Critical Analysis of a Journal Article: Atwater and Carmeli (2009)

1. Introduction:

In the era of competition and knowledge-based economics, the business world requires its leaders to making considerable efforts for both increasing the productivity of their subordinates and persuading the workforce to foster creativity in business operations across organisations. Globalisation has increased market competition, as a large number of imported substitutes of product are available in the market easily. Organisations selling similar products or services face intense pressure of launching innovative products in market, adopting creative methods in product development process and implementing innovative approaches for solving problems and finding solutions quickly. Leadership has a significant role in motivating employees to be creative and innovative. However, the importance of leadership in fostering creativity and innovation across organisations remains an understudied topic Critical Analysis of a Journal Article .

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1.2. Background of Selected Study:

In the field of leadership and creativity, one of the most informative and comprehensive study is “Leader-member exchange, feelings of energy, and involvement in creative work”, which was conducted by Leanne Atwater and Abraham Carmeli (Atwater and Carmeli, 2009). Leanne Atwater is working as a faculty member of a leading business school in the United States, while Abraham Carmeli is working as faculty member in a business school of Israel. The views and findings of the paper by Atwater and Carmeli (2009) are important due to their influential professional background in management sciences, which may prove significant to draw a clear picture of relation between employer-employee relationship and innovation and creativity in the products and processes of a business.

In this paper, a summary of the selected study by Atawer and Carmeli (2009) has been stated, which is followed by a critical analysis of the study. Both positive and negative aspects of study have been detailed. The relevance of the study to research topic of writer of this paper i.e. “cross-cultural leadership in innovative sector of Nepal” has been mentioned. At the end, clear conclusions have been drawn.

2. Summary of Selected Study:

The purpose of the study was to explore the impact of employees-leaders’ relationship on feelings of the energy of employees, which in turn might lead to the creativity of employees at the workplace. Atwater and Carmeli (2009) have used leaders-employees’ relationship as independent variable and the involvement of employees in creative operational activities as dependent variable. However, the energy that may be gained by the employees through motivation and healthy employer-employee relationship was opted as a mediating variable. The research model proposed that perception of employees about strong leader-member exchange relationship will generate energy, which will increase creativity in work. Three hypothesis were devised:

  • Hypothesis 1. Employees’ views about strong relationships with their bosses will be positively associated with feelings of energy
  • Hypothesis 2. There is a positive association between feelings of energy and creative work involvement
  • Hypothesis 3. The feelings of energy of employees act as mediators between employee opinions strong relationship and creative work involvement

The study was conducted with 193 employees working in Israeli organisations. Participants of study completed two structured surveys at two different points of time, with a gap of two weeks. Data was analysed through Structural Equation Modelling. The results of study supported all three hypotheses. The study concluded that when employees perceive that their relationship with employees are healthy, they feel positive energy which leads to their involvement in creative work. However, this relationship is not very straightforward, rather it is complex, as feelings of energy act as mediators between employees perception of relationship with employers and creative work involvement.

3. Critical Analysis:

The strengths, weaknesses and limitations of the study are discussed as follows:

3.1. Strengths:

One of the most significant strengths of the study is its strong theoretical background. The authors have conducted an extensive literature review, in order to draw the hypothesis related to the relationship between independent, dependent and mediating variables. For example, the variable of leader-member exchange, which imparts feelings of energy, was derived from the ‘theory of Coordination’ given by Quinn and Dutton (2005). Furthermore, the authors considered different models in the process of hypothesis formulation like Broaden-and-Build Model (Fredrickson, 1998; 2001), Model of Thriving (Spreitzer et al., 2005) and Componential theory of creativity (Amabile et al., 2005, pp. 6). Atwater and Carmeli (2009) have stated that in early 1980s, academic researchers became keener to exploring different work styles, personality traits, and background of creative people, so that it may be ascertained that how they became creative. But further studies like Amabile (1997, 2004), as discussed by Atwater and Carmeli (2009), have explored that from the perspective of business innovation, it is not appropriate to only focus on personal characteristics of an individual, as a determinant of his/her innovation, but some external factors like its relationships with the leaders may highly influence the person’s creative undertakings. Drawing on both traditional and contemporary research (Amabile, 1983; Isen et al., 1987; Miller and Stiver, 1997; Shin & Zhou, 2003; Tierney & Farmer, 2004; Quinn, 2007; Spreitzer et al., 2005), the study derived the three hypothesis that have been mentioned in summary. Hence, the context and theoretical background of study was very strong.

Another strength of the study is that it is based on philosophy of positivism. Positivism is based on the assumption that reality is free and independent of observer (Tafawa & Hussein 2014). This philosophy is consistent with research objective, which authors have explained as ‘investigation of positive psychological experiences at workplace’ (Atwater and Carmeli 2009, pp. 267). This investigative approach is consistent with positivism, in which research searches for truth or reality independently of what is investigated. Regarding research methodology, another strength of study is that it has clearly indicated the measures that were used to analyse creativity – Tierney et al.’s (1999) 9-item measure of creativity, leader-member exchange – Liden & Maslyn (1998) and feelings of energy – inspired by Dutton (2003, pp. 6).

The findings of study are consistent with other studies. This notion believed by Atwater and Carmeli (2009) that leadership may contribute to the involvement of employees in the creative actions has also been studied by a few authors before like Amabile (1997) and Mumford et al. (2002). After the study of Atwater and Carmeli (2009), the attention of many researchers and business authors have been drawn to explore this relationship in other countries, and see whether this relationship has some influence and in future can contribute to higher creativity and innovation in those countries’ organisations. The studies include the research of Volmer et al. (2012), who have tested this relationship empirically in the organisations of Illinois. Like Atwarer and Carmeli (2009), Volmer et al. (2012) found a positive impact of good leader-employee relationships on creative activities of the employees. Furthermore, the research of Carmeli et al. (2010) and Cohen-Meitar et al. (2009) have also accepted this notion by testing the hypothesis separately.

Another strength of the paper is its implication for the management of the organisations, its employees and organisations as a whole. The study reveals that leader-member exchange has a strong positive influence on less creative employees (Atwarer & Carmeli 2009, pp. 271). It shows that managers need to create a supportive work environment by developing healthy relationships with employees. Another significant implication is the indirect effect of leader-member exchange, through feelings of energy, which drives employees to engage in creative tasks. Hence, the study implies that managers should support employees by developing healthy relationships by fulfilling psychological needs of the employees for influencing the creativity and innovation across workplace.

The paper presented by Atwater and Carmeli (2009) have a clear approach to the research, which may not be vague for anyone reading the paper, even from a person who does not background in management sciences.

3.2. Weaknesses:

Although the study has achieved its objective and explored the relationship among variables, but it has some weaknesses, which can be avoided by authors conducting similar studies in future. A shortcoming of the research methodology is that it has solely used quantitative methods for collecting data. In order to test the hypothesis of the study, Atwater, and Carmeli (2009) have utilised most commonly used data analysis method that is regression analysis. It is evident from academic research that mixed research methods have several benefits over a single method of research and mitigate the chances of errors, which may occur by using only qualitative or quantitative research methods (Cresswell and Clark, 2007). Hence, different research designs like interviews and observations could have provided the investigators with better data and an in-depth analysis. Atwater and Carmeli (2009, pp. 271) mention that future studies should use experimental and longitudinal approaches.

Another limitations of study is that it has not studied the factors that influence changes in feelings of energy of employees like conflict and job stress. Ultimately, the findings of the study consisted of a jargon of statistical analysis, which may be confusing for the readers from the non-statistical background or lesser knowledge of research. Regarding bibliography of the study, it should be noticed that more than half of cited studies in the paper were published or conducted more than a decade ago, which makes it doubtful that the study has some contemporary issue to be discussed and meta-analysis portrays a current state of the organisations around the world.

4. Relevance to Research:

The author of this paper intends to conduct a research on ‘cross-cultural leadership in innovation sector of Nepal”. The study of Atwater and Carmeli (2009) is relevant to this study, as it analyses the effect of supportive leadership, in terms of leader-member exchange’ on feelings of energy and creativity of employees in organisations across Israel. The leader-member exchange theory can be used as the basic framework of leadership for studying cross-cultural leadership in innovative sector of Nepal, which will analyse the effect of leader-member exchange between Nepalese employees and foreign managers. A similar study was conducted by Chen and Tjosvold (2004), who studied the impact of cooperative goals on leader-member exchange relationships between Chinese employees and foreign manager. The author of this analysis can take inspiration from this paper for analysing the effect of leader-member exchange relationships between Nepalese employees and foreign managers on creativity innovation of employees in Nepal. In this regard, the study of Atwater and Carmeli (2009) can serve as the theoretical framework supporting the research that will be conducted by author of this study.

5. Conclusion:

This paper was written to critically evaluate the study of Atwater and Carmeli (2009) and analyse its suitability for the research that shall be conducted by the author of this analysis. The strengths and weaknesses of study conducted by Atwater and Carmeli (2009) have been discussed. The study has a number of strengths, while it has few limitations. The theoretical background of study and its implications for managers are its prominent strengths. The primary weakness is that it has not used mixed research methods. The relevance of the study to the research of author of this paper has also been described.

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