Keep your mouth shut until I feel good: testing the moderated mediation model of leader's threat to competence, self-defense tactics, and voice rejection

Publication Name

Personnel Review


Purpose: Although voice endorsement is essential for individuals, teams and organizational performance, leaders who consider followers' voice to be threatening are reluctant to implement followers' ideas. The authors, taking note of this phenomenon, investigate why leaders who feel a threat from followers' voice exhibit voice rejection at the workplace and when this detrimental tendency can be diminished. Thus, based on the self-defense tendency as per self-affirmation theory, the authors argue that those leaders who experience threat triggered by followers' voice, justify voice rejection through the self-defense tactics: message derogation and source derogation. In addition, the authors also propose that a leader's positive (negative) affect experienced before voice exposure may decrease (increase) self-defense and voice rejection. Design/methodology/approach: To test the authors’ moderated mediation model, they conducted two independent vignette studies (N = 269; N = 208). The purpose of the first vignette study was to test the simple mediation (i.e. the direct and indirect effects), whereas the second study aimed to test the moderated mediation model. Findings: In Study 1, the authors found that the leader's perceived threat to competence provoked by followers' voice was positively related to voice rejection, and the relationship was partially mediated by message derogation and source derogation. In line with this, in Study 2, the authors tested the moderated mediation model and replicated the findings of Study 1. They found that the effects of leader's perceived threat to competence on voice rejection through self-defense tactics are weaker (stronger) at the high (low) values of a leader's positive affect. In contrast, the effects of a leader's perceived threat to competence on voice rejection through self-defense tactics are stronger (weaker) at the high (low) values of a leader's negative affect. Originality/value: This study suggests that leaders who experience a threat to competence instigated by employee voice are more likely to think that ideas proposed by employees are non-constructive and employees who suggest those ideas are not credible, and these appraisals have a direct influence on voice rejection. However, if leaders are in a good mood vs. bad mood, they will be less likely to think negatively about employees and their ideas even when they experience psychological threats. The findings highlight several avenues for future researchers to extend the literature on employee voice management and leadership coaching by providing theoretical and managerial implications.

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