The Impact of Leadership Practices on Engagement Within the Chinese Cultural and Business Environment

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TITLE The Impact of Leadership Practices on Engagement Within the Chinese Cultural and Business Environment
School of Business and Management
Pepperdine University
Unpublished master's thesis: August 2013

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of leadership Practices (behaviors) on employee engagement in the Chinese cultural environment.

This study conducted surveys and interviews in a small, privately owned biotechnology company, Shenzhen Leveking Bio-Engineering Co. Ltd., located in the fast growing Shenzhen Special Economic District in Guangdong Province, China. A total of eight LPI-Self questionnaires and sixty-one LPI-Observer questionnaires were collected. Based on the LPI survey results, “observers” from two managers with high scores and two managers with low scores were interviewed. There were a total of sixteen face-to-face interviews.

Generally the leaders reported higher scores on the LPI than did their observers. The LPI-Self scores were all higher than those reported generally for Asian leaders, and higher than scores reported from the United States. However, the observers saw an opposite picture for most of their managers.

Based upon interviews, the author concludes: “Compared to Western or US leadership styles, these quotes suggest that Chinese leaders may be more guanxi and face oriented, making decisions more randomly and at will, acting with less focus on execution of ideas and policies, and less often applying the use of norms and policies to regulate behaviors” (p. 34). The author also points out that these managers “have a much higher and potentially distorted view of their leadership behaviors.... and are disconnected from their employees” (p. 38).

“The interview results showed that the managers' leadership practices did impact employee engagement. Specifically, the job is a more meaningful and significant pursuit for the subordinates of the “High” cohort leaders – they showed more dedication to their jobs. The direct reports of the “High” cohort of leaders also showed stronger vigor - their energy and their motivation to devote time and effort to their jobs, than those of the “Low” cohort. Both groups had similar response about empowerment. They felt that their managers did not empower them enough and would like to see more, while their potential seemed less developed in the “Low” cohort than did in their “High” counterpart. There is a clear contrast between the responses for the “High” and “Low” cohorts regarding the pressure they felt at work, work-life balance, and who they trusted the most in the company. The leaders who care about the employees, along with other leadership behaviors, gain the most trust. Employees from either “High” or “Low” group considered the company or their working group as a family, and themselves as an important part of the family. It appears there are no apparent differences between these two types of leaders – leadership practices of their direct boss did not have a significant impact on employees considering the company as a family” (p. 35).

The author indicates: “The findings from this study support the conclusion of a positive relationship between the use of the Five Exemplary Leadership Practices and employee engagement at Leveking. When observer scores were high, employees reported better engagement in their jobs. This was true when considering the purpose and meaning of the job, the vigor of the employees toward the job, for the use of employees’ talent and potential, and for employees’ trust on leaders. When a leader's awareness of their employees' desires impacts their leadership behavior and their effectiveness, it, in turn, impacted employee engagement” (p. 40).