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Received: 13 January 2017
Revised: 1 November 2019
Accepted: 8 December 2019
DOI: 10.1002/job.2423
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Avoiding or embracing social relationships? A
conservation of resources perspective of leader narcissism,
leader–member exchange differentiation, and follower
voice
1Department
of Management, Raymond
J. Harbert College of Business, Auburn
University, Auburn, Alabama, U.S.A.
2Department
of Management, College of
Business, University of Texas at San
Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.
3Department
of Management,
Culverhouse College of Commerce,
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa,
Alabama, U.S.A.
Correspondence
Lei Huang, Department of
Management, Raymond J. Harbert
College of Business, Auburn University,
Auburn, AL, U.S.A. Email:
[email protected]
Summary
In this study, we draw from the conservation of resources theory and the
narcissism literature to examine why and when narcissistic leaders develop
and maintain differentiated social relationships with followers in a group
setting, therefore demotivating follower voice. Using data from 457
employees and their 95 supervisors working at a large Chinese consulting
company, we tested and found support for our hypotheses that leader
narcissism had a negative direct effect on employee voice, as well as a
negative indirect effect on voice via group-level leader–member exchange
(LMX) differentiation. Our findings further showed that leaders' upward
exchange, leader–leader exchange (LLX), with their own supervisor
moderated the negative indirect effect of narcissism on voice such that this
negative indirect effect was stronger in the presence of low leader LLX but
turned nonsignificant in the presence of high leader LLX. Theoretical and
practical implications of our research are discussed. Limitations and directions
for future research are also offered.
1
KE YWOR DS
| INTRODUCTI ON
Huang,
& Harms,
2018) or evenvoice
showing a humble attitude
leader-leader exchange, leader
narcissism,
LMX differentiation,
(Owens, Wallace, & Waldman, 2015). Nonetheless, it remains
theoretically underdeveloped and empirically underexplored
Narcissists, individuals with a heightened sense of selfas to why and when such deviation is more likely to occur.
importance, extreme self-confidence, and an excessive need
Consequently, it is important to theoretically and empirically
for admiration from others (Emmons, 1987; Paulhus & Williams,
examine reasons why narcissistic leaders may behave in a way
2002; Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991), all too often loom large
counter to their narcissistic tendencies, and the boundary
in terms of their impact on the lives of others. In the
conditions under which narcissistic leaders may diverge from
organizational research, increasing attention has been paid to
their trait-consistent behavioral patterns while interacting with
the largely detrimental impact of narcissistic leaders on follower
followers.
outcomes (Judge, Piccolo, & Kosalka, 2009; Resick, Whitman,
In order to reconcile these conflicting accounts of the
Weingarden, & Hiller, 2009). Although narcissistic leaders are
effects of leader narcissism, we draw from the conservation of
some- times perceived as charismatic or even charming
resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989) and the narcissism
(Galvin, Waldman, & Balthazard, 2010; Rosenthal & Pittinsky,
literature to propose a moderated mediation model
2006), they frequently fail to develop and maintain social
delineating why and under what conditions narcissistic leaders
relationships with their followers (Ong, Roberts, Arthur,
develop highly differentiated social relationships with their
Woodman, & Akehurst, 2016). That said, an emergent stream of
followers in a group setting and further impact follower
organizational scholarship has suggested that there are
outcomes. COR theory posits that individuals are motivated to
instances when narcissistic leaders deviate from their selfcon- serve their limited resources or to acquire new resources
centered tendencies by involving their followers in decisionin order to
making (Carnevale,
J Organ Behav. 2020; 41:77–92.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
77
HUANG ET AL.
78
protect themselves against potential threat of resource loss
(Hobfoll, 1989). Drawing from COR theory, we argue that due
to their over- whelming concern with self-interest, narcissistic
leaders may choose to conserve their limited resources (i.e.,
resource conservation), such as time and energy, by choosing
to interact with selected followers instead of engaging all of
their followers equally. We also argue that narcissistic leaders
may seek to acquire resources (i.e., resource acqui- sition) that
are valuable to them by building relationships with those
followers who will provide such resources. For instance, they
may prefer interacting with the “in-group” followers to hear
more praise and feed their inflated ego. This is consistent with
writings in the nar- cissism literature such that narcissistic
individuals tend to selectively interact with people who can
reinforce their grandiose self-image (Campbell & Campbell,
2009). Therefore, we expect that narcissistic leaders are more
likely to create a differentiated relational environ- ment that is
manifested in higher level of leader–member exchange (LMX)
differentiation, a process by which leaders and followers
engage in differing types of exchange patterns to form
relationships that vary in quality (Liden, Erdogan, Wayne, &
Sparrowe, 2006).
We further propose that this relational environment,
character- ized by higher level of LMX differentiation, will
demotivate follower voice, which refers to employees speaking
up with improvement- oriented ideas and suggestions (Van
Dyne & LePine, 1998). We chose to focus on voice, which is
challenging in nature (Morrison, 2011), as a follower outcome
because it reflects followers' assessment of the social relational
environment created by the leader (Burris, Detert, & Chiaburu,
2008). Previous research has found that leader narcissism
negatively influences follower voice via follower's threatened
organization-based self-esteem (OBSE; Carnevale et al., 2018).
In the present study, we propose LMX differentiation as another
important mediating mechanism linking leader narcissism and
follower voice. Given that narcissistic leaders have strong egos
and demand obedi- ence (Maccoby, 2000), we argue that
narcissistic leaders are less likely to be receptive to follower
voice and therefore should suppress follower voice directly.
We also expect an indirect effect of leader narcissism on
follower voice via LMX differentiation, such that in the context
of high LMX differentiation, those in high-LMX relationships are
more likely to refrain from speaking up but instead defer to their
narcissistic leader to feed his/her strong ego, whereas those in
low-LMX relationships are less likely to speak up due to the lack
of felt obligation to contrib- ute or fear of harmful
consequences.
Drawing from COR theory (Hobfoll, 1989), we also argue
that the salience of the threat of potential resource loss will
influence how narcissistic leaders choose to develop
relationships with their fol- lowers. Specifically, we propose that
the negative indirect effect of leader narcissism on follower
voice via LMX differentiation is stronger when narcissistic leaders
are threatened by their poor upward exchange relationships
with their own superior and thus have to rely more on their
relationships with their followers. That is, the way nar- cissistic
leaders develop relationships with followers depends on a
broader relational context that also involves the upward social
exchange between leaders and their superior (i.e., leader–
leader
exchange, LLX; Tangirala, Green, & Ramanujam, 2007). This
upward exchange relationship offers a larger context where
leaders are influenced by not only the way they connect with
their followers, but also the benefits or losses they acquire in
relationships with their own superior (Henderson, Liden,
Glibkowski, & Chaudhry, 2009; Herdman, Yang, & Arthur, 2017;
Tangirala et al., 2007; Zhou, Wang, Chen, & Shi, 2012). Thus, we
argue that when narcissistic leaders have low (vs. high) LLX with
their superior and thus are lacking access to resources that
come with higher LLX, they are more likely to attempt to compensate for this resource loss by seeking support from followers
in the group who can contribute to their leadership success. This
is con- sistent with the COR literature, which suggests that
individuals are motivated to acquire resources to reinforce their
status of resource possession (Halbesleben, Harvey, & Bolino,
2009).
Our study makes three contributions to narcissism,
leadership, and voice literatures. First, while the mechanisms
underlying the impact of leader narcissism on employee
outcomes are theoretically underdeveloped and frequently
empirically insufficient, we draw from the COR perspective
(Hobfoll, 1989) and the narcissism literature to theoretically
explore and empirically test a mediating mechanism (i.e., LMX
differentiation) linking leader narcissism with follower voice.
Second, we answer the call from Morrison (2011) to further
examine how leader characteristics, other than the commonly
studied leader openness (Detert & Burris, 2007), play a role in
influencing employee voice. By so doing, our study also answers
the call from Farh and Chen (2014) to examine the “dark side”
of leader influence on employee voice, thereby helping shed
light on how leaders suppress follower voice, a topic largely
overlooked in the existing voice litera- ture. Our study thus
further helps to clarify the nomological network of leaderrelated antecedents of voice. Finally, although recent research
has suggested that narcissistic leaders may demonstrate
behaviors different from their trait-consistent behavioral
patterns (Carnevale et al., 2018; Owens et al., 2015), our study
is among the first to look into why and when such divergence
happens by investi- gating narcissistic leaders' upward social
exchange with their own superior as an important boundary
condition. We present our research model in Figure 1.
2
| THE NATURE OF LE ADER N ARCI SSI SM
Unlike more favorable leader characteristics (e.g., extraversion,
agree- ableness), which help foster productive interpersonal
relationships, the characteristics associated with narcissistic
leaders are typically viewed in a negative light. For example,
narcissistic leaders tend to be arrogant with strong feelings of
entitlement and frequently react harshly when they perceive
that their authority has been challenged (Grijalva & Harms,
2014; Judge et al., 2009; Maccoby, 2000; Raskin et al., 1991;
Spain, Harms, & LeBreton, 2014). They also frequently attempt to
manipulate their followers' attitudes and behaviors, treating
them as pawns or instruments to be used for acquiring resources
that could help achieve their success (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001;
O’Reilly, Doerr, Caldwell, & Chatman, 2014).
HUANG ET AL.
79
FI G U R E 1 Proposed model of leader narcissism and employee voice in a relational context. Notes. (1) The arrow from leader
narcissism to employee voice denotes Path C in the mediation model (i.e., the direct effect of narcissism on voice). This arrow is
dotted to distinguish it from Path C0 (i.e., the effect of leader narcissism on employee voice with the mediator, leader–leader
exchange differentiation, in the model).
(2) Hypothesis 3 predicts mediation. Given that the predicted indirect effect of leader narcissism cannot be captured by a
single arrow, we visualize this hypothesis using the dark grey rectangle denoted as H3. (3) Hypothesis 5 predicts moderated
mediation that also cannot be captured by a single arrow. Thus, we visualize this hypothesis using the light grey shaded
rectangle denoted as H5
In the organizational context, there are mixed findings
about how narcissistic leaders interact with their followers. On
the one hand, a great deal of research has suggested that
narcissistic leaders often have difficulty developing and
maintaining interpersonal relationships with followers as they do
not care for or trust others (Campbell, Hoff- man, Campbell, &
Marchisio, 2011). They are self-centered and arro- gant, which
prevents them from realizing key problems in the work unit,
foreseeing necessary changes to be taken for the sake of group
performance, or accepting followers' suggestions or ideas
intended to help the organization (Nevicka, Ten Velden, De
Hoogh, & Van Vianen, 2011). On the other hand, recent studies
suggest that narcissistic leaders might sometimes deviate from
their narcissistic tendencies and instead consult with followers
when making work-related decisions (Carnevale et al., 2018) or
even show a humble attitude (Owens et al., 2015). These mixed
findings indicate that there might also be variations in the way
narcissistic leaders choose to interact with their followers.
3 | LE ADER N ARCI SSI SM AND FOLLOWER
VOICE
To speak up or to remain silent is a decision that often involves
fol- lowers' calculative consideration, as their voice might not
always be favorably perceived by leaders (Burris, 2012). This is
particularly true
when leaders have a strong ego and might therefore feel
threatened when followers speak up to challenge the status
quo (Fast, Burris, & Bartel, 2014). Previous research has found
that followers are less likely to speak up to a narcissistic leader
due to their threatened OBSE (Carnevale et al., 2018). Building
on this prior finding, in this study, we draw from the COR
perspective to explain why narcissistic leaders are more likely to
create conditions that would demotivate follower voice.
According to COR theory, individuals are motivated to engage
in resource acquisition or resource conservation activities
(Hobfoll, 1989). Resource acquisition involves individuals
engaging in activities to increase resources in their possession,
whereas resource conservation refers to individuals avoiding
potential resource loss by acting to prevent this anticipated
threat or withdrawing from situations that may lead to the loss
of resources (Halbesleben et al., 2009). In the context of leader
narcissism, we contend that narcissistic leaders are motivated
to maintain their limited psychological and social resources
(e.g., a strong ego and perceptions of superiority) and, by
doing so, can hinder follower voice.
Specifically, narcissistic leaders resist becoming too
invested in social relationships with their followers, but instead
emphasize superiority, authority, and control (Maccoby, 2000).
Previous research has described narcissistic individuals as
having excessive need for dominance over others (Raskin et al.,
1991; Raskin & Terry, 1988) and, in many cases, demanding the
absolute obedience of others (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). In
work settings, narcissistic leaders tend to
HUANG ET AL.
80
demonstrate their superiority over followers by emphasizing
superior hierarchical status and position power (Maccoby,
2000). From the COR perspective, these efforts could indicate
narcissistic leaders' attempt to maintain their limited resources
(e.g., need for social dominance and demand for obedience)
while avoiding potential resource loss as they interact with their
followers. It is thus likely that when interacting with followers,
narcissistic leaders will intentionally create conditions, under
which it is harder for followers to express their suggestions or
concerns that are often challenging in nature and thus can be
hard for their narcissistic leaders to accept (Burris, 2012). That is,
avoiding follower voice could be viewed as narcissistic leaders'
self- regulatory effort of avoiding potential loss of psychological
and social resources (e.g., sense of superiority and power over
followers who challenge the status quo). This is also consistent
with research findings, indicating that managers who tend to
defend their strong ego (e.g., those with excessive selfconfidence) are less likely to solicit voice from their followers
(Fast et al., 2014). With the above said, we expect that leader
narcissism will have a direct negative impact on fol- lower voice.
We thus hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 1. Leader narcissism is negatively related to follower
voice.
4 | THE MEDI ATING ROLE OF LMX
DI FFE RE NTI ATI ON
As we draw from the COR theory to understand why leader
narcis- sism could impact follower voice, it is important to note
that interac- tions between a leader and a follower occur
within, and therefore are influenced by, a larger context of
differentiated relationships a leader develops with multiple
followers in a group setting (Cashman, Dansereau, Graen, &
Haga, 1976). Prior research has suggested that LMX
differentiation, which refers to the differing social exchange relationships a leader develops with followers within a group (Liden
et al., 2006), speaks to the extent to which the leader
differentiates his offer of resources (e.g., self-esteem, emotional
and work support, career opportunities, mentoring) in the social
exchange processes with differ- ent followers. In the present
study, we focus on LMX differentiation as a key mediating
mechanism that transmits the negative impact of leader
narcissism onto follower voice.
4.1
| Leader narcissism and LMX differentiation
Although early narcissistic leadership literature has suggested
that narcissistic leaders in general are unable to develop highquality inter- personal relationships with their followers
(Maccoby, 2000), recent studies have shown that there are
circumstances when narcissistic leaders can diverge from their
narcissistic tendencies and instead show care about followers
(Owens et al., 2015) or consult with them when making
important work-related decisions (Carnevale et al., 2018).
Although such positive interpersonal encounters are not widely
reported and expected from narcissistic individuals, these
recent
studies have offered some preliminary evidence that narcissistic
leaders may choose to develop high-quality social relationships
with their followers if they find it beneficial.
In line with such newly emerged empirical evidence, we
propose that leader narcissism is positively associated with LMX
differentiation. Narcissistic individuals have a strong need to
maintain high self- esteem and therefore react positively when
others satisfy their need for admiration (Grijalva & Harms, 2014;
Raskin et al., 1991). They tend to favor interactions with those
people who help reinforce their grandiose self-image and feed
their inflated ego (Brown, 1997; Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides,
2002). This can be portrayed as narcissists' self- enhancing
tendency where positive reinforcement from interacting with
others elevates their positive self-view (Campbell & Campbell,
2009). In the context of interpersonal relationships, due to their
excessive demand for admiration, narcissistic individuals are
more likely to engage in interactions that could help reinforce
their positive self-image and avoid interactions that are less
helpful in this regard (Rogoza, Wyszyńska, Maćkiewicz, &
Cieciuch, 2016). Thus, we argue that narcissistic leaders may
choose to maintain high-quality LMX relationships with followers
who readily praise them or attribute posi- tive outcomes to
them. In other words, narcissistic leaders will likely be motivated
to develop higher-quality relationships with followers who are
deferential to their superior status and can feed their inflated
ego, and develop lower-quality relationships with followers from
whom they are less likely to receive such pay-offs out of their
invest- ment of time and other resources managing such
relationships. This is also consistent with the COR perspective
suggesting that individuals may strategically invest their limited
resources in a way that helps maximize the accumulation of
valuable resources without over- consuming their own limited
resources such as time, energy, and attention (Hobfoll, 2001). In
particular, the COR literature has indi- cated that when
developing and maintaining social relationships, indi- viduals
are motivated to acquire respect and emotional support as
important psychological resources (Hobfoll, Freedy, Lane, &
Geller, 1990). Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that narcissistic
leaders develop highly differentiated relationships with followers
as they stra- tegically select certain followers who can
contribute to their resource gains (e.g., feeding their ego),
whereas conserving their limited resources developing
relationships with the rest.
With the above said, we expect that in a group setting, a
narcis- sistic leader is likely to develop relationships of
differentiated quality with followers, which contributes to
stronger within-group variation of LMX. We thus hypothesize the
following:
Hypothesis 2. Leader narcissism is positively related to LMX
differentiation.
4.2 | LMX differentiation as a
mediating mechanism
We further propose that LMX differentiation in a group setting is
likely to serve as a mediating mechanism through which leader
HUANG ET AL.
narcissism indirectly influences follower voice. Prior LMX
differentia- tion literature suggests that variability in LMX
relationships within a group affects followers' psychological and
behavioral outcomes (Erdogan & Bauer, 2010; Harris, Li, &
Kirkman, 2014; Henderson, Wayne, Shore, Bommer, & Tetrick,
2008; Herdman et al., 2017; Liao, Liu, & Loi, 2010; Liden et al.,
2006; Sui, Wang, Kirkman, & Li, 2016). Specifically, high LMX
differentiation can be considered a dysfunc- tional condition
discouraging employees from engaging in their jobs because it
violates the norms of equality (Gooty & Yammarino, 2016;
Herdman et al., 2017; Li & Liao, 2014). For example, Gooty and
Yammarino (2016) found that the positive relationship between
LMX and follower performance was only evident when LMX
differentiation was low. Using a Chinese sample of 228
employees working in 60 groups, Chen, Yu, & Son, (2014)
offered further empirical evidence supporting this negative
impact of high leader–member guanxi (i.e., a form of contextspecific social relationship in China) differentiation on outcomes
such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and coworker helping.
In line with these prior findings, we propose that LMX
differen- tiation will have a negative effect on follower voice
and therefore serve as an important mediating mechanism
linking leader narcissism and follower voice. Specifically, we
argue that high level of LMX dif- ferentiation (i.e., high variation
in the quality of LMX relationships within a group) signals to
followers that their narcissistic leader chooses to prioritize
relationship development and maintenance within a group.
Working in such a highly differentiated relational environment,
followers will likely realize that their narcissistic leader
strategically allocates his/her limited resources to developing
rela- tionships with only selected employees. This will likely
discourage both high-LMX followers, those loyal to the leader
and concerned about maintaining the privileges associated
with high LMX, and low-LMX followers, those less loyal to the
leader and not feeling obligated to speak up with suggestions,
from expressing their voice. Given that voice could be
challenging and uncomfortable for the leader and may lead
to leader–follower conflicts or disrupt leader- ship outcomes
(Burris, Detert, & Romney, 2013), followers in high- LMX
relationships with a narcissistic leader are more likely to be
deferential to their leader's superior status and therefore are less
likely to speak up to challenge the status quo. This is also
consistent with prior findings that employees may choose not to
express voice out of fear of losing opportunities to obtain workrelated and career support from their leaders (Detert, Burris, &
Harrison, 2010; Morrison & Milliken, 2000). Followers in a lowquality LMX relation- ship with their narcissistic leaders are also
unlikely to speak up, because they should not feel obligated to
express their ideas or suggestions to help a leader with whom
they do not have a close working relationship. They may also
choose not to express voice due to fear of the harmful
consequences for challenging the status quo (Burris, 2012). LowLMX followers are especially likely to experi- ence such negative
consequences due to their inferior standing within the leader's
group.
In light of the arguments regarding the positive effect of
narcis- sism on LMX differentiation coupled with our arguments
regarding
81
the negative effect of LMX differentiation on voice, we
hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 3. LMX differentiation mediates the negative
relationship between leader narcissism and follower
voice.
5
| THE M ODE RATI NG ROLE OF LLX
Prior research suggests that leader–follower relationships reside
within a broader network of upward, lateral, and downward
relation- ships among followers, leaders, and leaders' superiors
(Cashman et al., 1976; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995; Tangirala et al.,
2007). This research also suggests that when leaders develop
high-quality LLX with their supervisors, they are more likely to
develop high LMX with their fol- lowers, thus creating less
variation of LMX within their groups (Henderson et al., 2009; Zhou
et al., 2012). Extending these prior find- ings regarding the effect
of LLX on LMX differentiation, we contend that leaders' LLX with
their superior offers a relational context that influences the
extent to which narcissistic leaders develop differenti- ated LMX
relationships with their followers in a group.
Namely, we propose that leaders' LLX with their superior will
moderate the positive effect of leader narcissism on LMX
differentia- tion such that this effect will be stronger in the
presence of low (vs. high) LLX. Prior research shows that leaders
in low LLX relationships would develop low LMX relationships with
their followers (Henderson et al., 2009; Zhou et al., 2012).
However, we argue that the role of LLX in influencing LMX
relationships within groups might be more complicated.
Specifically, prior research suggests that narcissistic leaders are
motivated to maintain control over and demand admira- tion
and loyalty from their followers (Maccoby, 2000). Therefore,
when narcissistic leaders have low-quality LLX with their own
supe- rior, they should be motivated to seek social approval from
others and more likely to accept followers' offer of admiration
and loyalty. This is consistent with the resource view of social
exchange suggesting that when resources valued by leaders
(e.g., work-related support, emo- tional support, respect)
cannot be obtained in certain social exchange relationships
(e.g., LLX), leaders might seek to substitute for these unavailable
resources by selectively turning to other relationships (e.g., LMX)
that may help compensate for these absent resources (Wilson,
Sin, & Conlon, 2010). This is also consistent with prior find- ings in
the COR literature such that individuals are more likely to invest
in resource acquisition activities when they perceive better
opportunities for resource gains (Halbesleben, Neveu, PaustianUnderdahl, & Westman, 2014).
Moreover, narcissistic leaders are highly egoistic yet
sensitive to ego threats (Maccoby, 2000). Their failure to
develop high-quality relationships with superior and gain the
benefits associated with those relationships will likely be
perceived by themselves as a threat to their positive self-image.
It will also likely trigger their desire to compensate for this
experienced ego threat by accepting an offer of respect,
admiration, and loyalty from those selected followers who are
able and willing to offer these resources to the leader. Thus, we
HUANG ET AL.
82
expect that when narcissistic leaders experience low LLX with
their superior, they will attempt to compensate for the shortage
of resources (e.g., support, loyalty, admiration) from their LLX
relation- ship by developing higher-quality LMX with those key
followers in the group who can and want to offer these valuable
resources. Further, low LLX condition should also encourage
narcissistic leaders to invest less time into developing LMX
relationships with those followers in the group who they believe
cannot contribute significantly to their leadership success.
On the other hand, when narcissistic leaders have high LLX
with their superior, they enjoy the benefits and privileges from
these high- quality relationships. From the COR perspective, we
argue that such LLX condition is more likely to trigger narcissistic
leaders' effort to conserve their limited resources by
disengaging followers, because they have access to desirable
resources, such as recognition and respect, from their own
superior. Therefore, we argue that to maintain a positive selfimage, narcissistic leaders should be more likely to reserve their
limited time and effort for interactions with their supe- rior who
could offer them valuable resources while avoiding the risk of
resource loss by disengaging their followers. Therefore, we
expect that when narcissistic leaders experience high LLX, it will
lead to less variation in the LMX relationships within a group
compared with the circumstance when they experience low
LLX. With the above said, we hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 4. Leader's LLX moderates the positive relationship
between leader narcissism and LMX differentiation, such
that this positive relationship will be stronger in the
presence of low (vs. high) LLX.
Integrating our arguments above, we further propose a
moder- ated mediation model suggesting that narcissistic
leaders are likely to develop highly differentiated LMX
relationships in their groups and thereby create conditions
discouraging followers from expressing their voice. We also
expect that this indirect effect of leader narcis- sism on
employee voice will be stronger when leaders have low LLX with
their superior. We thus hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 5. Leader's LLX moderates the negative indirect
effect of leader narcissism on follower voice via LMX
differentiation, such that this negative indirect effect will
be stronger in the presence of low (vs. high) LLX.
6
6.1
| METHOD
were invited to complete a survey containing questions about
their narcissism and their LLX relationship with their superior. 96
managers responded (66.2% response rate). At Time 2, which
was 6 weeks after Time 1, 921 employees under the supervision
of those 96 participat- ing managers were invited to complete
a survey with questions about their LMX with the supervising
manager. Five hundred eighty-eight employee survey responses
were collected (63.8% response rate). At Time 3, which was 6
weeks after Time 2, those 588 employee respon- dents were
asked to complete a survey about their voice behavior. Four
hundred sixty-two employee survey responses were collected
(78.6% response rate).
As we found out after the data collection was concluded,
one of the 96 participating managers left the company after
completing his/her Time 1 survey and a new supervisor was
assigned to the employees in that group. As a result, Time 2 and
Time 3 survey responses provided by employees from that group
were not related to their perceived relationship and behaviors
with the supervisor who completed the Time 1 survey. Thus, we
deleted this supervisor's and his/her employees' survey
responses from our final dataset. This resulted in a final sample
of 457 employees nested under 95 supervi- sors. Group size
ranged from three to seven employees, with the aver- age of
approximately five employees per group. In the final supervisor
sample, the average age was 36.84 years and the average
organiza- tional tenure was 7.19 years. The supervisor sample was
predominantly male (80.3%). In the final employee sample, the
average age was 30.27 years and the average organizational
tenure was 5.45 years. The employee sample was also
predominantly male (60.2%). Average dyadic tenure among
supervisors and employees was 3.38 years.
6.2
6.2.1
| Measures
| Leader narcissism
Leader narcissism was measured using the 16-item Narcissistic
Per- sonality Inventory (NPI-16; Ames, Rose, & Anderson, 2006).
Following the NPI-16 scoring procedures, we coded narcissismconsistent responses as 1 and narcissism-inconsistent responses
as 0. A sample pair item was: “I really like to be the center of
attention” (a narcissism- consistent response) and “It makes me
uncomfortable to be the center of attention” (a narcissisminconsistent response). Leader narcissism
scores were then computed by averaging out the 16 NPI items
(α =
.72).
| Sample and procedures
We invited employees and their supervising managers working
at a large Chinese consulting company to participate in this
study. These employees work in consulting teams that serve the
business needs of clients with a primary focus on the strategic
side of business planning, operations, and mergers and
acquisitions. Data for this study was col- lected at three points
in time. At Time 1, 145 supervising managers
6.2.2
| Leaders' LLX
The LLX of leaders with their superior was assessed using a 7-item
LMX-7 scale (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995) that was adapted to
capture the quality of a work relationship between supervisors
and their supe- rior. A sample item was: “How would you
characterize your working relationship with your leader” with a
5-point response scale ranging from 1 (extremely ineffective) to
5 (extremely effective; α = 92).
HUANG ET AL.
6.2.3
| LMX differentiation
To obtain a measure of LMX differentiation, we asked
employees to rate their LMX with supervisors. Employee LMX
was measured using a 7-item LMX-7 scale (Graen & Uhl-Bien,
1995). A sample item was: “How would you characterize your
working relationship with your
leader” with a 5-point response scale ranging from 1 (extremely
ineffective) to 5 (extremely effective; α = .91). Variance in
employee ratings of LMX was used as an index of LMX
differentiation following
prior studies on LMX differentiation (Erdogan & Bauer, 2010;
Liden et al., 2006).
6.2.4
| Employee voice
Employee voice was measured using a 6-item scale (α = .90)
devel-oped by Van Dyne and LePine (1998). A sample item was:
“I develop and make recommendations concerning issues that
affect my work.”
6.2.5
| Control variables
We control for employee LMX, group mean LMX, employee
demo- graphics (age, gender, organizational tenure, and
dyadic tenure with leaders) and manager demographics (age,
gender, and organizational tenure) in the model used to test
study hypotheses. Also, given that we are interested in
narcissism as a voice-suppressing factor, it is important to
control for leadership factor that may encourage voice in order
to determine whether it is narcissism per se that reduces voice
rather than a general positive or negative perception of the
leader.1 Given that empowering leader behaviors involve
leaders enhancing employee perception that their work is
meaningful, encouraging employees to participate in decisionmaking, expressing confidence that employees can achieve
high level of performance, and providing employees with
autonomy from bureaucratic constraints, it can be expected
that empowering leadership can be a powerful leadership
factor encouraging employees to express voice (Ahearne,
Mathieu, & Rapp, 2005). Thus, we also include empowering
leadership as a con- trol variable in our model.2 Empowering
leadership was measured using a 12-item scale developed by
Ahearne et al. (2005). A sample item was: “My manager allows
me to do my job my way.”
6.3
| Analytical strategy
Due to the nested nature of the data (multiple employees
nested under supervisors), we used multilevel modeling to test
the study hypotheses. The outcome variable (voice)
demonstrated a moderate amount of between-group
variability, 0.13, p < .001; ICC(1) = 0.16, which indicated the
presence of a group effect and justified the use of multilevel
modeling.
Our hypothesized model is, in essence, a multilevel firststage moderated mediation model (cf Edwards & Lamberts,
2007), with a
83
Level-2 predictor, mediator, and moderator, and a Level-1
outcome. This model was tested using a multilevel path analysis
in Mplus 7 (Muthén & Muthén, 2012). The unconditional and
conditional (i.e., varying across levels of the moderator) effects
of narcissism on voice were tested using the Monte Carlo
simulation with 20,000 replications (Bauer, Preacher, & Gil, 2006;
MacKinnon, Lockwood, & Williams, 2004; Preacher & Selig,
2012). The Monte Carlo approach to constructing confidence
intervals (CIs) does not assume the normality of the indirect
effect (MacKinnon et al., 2004) and is recommended as a
suitable alternative to bootstrapping in complex multilevel
models (e.g., Preacher & Selig, 2012). The Monte Carlo (MC) CIs
were generated in Rweb.
7
| RESULTS
Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the study
variables are provided in Table 1. As expected, leader
narcissism was positively related to LMX differentiation (r = 0.37,
p < .01) while negatively related to employee voice (r = −0.21, p < .01). LMX
differentia- tion was also negatively related to employee voice (r
= −0.26, p < .01). Hypothesis 1 predicted a negative relationship
between leader
narcissism and employee voice. As shown in Table 2, leader
narcissism was negatively associated with employee voice (γ =
−0.84, p < .001), thus supporting Hypothesis 1. Narcissism
explained 34.02% of additional group-level variance in voice, above and beyond
variance accounted for by other predictors in the model.
Hypothesis 2 predicted a positive relationship between
leader narcissism and LMX differentiation. As shown in Table 2,
the relation- ship between narcissism and LMX differentiation
was positive and significant (γ = 0.75, p < .01), thus supporting Hypothesis 2.
Narcissism
explained 11.74% of additional group-level variance in LMX
differenti- ation, above and beyond variance accounted for by
other predictors in the model.
Hypothesis 3 proposed that the effect of leader narcissism
on follower voice would be mediated by LMX differentiation. As
shown in Table 2, LMX differentiation was negatively
associated with voice
(γ = -0.30, p < .01). The unconditional indirect effect of narcissism
on
LMX differentiation was −.22 and the corresponding 95% MC CI
was [−0.49, −0.04]. This mediation was partial, as the effect of
narcissism
on voice remained negative and significant in the presence of
LMX differentiation (γ = −0.62, p < .05). When the mediator was
included in the model, narcissism explained 23.33% of
additional group-level
variance in voice above and beyond other predictors. Thus,
Hypothe- sis 3 was supported.
Hypothesis 4 predicted that the positive effect of narcissism
on LMX differentiation would be moderated by leader LLX with
their superior. In line with this prediction, the interactive effect of
narcissism and LLX on LMX differentiation was significant (γ =
−0.56,
p < .001). With the product term included in the model, narcissism
explained 6.52% of additional group-level variance in LMX
differentia- tion above and beyond other predictors. To probe
this interaction, we conducted a simple slope test and
constructed a simple slope plot
Descriptive statistics and correlations among the study variables
Variable
1
2
3
4
5
(.91)
84
T AB L E 1
6
7
8
9
10
11
(.72)
12
13
14
1. Age Emp.
2. Female
Emp.
3. Org. tenure Emp.
−.04
.75***
.03
.01
4. Dyadic tenure Emp.
5. LMX Emp.
−.04
−.04
−.01
−.01
6. Emp. leadership
.02
−.11*
−.02
−.12*
7. Age Mgr
.04
−.02
.05
−.03
.03
.01
8. Female Mgr
−.01
.10*
−.03
−.01
−.01
−.11*
−.20***
9. Org. tenure Mgr
.02
−.04
.05
.08
.04
−.07
.60***
10. LMX grp. mean
.01
−.02
−.04
−.09
11. Narcissism
.10*
−.09
.13**
.15**
.01
.08
12. LLX
13. LMX diff.
.00
.05
.00
.04
(.94)
−.01
.04
.06
−.03
.08
−.07
.03
−.02
.03
−.04
−.15**
.01
.13**
.02
.08
−.04
−.03
.27***
−.13
(.92)
.14**
−.18***
−.02
−.01
.07
−.38***
.37***
−.22***
−.21***
.04
−.26***
(.90)
***
14. Voice
.04
−.06
.01
−.02
.30
Mean
30.27
0.40
65.42
40.61
3.60
SD
3.26
0.49
31.87
17.49
0.86
−.04
***
***
.01
−.02
.02
.20
3.71
36.84
0.20
86.30
3.60
0.42
3.52
0.72
3.61
0.76
3.32
0.40
26.72
0.41
0.22
0.97
0.50
0.89
.21
Note. At Level 1: n = 457 employees. At Level 2: n = 95 leaders. Emp., employee; Mgr, manager; Org. tenure, organizational tenure; Emp. leadership, empowering leadership; LMX diff.,
LMX differentiation. Organizational tenure and dyadic tenure are measured in months. Values on the diagonal are internal consistency estimates.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .001.
HUANG ET AL.
HUANG ET AL.
TA BL E 2
85
Effects of narcissism and LLX on LMX differentiation and voice
Outcome: LMX differentiation
Effects
The main effects model
γ
Intercept
0.74***
Outcome: voice
The interactive
effect model
SE
γ
0.05
0.73***
The interactive
effect model
The main effects models
SE
γ
SE
γ
SE
γ
SE
0.05
3.64***
0.05
3.85***
0.10
3.84***
0.10
0.02
Level 1 effects
0.02
0.02
0.02
0.02
0.02
−0.08
0.08
−0.07
0.08
−0.07
0.08
Org. tenure Emp.
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
Dyadic tenure Emp.
−0.00
0.00
−0.00
0.00
−0.00
0.00
LMX Emp.
0.27***
0.06
0.27***
0.06
0.27***
0.06
−0.00
0.02
−0.01
0.02
−0.01
0.02
0.12
Age Emp.
Female
Emp.
Level 2 effects
Age Mgr
−0.01
0.02
−0.01
Female Mgr
−0.07
0.11
−0.10
0.10
0.01
0.12
−0.01
0.12
−0.00
Org. tenure Mgr
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
LMX group mean
−0.38**
0.14
−0.37**
0.13
0.34**
0.12
0.23*
0.11
0.24*
0.11
Narcissism
0.75**
0.24
0.54*
0.22
−0.84***
0.23
−0.62**
0.23
−0.59*
0.24
LLX
−0.06
0.05
−0.06
0.05
−0.02
0.05
−0.03
0.05
−0.03
0.05
−0.30**
0.11
−0.29**
0.11
0.11
0.11
0.15
0.11
0.07
0.22
0.02
LMX differentiation
Empowering
leadership
Narcissism*LLX
0.15
−0.56***
0.16
0.11
Note. At Level 1: n = 457 employees. At Level 2: n = 95 leaders. Emp., employee; Mgr, manager; Org. tenure, organizational tenure.
Organizational tenure and dyadic tenure are measured in months.
*p < .05.
**p < .01.
***p < .001.
(Aiken West, & Reno, 1991). As seen in Figure 2, narcissism had a
pos- itive and significant effect on LMX differentiation, when LLX
was low (simple slope for low LLX: b = 1.08, p < .001) but not
when LLX was
high (simple slope for high LLX: b = −0.004, p > .05). Although
informative, this traditional way of probing interactions is somewhat
lim- ited (i.e., the simple slope values are obtained for the
selected values of a moderator, e.g., one standard deviation
above and below mean).
FI G U R E 2: The interactive effect of
narcissism and leader–leader exchange
(LLX) on leader– member exchange (LMX)
Thus, we further explored the moderating effect of LLX by
examining simple slopes across the entire range of the
moderator values. To do so, we used the online utilities
developed by Preacher and colleagues and obtained a plot
of simple slopes across all in-range values of LLX (Preacher,
Curran, & Bauer, 2006; see Figure 3). As seen in this figure, the
simple slope of narcissism on LMX differentiation is positive (i.e.,
above 0 on the Y-axis) and significant only at the low levels
of
86
differentiation
HUANG ET AL.
HUANG ET AL.
87
FI G U R E 3: Simple slope of narcissism on LMX
differentiation across levels of LLX. Note: The
vertical line crosses the X-axis at 0.18 units
above the mean of grand mean centered
LLX. The plot suggests that the effect of
narcissism on LMX differentiation is positive
(i.e., the simple slope is above 0 on the Yaxis) when LLX is relatively low (i.e., is below
0.18 units above the mean)
LLX. The simple slope becomes nonsignificant at LLX of 0.18 units
above the mean (see the dashed vertical line on the plot; the
simple slope values to the right of this line are not significantly
different from zero). This suggests that the moderating effect of
LLX is noticeable only at the lower levels of LLX (below 0.18 units
above the mean of LLX).
Finally, Hypothesis 5 predicted that the indirect effect of
narcis- sism on voice would vary across levels of leader LLX. This
hypothesis also received support. The index of moderated
mediation (Hayes, 2015) was 0.16 with the corresponding 95%
MC CI of [0.14, 0.18], suggesting that the indirect effect of
leader narcissism on voice via LMX differentiation indeed varied
across levels of a moderator (leader LLX) such that it became
significant at the lower levels of LLX. Specifi- cally, when LLX was
low (i.e., one standard deviation below the mean),
this indirect effect was negative and significant (−0.31; 95%MC
CI [−0.35, −0.27]). However, when LLX was high (i.e., one
standard devi- ation above the mean), this indirect effect was
not significantly different from zero (−0.001; 95% MC CI [−0.03, 0.03]). With the product
term included in the model, narcissism explained 22.41% of
additional
group-level variance in voice above and beyond other
predictors. Overall, the results of the hypothesis testing suggest
that leaders with higher levels of narcissism and lower-quality
LLX with their superior tend to create more LMX differentiation
among their followers and, as a result, suppress employees'
willingness to express their voice.
8
| DI SCUSSION
Drawing from the COR theory and the narcissism literature, we
proposed and tested a moderated mediation model in which
leader narcissism has a negative direct effect on follower voice
as well as a
negative indirect effect on voice via group-level LMX
differentiation. We found that leader LLX moderated the
positive relationship between leader narcissism and LMX
differentiation such that this pos- itive relationship was significant
only in the presence of low leader LLX but turned nonsignificant
in the presence of high leader LLX. Moreover, leader LLX
moderated the negative indirect effect of narcissism on voice
such that this indirect effect was stronger in the presence of low
leader LLX but turned nonsignificant in the presence of high
leader LLX. Collectively, these results support our hypotheses
that narcissistic leaders have a general tendency to create
greater LMX differentiation among their followers and, as a
result, tend to suppress followers' willingness to express voice.
The results also sug- gest that this negative effect of leader
narcissism on employee voice is largely neutralized in the
condition of higher-quality LLX of leaders with their own superior.
Put another way, narcissistic leaders are trig- gered to feel the
need to acquire or recapture social and psychological
resources by seeking support from favored subordinates only
when they themselves feel threatened by a poor-quality
relationship with their own supervisor.
8.1
| Theoretical implications
Our study makes at least four theoretical contributions. First,
although existing research about leader narcissism primarily
focuses on its impact on followers' perceptions of leader
charisma, leadership effec- tiveness and emergence, and
follower work engagement (Galvin et al., 2010; Grijalva, Harms,
Newman, Gaddis, & Fraley, 2015; Judge, LePine, & Rich, 2006;
Resick et al., 2009), our study extends this line of research by
identifying a key mediating mechanism (i.e., LMX differentiation) underlying the relationship between leader
narcissism
88
and follower voice. As suggested by prior research, it is
imperative for organizational studies to theoretically identify
and empirically test mediating mechanisms through which
leader narcissism could impact employee outcomes
(Carnevale et al., 2018). Drawing from the narcis- sism literature,
we argue that narcissistic leaders may selectively develop
relationships with followers who can feed their inflated ego in
order to acquire self-esteem–related resources (i.e., engage in
resource acquisition) and avoid spending time and resources
managing relationships with the rest of the group (i.e., engage
in resource con- servation). This is consistent with the COR
literature such that individ- uals may strategically invest or
reserve their resources in order to either maximize potential
resource gains or avoid potential threat of resource loss
(Hobfoll, 2001).
Our findings about a positive relationship between leader
narcis- sism and LMX differentiation adds to the narcissism
literature by suggesting that narcissistic leaders might not
necessarily have a diffi- cult time building relationships with all
of their followers (Campbell et al., 2011; Judge et al., 2009).
Instead, it is possible that they might instead strategically
develop high-quality LMX relationships with some followers in
the group who could provide the leader with valu- able
resources such as expertise, experience, or high performance.
This is consistent with recent advancements in narcissism
research about narcissistic leaders' potential deviations from
their typical behavioral tendencies as they could appear to be
appreciative or car- ing in front of their followers (Carnevale et
al., 2018; Owens et al., 2015). Further, narcissists have a strong
need for admiration (Raskin et al., 1991). They prefer engaging
in interactions where they may receive more favorable
evaluations from the other party (Brown, 1997; Campbell et al.,
2002; Harms & Spain, 2015; Spain et al., 2014). Thus, narcissistic
leaders may choose to strategically develop high- quality LMX
relationships with those followers who offer resources valuable
to the leader (e.g., praise the leader for his/her successes and
accomplishments). This is also consistent with prior narcissism
litera- ture suggesting that narcissists might demonstrate selfenhancing ten- dencies to maintain positive self-image
(Campbell & Campbell, 2009; Spain et al., 2014).
Second, although prior voice research examining leader
anteced- ents of employee voice has primarily focused on
leader traits (e.g., openness) that are associated with increased
voice behaviors (Detert & Burris, 2007), our study is among the
first to explore leader charac- teristics that could prevent
employees from speaking up. Our study thus extends the
nomological network of voice behavior by identify- ing leader
narcissism as a leader-related predictor of individual voice and
thereby answering the call for a broader and more detailed
exami- nation of leader influences on follower voice (Fast et al.,
2014; Morri- son, 2011). Our findings showed that when
interacting with their followers, narcissistic leaders could signal
through their development and maintenance of differentiated
LMX relationships their level of receptiveness to follower voice.
We contend that followers should be able to recognize such
informational cues from their narcissistic leader and use these
cues to determine what they should do in such a highly
differentiated relational environment. Specifically, followers in
high- LMX relationships with their narcissistic leaders might
choose not to
HUANG ET AL.
speak up out of deference to their leaders so as to feed their
inflated ego and secure the benefits associated with their highLMX status. Followers in low-LMX relationships might also choose
not to speak up because they may not feel obligated to
contribute via voice or they may be afraid of potential harmful
consequences of speaking up. Therefore, by creating highly
differentiated LMX relationships in a work group, narcissistic
leaders are likely to hinder followers voice. Our findings thus
supplement Farh and Chen (2014) and further shed light on the
“dark side” of leader influences on employee voice.
Third, by obtaining support for the hypothesized negative
effect of LMX differentiation on follower voice, our study adds
to a better understanding of the consequences of LMX
differentiation. Prior LMX differentiation research has often
focused on the moderating effect of LMX differentiation on
relationships linking LMX with outcomes such as job
performance, organizational commitment, turnover intentions,
organizational citizenship behaviors, psychological fulfillment,
employee creativity, and coworker helping behavior (Harris et
al., 2014; Henderson et al., 2008; Liao et al., 2010; Liden et al.,
2006). Attempts to explore the main effects of LMX
differentiation on the outcomes, however, have not been
always successful. For example, Liden et al. (2006) failed to find
a significant main effect of LMX dif- ferentiation on individual
performance. Our findings, therefore, add to the LMX
differentiation literature by showing that followers are less likely
to speak up in groups with higher LMX differentiation. This is an
interesting finding that adds to Liden et al. (2006) because it
indicates that voice, as an outcome more relevant to the social
exchange context (i.e., voice as a way to contribute to the
leader–follower relationship), might be a more salient outcome
of LMX differentiation than job performance, which concerns
more with followers' own success.
Finally, our study is among the first to theoretically explain
why and when narcissistic individuals may deviate from their
typically antisocial behavioral tendencies. Recent studies have
shown that nar- cissistic leaders might appear to be humble in
front of followers (Owens et al., 2015) or involve followers in
decision-making (Carnevale et al., 2018), which therefore helps
lessen the detrimental effect of leader narcissism on employee
outcomes. Yet, it has remained unclear why and how such
deviation from the typical behav- ioral tendencies may
happen. Relying on the COR theory (Hobfoll, 1989), our study
identifies LLX as an important boundary condition that alters the
effect of narcissism on LMX differentiation. Namely, the results
of our study demonstrate that narcissistic leaders in lowerquality LLX relationships might more actively seek approval from
followers and accept their attempts to build higher-quality LMX
relationships as they desire to compensate for lower-quality LLX
by gaining recognition, respect, and admiration from followers.
This is consistent with findings from the COR literature suggesting
that when facing opportunities to acquire valuable resources,
individuals become motivated to choose resource acquisition
strategy to more actively invest their effort that could result in
resource gains (Halbesleben et al., 2014).
Our finding that lower-quality LLX magnified, whereas
higher- quality LLX diminished, the positive relationship between
leader
HUANG ET AL.
narcissism and LMX differentiation also contribute to the LMX
litera- ture regarding the impact of leaders' vertical relationships
with supe- rior on their LMX with followers. According to
Henderson et al. (2009), leaders in low-quality LLX do not
provide followers with resources that could benefit them, which
results in lower overall qual- ity of group-level LMX and lower LMX
differentiation within a group. Zhou et al. (2012) also found that
leaders tend to model LMX with their followers after their LLX with
superior. Our findings, however, show that when narcissistic
leaders have low-quality LLX with their supervisors, they tend to
have LMX relationships with their followers that differ
considerably in terms of quality. That is, when threatened by a
tenuous relationship with a supervisor, these leaders may
defend their egos by embracing followers they deem as helpful
while rejecting those who threaten or disappoint them.
Consequently, narcissistic leaders in low LLX situations are likely
to have higher vari- ation of LMX within a group. However, when
narcissistic leaders have high-quality LLX with their superior, their
egos or status are strength- ened, therefore creating a situation
where they care less about their LMX relationships with followers.
This leads to low variation of LMX in a group setting, as indicated
by our finding that group mean LMX was significantly and
negatively associated with LMX differentiation.
8.2
| Practical implications
The results of our study suggest some practical implications for
orga- nizations interested in promoting voice, or any
discretionary work behavior, among their employees. First,
although narcissists are more prone to end up in leadership
positions, they are often not well-suited to them (Grijalva et al.,
2015; Grijalva & Harms, 2014). This is particu- larly true when
those leadership positions require close contact and
relationships with subordinates. In the present study, we found
that narcissistic leaders tended to differentiate between team
members in terms of their relationship quality and resource
allocation in a manner that demotivated employees to speak
up. When leaders' egos were threatened by low-quality
relationship with their superior, this effect was exaggerated.
Consequently, one recommendation based on this research
would be to actively screen for narcissism when promoting
individuals into the positions of leadership. Because the
negative effects of narcissism are typically experienced by
subordinates and peers rather than superiors, such screening
should involve suitability assessments from more than
immediate supervisors. Specifically, if well-validated assessment
instruments are available, assessments of leadership suitability
from subordinates and peers should be utilized.
Second, based on the results of the current study and
related research on narcissistic aggression (e.g., Baumeister,
Bushman, & Campbell, 2000), the negative side of narcissism
seemed to be trig- gered when the egos of narcissistic leaders
were threatened. In the present study, when leaders felt
threatened by poor relations with their own boss, they reacted
by creating working contexts where cer- tain subordinates were
favored over others with the result that the likelihood of
employee voice was diminished. However, these nega- tive
effects were not present when the narcissistic leaders felt their
89
relationship with the boss was great. This suggests that even
those in upper management roles need to be mindful of the
quality of relation- ships they have with their direct reports since
low quality relation- ships between those in the managerial
hierarchy can potentially result in negative downstream effects
beyond their immediate supervision. In some ways, this can be
thought of as being reflective of the “cas- cading leadership
hypothesis” that suggests leadership behaviors at the upper
levels of organizations tend to echo downwards through the
organizational hierarchy (Bass, 1990; Bass, Waldman, Avolio, &
Webb, 1987; Liu, Liao, & Loi, 2012). In the present case, kind or
supportive words from upper managers may have been
enough to convince narcissistic leaders that there was no need
to believe that their psychological and social resources were
threatened and avoid triggering some of the more toxic and
divisive behaviors often seen in narcissists.
8.3
| Limitations and directions for future
research
Our study is subject to several limitations. First, although we
collected survey data at three time points, causality cannot be
unambiguously established. Although we feel that the relatively
stable nature of trait narcissism renders reverse causality unlikely,
this research would ben- efit from a follow-up experimental
study in which the components of the proposed model are
tested with regards to their causal relation- ships. For example,
the follower's intent to express voice in response to behaviors of
narcissistic leaders can be assessed in an experimental vignette
study, where study participants are presented with vignettes
depicting leaders with varied levels of narcissism. Also, LLX
quality can be manipulated in a lab experiment to see how it
may affect indi- viduals with different levels of narcissism and
their relationships with others in groups.
Second, we focused on just one type of follower
contribution to leadership outcomes—follower voice. It is quite
possible that other types of follower contributions may be also
affected by leader narcis- sism and the resultant variation in
LMX. For example, employees may choose to skip their direct
supervisor if he/she tends to act in a narcis- sistic manner and
speak up to higher-level leaders in the organization, thus
potentially creating relationship conflicts across hierarchies (cf
Detert & Trevino, 2010). We recommend that future studies
investi- gate these other outcomes of leader narcissism and the
resultant LMX differentiation.
Third, we collected our data from China and thus could not
rule out the possibility that our findings might not be generalized
to other cultural settings. The LMX measure developed in the
western cultural context could suffer from potential cultural bias
in one's interpreta- tions of the social exchange phenomenon
and therefore be vulnerable to cross-cultural applications. Yet,
there is empirical evidence supporting the use of LMX construct
(as well as LMX differentiation and LLX constructs) across
cultures, including the Chinese context (e.g., Carnevale,
Huang, & Paterson, 2019; Huang, Xu, Huang, & Liu, 2018;
Mackey, Huang, & He, in press; Sui et al., 2016; Zhou et al., 2012).
Another concern is that there could be other contextual (e.g.,
90
HUANG ET AL.
collectivistic culture) or individual (e.g., traditionality) factors
that might influence the way employees and their narcissistic
leaders choose to interact in a leader–follower relationship.
Future research could investigate the cross-cultural impact on
how employees may choose to employ a particular strategy
(i.e., resource conservation or resource acquisition) when
interacting with a narcissistic leader.
Finally, NPI-16 may not fully capture the breadth of the construct of narcissism (Grijalva et al., 2015). Thus, other self-report
measures of leader narcissism (e.g., Back et al., 2013) or
objective measures of narcissism (e.g., observations of leader
behaviors in a lab setting or at the workplace, measuring the
size of a leader's picture on a company's website, counting firstperson singular pronouns in leader's speeches, cf Chatterjee &
Hambrick, 2007) could potentially be used in future research to
better capture the range of behavioral manifestations of
narcissism.
9
| CONLUSION
Our research has addressed two timely issues in the voice
research: why certain leaders are averse to employee voice,
and how leader traits and relationship building in a group
context could influence employee voice. The findings of the
present study demonstrated that leader narcissism could be
detrimental to employee voice as narcissis- tic leaders might
create socially differentiated relationships with fol- lowers in a
group context. Our results further demonstrated that narcissistic
leaders' low-quality LLX with their own supervisors would
motivate them to focus their limited resources developing highquality relationships with followers who may be more helpful in
contributing to leadership outcomes, thus creating a highly
differentiated relational environment within a group.
ORCID
Lei Huang
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9723-7757
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FOOTNOTE
1. We are thankful to an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.
2. Before computing group-level LMX and empowerment to
control for, we examined levels of interrater agreement for
these two vari- ables. To do so, we computed rWG(J) indices for
each group using a uniform null distribution to account for lack
of agreement in the absence of rating biases, and three
skewed distributions (slightly, moderately, and highly skewed) to
account for potential leniency bias in subordinate ratings of
LMX and empowerment as positive leader- ship phenomena.
The resultant rWG(J)s varied across groups, with some groups
having strong agreement that can be used to justify
aggregation (>.70) and some groups failing to reach that level
of agreement. Specifically, 40% (38) and 33% (31) of groups
showed strong (>.70) and moderate (.51–.70) agreement,
respectively, on LMX under at least one of the null distributions.
Further, 61% (58) and 32% (30) of groups showed strong (>.70)
and moderate (.51–.70) agreement, respectively, on
empowerment under at least one of the null distributions.
When groups reach different levels of agreement, a few
options are available: deleting data from groups with low
agreement (unde- sirable as it results in data loss), not
aggregating, aggregating scores for all groups as the risk of
diluting results with data from low- agreement groups, and
including a dummy variable to denote high agreement as a
moderator of the effect of the aggregated variable (LeBreton
& Senter, 2008). We tested study hypotheses under each of
these options, except the undesirable option of deleting data,
and the pattern of results did not change. Given that (1) the
result of hypothesis testing remains the same across options, (2)
aggregated variables are not of substantive interest (i.e., are
not part of the hypotheses) but are included as control
variables, and (3) most groups in the sample demonstrated
moderate to strong levels of agreement (73% on LMX and 93%
on empowerment), in this paper, we report results with grouplevel LMX and empowerment. Results of hypothesis testing
under other options are available from the authors upon
request.
HUANG ET AL.
93
ORCID
Lei Huang
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9723-7757
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES
Lei Huang is an assistant professor of Management at Auburn
University. He received his PhD in Management from the
Univer- sity of Nebraska–Lincoln. His current research interests
include leadership, employee voice and creativity, and
workplace mistreatment.
Dina V. Krasikova is an associate professor of Management
at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She received her
PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Purdue
University. Her research interests include leadership,
employee well-being, and statistical methods.
Peter D. Harms is an associate professor of Management at
the University of Alabama. He received his PhD in
Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana–
Champaign. His current research interests include the
assessment and development of personality,
psychological well-being, and leadership.
How to cite this article: Huang L, Krasikova DV, Harms PD.
Avoiding or embracing social relationships? A conservation
of resources perspective of leader narcissism, leader–
member exchange differentiation, and follower voice. J
Organ Behav. 2020;41:77–92. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2423
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