al., 2013). According to Bateman and Crant (1993), proactive individuals take initiatives and actively seek for new information to improve performance. It is considered a significant disposition to spark creativity in the work environment in response to EI cues (Kim, Hon and Lee, 2010). Hence, the absence of proactive personality in participants may result in inaccurate responses to certain survey questions. This is concerning when participants are responding to questions regarding the use of emotion (UOE) dimension of the WLEIS; particularly, “always sets goals for themselves and tries their best” (Wong and Law, 2002). However, given the scarcity of studies analysing the interaction between EI, proactivity and creativity, care should be taken in considering the results.
The proposed study has some potential design limitations. Firstly, collecting data from a relatively small sample size may affect the generalisability of results. Thus, future research with a larger sample is warranted. All performance measures that will be used are also self-reported, which could increase the likelihood of common method variance. Future studies are therefore recommended to use objective measures to assess employee creative performance like actual sales data. Another option may be to simply minimise the subjectivity of data collection by gathering employee creativity data as a supervisor evaluation, rather than a self-report. The use of a longitudinal study design also risks panel attrition as it cannot be ascertained that all employees will remain in the same job position or be willing to participate for the entire study duration. Future research should consider conducting a study to follow-up EI impact on creativity in the long-term, rather than conducting a longitudinal study.
Despite the potential limitations, results from the present study may suggest important implications for the marketing industry. Managements should attempt to develop greater EI in the sales workforce and identify potential employees with higher levels of EI during recruitment. Encouraging greater creativity in professional selling will likely lead to greater adaptability in delivering customer service and contribute to business success. Further, human resource management of advertising agencies should hire an organisational psychologist to collaborate on constructing EI development modules so employees can build EI.
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