empowering leadership
refers to the varying
behaviors that a leader
engages in when
distributing power and
other job privileges
differently to followers (Li
et al., 2017a).
When manifested within team
settings, such behaviors may
result in negative group
outcomes, such as
interpersonal conflict, tension,
or animosity among team
members (Sharma & Kirkman,
2015). As such, we need a
comprehensive understanding
of how empowering leadership
manifests at multilevel and
examine its effects on
knowledge hiding within service
organization. In our particular
study, we examine both the
individual-focused (at individual
level) and differentiated
empowering leadership (at
team level) to understand the
unique duallevel processes of
empowering leadership on
followers’ knowledge hiding
We draw from social influence theories
comprising the social exchange theory
(Blau, 1964), social learning theory
(Bandura, 1977), and social comparison
theory (Festinger, 1954) to explain the
causal mechanisms underlying the duallevel processes between empowering
leadership and knowledge hiding in the
team context. At individual level,
empowering leader will act as a role
model to share power and resources
with followers and foster an open and
trusting environment. Empowered
followers will learn to be open-minded
and feel psychologically safe to
reciprocate the leader by decreasing
knowledge hiding because it is harmful
to the interests of the leader and the
team. At the group level, when the
leader exhibits differentiated
empowering leadership, team
members will experience differential
treatment and will compare their level
of empowerment against that of team
Therefore, the leader’s behavior would
foster feelings associated with “outgroup” versus “in-group”, which
invariably creates relational conflict
within the team and then resulting in
knowledge hiding. In addition, in
responding to the call for research that
explores the boundary conditions of
knowledge hiding (Connelly et al.,
2019), we suggest that the emerging
state of psychological safety (that is
primed by individual-focused
empowering leadership) serves as the
mitigating context that reduces the
influence of group relational conflict on
knowledge hiding
Knowledge hiding
consists of three
dimensions: evasive
hiding, playing dumb,
and rationalized hiding.
Among the three
dimensions, both playing
dumb and evasive hiding
involve deception in that
the knowledge hider
either pretends to not
understand a request for
information or provides
incorrect or misleading
Rationalized hiding, which is
not necessarily deceptive,
refers to the hider providing
an explanation for refusing to
offer the requested
Empowering leadership can
promote knowledge sharing
(Srivastava et al., 2006). Yet,
the relationship between
empowering leadership and
knowledge hiding is unclear,
given that knowledge hiding,
and lack of knowledge
sharing are different
constructs (Connelly et al.,
There is a need to understand how
empowering leadership affects
knowledge hiding. What is also
equally important is to understand
how empowering leadership
manifests at individual level and
group level to influence
knowledge hiding. In their study
on empowerment, Chen et al.
(2007) suggests that further
research is needed to investigate
the dynamic interplay between
each individual within a team and
the team
as a whole.
Research has shown that empowering
leadership behaviors opérate at group as well
as individual levels (Chen & Kanfer, 2006; Wu et
al., 2010). For example, through leading by
example behavior, leaders may
target the group, whereas through coaching,
participative decisionmaking, informing, and
showing concern, they may target an individual.
We adopt the construct of individual-focused
leadership to refer to the set of empowering
behaviors that the leader exhibits to a targeted
individual in a dyadic relationship between the
leader and the follower. The social exchange
relationship between the individual-focused
empowering leader and the follower would
that the latter would not intentionally conceal
or withhold knowledge when the leader and
coworkers request information. When the
leader coaches and shows concern, the follower
is motivated to go beyond selfinterest and has
little or no incentive to hide knowledge or
valuable information
Knowledge is
a critical source of success,
status, and power
(Foucault, 1980; Townley,
1993). Through repeated
social exchanges and social
comparisons, followers who
are less empowered and
receive less autonomy in
decision-making from the
leader are more inclined to
engage in hiding knowledge
from team members.
leader would also engage
in knowledge hiding to
remain more competitive
than their peers because
“knowledge is king” and
is critical for work
achievements. On one
hand, empowering the
follower can deepen
the interpersonal
relationship with leader
and curb knowledge
hiding; on the other
hand, differentiated
empowering leadership
is detrimental to team
member relationships
and encourages
knowledge hiding
amongst group members
Differentiated empowering
leadership captures variations in
empowering leadership behaviors
exhibited by the leader across team
members in the group, which arose
when leaders lead according to
followers’ attributes (e.g.,
motivations and ability). For
example, suppose a leader coaches
certain team members more often
than other members and allows
some members to participate in
decision-making more frequently
than others. Then, differentiated
empowering leadership invariably
creates relational conflict within the
group. Group relational conflict is
“the perception among group
members that there are
interpersonal clashes characterized
by anger, distrust, fear, frustration,
and other forms of negative affect”
(Pelled, 1996, p. 620).
For example, a customer service
officer at the front desk of a firm who is
empowered to implement a
customer service improvement project
may start instructing fellow
customer service officers on tasks that
they can and cannot perform and
may even change their roles and
responsibilities. Therefore, some team
members are likely to experience
negative feelings when interacting
with others, which creates relational
conflict among team members.
Group relational conflict creates a lack of
trust among team members,
Conceptual Model. M. Lin, et al.
International Journal of Hospitality
Management 89 (2020) 1025403
and possibly even concerns that another
member may cause harm on
the individual.
Psychological safety is
a key mediator in the
relationship between
leadership behaviors
and work outcomes.
Psychological safety is
a psychological state
characterized by
interpersonal trust
and mutual respect, in
which individuals feel
comfortable to be
themselves and
engage in
interpersonal risk
taking (Edmondson,
We suggest that
empowering leadership
behaviors can shape
follower’s psychological
safety and in turn, affect
knowledge hiding
behaviors. For example,
when an empowering
leader gives the follower
the opportunity to
participate in decisionmaking, the follower will
feel a sense of control
over the work and of
ownership of the work
By fostering a psychologically safe
context, the leader
encourages the follower to feel free
to exchange special knowledge and
sensitive information without fear of
negative consequences to status,
self-image, or career. When follower
feels psychologically safe, he/she
does not feel the need to protect
himself/herself by hiding knowledge
because he/she is confident that the
interpersonal relationships
surrounding them are not
threatening (Zhang et al., 2010).
Therefore, the empowered follower
who feels psychologically safe will not
engage in knowledge hiding from not
just the leader but also from the
coworkers. Therefore, we propose:
Hypothesis 4. Individual-focused
empowering leadership is negatively
related to the followers’ knowledge
hiding through the follower’s
psychological safety.
We hypothesized that
follower’s psychological safety is
engendered under empowering
leaders. When follower experiences
higher psychological safety, they will
believe that team members respect
each other’s competence, have
positive intentions towards one
another (Edmondson, 1999). The
follower is more willing to hold
judgment and separate information
from emotions when experiencing
relational conflict. Further, he/she is
more open to acknowledging
differences, prepared to find
solutions at work, and spend more
time on constructive problem solving.
Therefore, he/ she is less inclined to
engage in knowledge hiding despite
the existence of group relational
conflict since he/she is less concerned
about negative interpersonal
Data were collected from
employees in 19 hotels in 10
cities in China. Empirical
studies on knowledge hiding
have mainly focused on
industries. Hence, we
collected data from hotels
that have a rating of four
stars and above because
they are more likely
to hire knowledge-based
employees than hotels with
lower star ratings.
We used a convenient sampling
procedure to select hotels and
respondents. Human resources
managers in 19 hotels helped us
to distribute questionnaires to
more than three employees in
each department of the hotel.
Each of these employees received
a questionnaire and a return
envelope, as well as a cover letter,
which stated the rules regarding
their voluntary participation in the
survey, and a confidentiality
guarantee, which confirmed that
their information would not be
shared with anyone in the hotel.
Empowering leadership consists of
five dimensions (i.e., coaching,
leading by example, informing,
showing concern, and
participative decision-making). In
line with Wu et al. (2010), who
categorized dimensions from
transformational leadership scales
into group and individual-focused
components, we suggest that the
same approach can be applied to
empowering leadership scales.
Leading by example is a groupfocused dimension since it is
difficult for a leader to lead by
example in different ways for
different members in a group.
We adapted
the dimensions of coaching,
informing, participative decisionmaking,and showing concern as
individual-focused empowering
leadership. Sample items include
“The department manager listens to
employees’ ideas and suggestions”
(participative decision-making),
“provides help to employees”
(coaching), “explains hotel goals to
employees” (informing), and
“shows concern for employees’
well-being” (showing concern).
Cronbach’s alpha for the scale of
individual-focused empowering
leadership was 0.95
leadership is a grouplevel construct. We
adopted Harrison and
Klein’s (2007) method
and used within-group
coefficient of variation
(CV) to measure
leadership (Li et al.,
2017b; Wu et al.,
Specifically, we first
collected data on individual-focused empowering
leadership rated by hotel employees in 60 groups.
Then, we calculated the within-group CVs of each
group as the measurement of differentiated
empowerment leadership. We calculated the
standard deviations and the means of the scores of
individual-focused empowering leadership for
each group and then divided the within-group
standard deviation by the mean of each group to
produce the CV; the larger the CV value, the more
the variation in individual-focused empowering
leadership behavior perceived
by the group members.
Our study examined the
influence of multilevel
empowering leadership
behaviors and its
influence on knowledge
hiding. We found
support for most of our
By taking a multilevel approach to
explore the dynamics of empowering
leadership behaviors on followers’
knowledge hiding, our study provides
the empirical evidence to the
dialectic nuance of empowerment:
divergent treatment within the group
will negate the positive influence of
empowerment on individuals.
As a whole, individualfocused empowering
leadership, differentiated
empowering leadership,
group relational conflict and
follower’s psychological
safety in the present study
have similar effects on
each of the three facets of
knowledge hiding thus
supporting knowledge
hiding as a singular construct
in our model.
The results show that
empowering leadership
behaviors that manifest at
individual level (to a specific
individual follower) and group
level (within the team as a
whole) are counterintuitive to
wisdom that empowering
leadership is beneficial.
Our study examined the
influence of multilevel
empowering leadership
behaviors and its influence on
knowledge hiding. We found
support for most of our
hypotheses. First, individualfocused empowering
leadership engenders
follower’s psychological
safety, which, in
turn, dampens knowledge
Our findings underline
the need to examine the
interdependent effects
of leadership behaviors—
both at individual and
group levels—and their
effects on follower
Drawing from social influence
theories (i.e., social exchange,
social learning, and social
comparison theories), we
introduce follower’s
psychological safety and group
relational conflict as the linking
mechanisms between
empowering leadership and
knowledge hiding.
our study examines
the influence of
leadership at multilevel on followers’
knowledge hiding.
Our findings show that
empowering leadership has
indirect negative effects on
followers’ knowledge hiding
via follower’s psychological
safety, whereas
differentiated empowering
leadership has indirect
positive effects on
followers’ knowledge hiding
via group relational conflict.
In examining dyadic
relationships, employees
will use various
knowledge hiding tactics
toward different subjects
depending on mutual
Taken together, our
study clarifies the
mechanisms of how
leadership impact
knowledge hiding
via the dual paths of
safety and group
relational conflict.
Thus, it is possible that the
three dimensions of
knowledge hiding
behaviors may manifest
differentially depending on
who are the perpetrators
and targets of knowledge
Our study addresses the neutralizing effects
of psychological safety on followers’
knowledge hiding when team members are
experiencing relational conflict. When
follower’s psychological safety is high, group
relational conflict within the team has no
impact on their knowledge hiding.
Conversely, when follower’s psychological
safety is low, group relational conflict’s
positive effects on followers’ knowledge
hiding is strengthened.
For example, in Zhao et al.’s (2016) study, workplace
ostracism is an aggressive form of interactions and
exchanges within the dyadic relationship where the
ostracized employee will reciprocate with more antisocial form of knowledge hiding behaviors, i.e., evasive
hiding and playing dump rather than rationalized hiding
which is associated with more pro-social form of
knowledge hiding (Zhao et al., 2016) towards the target.
Managers should
understand and recognize
the detrimental effects of
differentiated leadership
behaviors within the team,
especially leaders who
attempt to differ and fit
their empowering
behaviors according to the
followers’ characteristics.
In the hospitality sector,
service staffs are front-line
service providers and they
need to be empowered to
accommodate customer
requests and perform
service recovery when
problems occur. Leaders
need to ensure that
empowering leadership is
an effective workplace
practice for their followers.
In the hospitality sector, service
staffs are front-line service
providers and they need to be
empowered to accommodate
customer requests and perform
service recovery when problems
occur. Leaders
need to ensure that empowering
leadership is an effective
practice for their followers.
However, leaders are confronted
with followers who possess
differing capabilities and struggle
to empower differentially among
them appropriately. Leaders
need to understand the
effects of empowering leadership
behaviors on individuals and on
team as a whole. Our findings
reveal complex issues, given that
individuals are a part of a team
and are not isolated from one
By varying empowering
practices amongst team
members, it creates tension
and conflict amongst team
members which invariably
will result in team members
hiding information and
solutions. Rather, leaders
must adopt a cooperative
approach focused on team
goals. Instead of assessing
performance of employees
based on individual
outcomes, leaders should
incorporate performance
assessment related to team
outcomes. By focusing on
collective goals rather than
individual goals, leaders can
preserve interpersonal
harmony within the team and
minimize relational conflict
between team members.
By using a multilevel approach to
examine the manifestation of
empowering leadership in the
workplace, we extend the
on the trade-offs of empowering
leadership at individual and group
levels. We provide initial evidence
that although individual-focused
empowering leadership results in the
absence of followers’ knowledge
hiding via psychological safety, a high
level of differentiated empowering
behaviors targeted at team members
may produce group relational
conflict, which, in turn, induces
followers’ knowledge hiding.
Moreover, follower’s psychological
safety can buffer the accelerative
effects of group relational conflict on
their knowledge hiding.