The Impact of Middle and Senior Leadership Styles on Employee Performance -- Evidence From Chinese Enterprises

Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline  •  Volume 25  •  2022  •  pp. 123-142

This paper examines the impact of the transformational, servant, and paternalistic leadership styles on employee performance at the middle and senior levels.

Transdisciplinary research promotes the integration and development of various sciences. It provides more choices for leaders to adopt ways and practical activities to promote enterprise development. Complexity leadership theory emphasizes that effectively functioning organizations need distinct forms of leadership to work together. Leaders rely on different leadership practices in an emergent collaborative context, and finding an optimal balance is challenging. Many scholars have attempted to explore which leadership styles have a more significant impact on employees by distinguishing and defining types of leadership styles and explaining the process by which they influence employee behavior and performance. Various scholars have further explored and empirically demonstrated the impact of these three types of leadership styles (transformational, servant, paternalistic)on employee performance. While transformational and servant leadership have their roots in the West, paternalistic leadership has roots in China. Few scholars have conducted comparative studies on their positive impact on employee performance. How do these three leadership styles affect employee performance at the middle and senior levels in the Chinese context? Which combination of middle and senior leadership styles performs best? These are the second area that this paper will attempt to explore.

This study constructs a three-tier model at the senior, middle, and grassroots levels. A questionnaire survey was used to collect data. SPSS 22.0 and Amos were used for data analysis.

Through its construction of a three-tier model (senior, middle, and grassroots levels), the paper explores the combined effect of three leadership styles (transformational, servant, and paternalistic) on grassroots employees. It explores the impact of senior leaders across levels on grassroots employee performance, which is expected to provide a valuable addition to theories on leadership styles. It is also instructive to examine which leadership style performs better and what middle and senior leadership configurations are more conducive to driving beneficial employee behavior and, ultimately, corporate growth.

The transformational, servant, and paternalistic leadership styles, both at the top and middle levels, have a significant positive relationship with employee performance; the middle leadership style plays a positive mediating role between the top leadership style and employee performance. In terms of impact on employee performance, transformational leadership shows the best results at both the top and middle levels, with paternalistic leadership second and servant leadership at the same level. Regarding which middle and senior leadership style pairing is the best, the sample is relatively small, and the gap between various pairing combinations is not evident from the data. If the sample size is enlarged, the coefficient will likely expand year-on-year. Therefore, we can assume that the pairing effect of top servant leadership and middle transformational leadership is the best, top paternalistic leadership and middle transformational leadership is the second-best, and the combination of top paternalistic leadership and middle-level servant leadership leaders is the weakest.

This paper extends the study of top and middle leadership’s combined effect on employee performance as a positive response to the call for multi-layer or cross-layer analysis in leadership research. The findings further enrich the literature on leadership style-related theories. The middle leadership style plays a positive mediating role between the top leadership style and employee performance. The trickle-down effect is further verified, i.e., the top leadership will have a permeating influence on employees through the middle leadership, and the top’s influence on the middle is generally more significant than the influence on grassroots employees. However, the difference between the influence of the middle leadership on the grassroots and that of the top on the grassroots is not apparent, which is inconsistent with the trickle-down effect that the middle leadership communicates more with the grassroots and has more influence on the grassroots, and further verification is needed.

All three types of leaders positively affected employee performance, with the best being transformational leadership, paternalistic leadership, and servant leadership. This finding is consistent with some scholars and inconsistent with some scholars. The interested scholars can do further research.

The better performance of diverse pairings in middle and senior leadership combinations is consistent with previous research suggesting that leadership styles have their own strengths and can be complementary. This paper further provides a comparative study of multiple leadership styles to validate the recognition and adaptability of leadership styles and further explain the complex relationship between leadership styles and employee job performance. Scholars can conduct comparative research on other leadership styles, and there may be different results.

Because of the cross-sectional data taken, the findings’ generalizability still needs further validation. There are many types of leadership styles, and there are other types of leadership styles that can be explored comparatively, perhaps leading to different findings. From another point of view, various leaders have their strengths, and they are not mutually hindering. More research is needed on team formation in a variety of contexts. Organic organizational structure enables knowledge creation and integration through the process of organizational learning through deep and continuous social interaction or dialogue. So we can further examine the influence process of leaders on employees from how to give full play to their advantages, such as improving shared leadership and shared communication.

leadership, transformational, servant, paternalistic, employee performance, trickle-down effect
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