The ubiquity of social media means that in today’s business environment, an organization’s actions are highly visible to the public. Social media platforms offer a loud voice for consumers and advocacy groups that previously struggled to make their voices heard.
As a result, businesses and business leaders are increasingly challenged and held accountable when their actions fail to meet EU standards. The cost of moral or ethical failure is much higher than perhaps it was when there were only a few regulatory watchdogs monitoring behavior. Today, any customer or stakeholder of a company is able to denounce and be heard.
While this is clearly a positive thing and something that will lead to ethical behavior, it does raise questions about whether such increased scrutiny can make companies more conservative and limit legitimate creativity for fear of generating a backlash.
Ethical leaders are leaders who demonstrate normative conduct through their actions and relationships. These leaders adhere to standards and strictly adhere to company standards and policies. This can be seen as contrary to creativity, as creativity requires challenging the status quo and trying new and unconventional strategies.
Considering that modern organizations face pressures to remain both innovative and ethical, we need to understand how ethical leaders can foster team creativity. The good news is that, according to our to researchethics and creativity are not in a zero-sum game, but can complement each other.
We surveyed 327 employees working in 55 shifts and their supervisors at a foodservice organization headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. This organization viewed creativity as a key part of its operations, and its vision was to “create the most innovative poultry products to maintain industry leadership”.
In the surveys, each supervisor rated the creativity of their teams by evaluating the novelty and usefulness of the ideas developed by the teams. Additionally, we asked team members to rate the extent to which their supervisors demonstrated ethical leadership. Team members also reported their level of emotional attachment to the team and their need for cognitive closure.
The results of our analysis showed that ethical leaders can stimulate team creativity by increasing team members’ emotional attachment to their groups.
Ethical leaders do this by serving as role models. While ethical leaders emphasize trust and integrity, we found that their teams learned to trust each other and maintain their integrity, which in the process encouraged a sense of “oneness.” within the team.
Ethical leaders can also motivate their followers to internalize ethical values, which can then unite the team under the umbrella of upholding the same ethical standards.
Teams whose members are emotionally attached to their teams tend to be more creative because team members feel safer sharing their unique ideas, without fear of being criticized by their colleagues. They also become more willing to exchange information and knowledge with other team members.
We also focused on one feature of the team – the need for cognitive closure of a team – which is the desire to find a firm answer to a subject or problem rather than leaving it ambiguous. When team members have high levels of need for cognitive closure, they are motivated to find a solution to an ambiguous situation as quickly as possible, and they want to maintain the status quo once they have found a solution.
In other words, these team members prefer to make very quick decisions before looking for alternative solutions, and they don’t feel comfortable with the open idea generation process. As a result, their creativity suffers, as creativity requires exploring and being open to alternatives.
Surprisingly, we’ve found that when ethical leaders lead such teams, the double negatives make for a positive. Specifically, when ethical leaders emphasize rules and regulations, it can provide teams with the cognitive closure they need. As a result, team members bond more easily with their teams, which leads to higher levels of team creativity.
Our results suggest that leaders should not fear that establishing values and moral standards may act as a constraint on the creative work of their teams, as they can still have a positive impact on team creativity by reinforcing the team members’ collective attachment to the team.
To do this, leaders must be explicit about the standards and norms they expect team members to adhere to, so that this normative structure can act as a common ground and bring team members together. the team under the same umbrella.
Also, team members who have a high need for cognitive closure are not meant to be uncreative. Leaders can further stimulate their creativity by acting ethically and setting standards and rules for team members to follow.
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