A Study on Paradoxical Leadership and Multiple Path Mechanisms of Employees’ Bootleg Innovation

With the increasingly fierce market competition, there is an organizational atmosphere that innovation, which is originally the responsibility of R&D departments, has been discussed by everyone in the organization. Enterprises in low-resource tend to only retain and support those innovative behaviors in line with the organization’s strategic direction. However, even though they do not have formal allocation of resources, some employees are motivated that their ideas can bring benefits to their enterprises and carry out innovation privately and secretly. “Bootlegging” has been defined as the innovation carried out by the motivated employees who without the authorization of their organization, who believed that bootlegging innovation is conducive to increasing incremental innovation.1–3 A recent study has highlighted the potential for “bootlegging innovation” to emerge in management practices that support emerging innovation initiatives, enhance the novelty of innovation portfolios, and guide the practice of innovation in specific directions.4 In practice, Wang Xiaochuan, founder of Sogou, successfully developed the Sogou Explorer despite the opposition of his boss Zhang Chaoyang;5 Shuji Nakamura insisted on his own ideas, bypassed corporate norms and instructions of leaders and developed the LED technology in an abandoned laboratory, which won him the Nobel Prize. It has been proven that employees’ bootleg innovation plays a vital role in the development and advancement of enterprises. As the information publisher and resource distributor of the organization, the leader is an important environmental factor affecting employee’s behavior.6 Therefore, what kind of leadership style can effectively stimulate employees’ bootlegging innovation, break the technical bottleneck, has attracted the attention of many scholars and entrepreneurs.

Studies have confirmed that positive leadership can stimulate employees’ constructive intention and improve their psychological security, which is an important antecedent to promote employees’ bootleg deviance, such as leader moral humility,6 coaching leadership7 and empowering leadership.8 As the demand for tension in contradictory management in the innovation process has become increasingly evident, most of these previous studies discussed the one and another leadership styles as antecedents of bootlegging, while both of which appear to be powerless in dealing with issues with “paradoxical properties”,9 such as change versus stability10 and immediate benefits versus long-term development.11 Bootlegging features inherent uncertainties and contradictions, as it integrates the two different concepts of deviance and innovation, with the former referring to behaviors bypassing established social norms12 and the latter to behaviors of putting forward and implementing a new idea within an enterprise.13 The nature of Bootlegging reflects the dilemma that employees face in the practice of organizational innovation in weighing “autonomy” versus “institutional regulation”. The fact that employees’ bootlegging innovation requires both the completion of their own work and the need to go beyond their work cannot be ignored. Thus, how to ensure that employees can switch freely between procedural and creative work is an unresolved issue in current leadership style researches.14 Zhang proposed the concept of paradoxical leadership based on western leadership theories and traditional Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, which follows the logic of covering “both sides of a coin” and describes seemingly contradictory but interrelated leadership behaviors that can simultaneously meet the contradictory demands of work situations. Paradoxical leadership emphasizes both regulation and employees’ self-motivation of innovation, which conveys the dilemma idea of acceptance of contradictory and opposing elements. This composite leadership approach might be more effective because it can go beyond the single perspective constrain and deal flexibly with conflicts in the organization.14 Previous research has shown that, “bootlegging innovation” has typically been associated with the stress response of employees, which is led by the activation and stress management of their leaders.15,16 Various clues suggest that paradoxical leadership may facilitate employees’ bootlegging innovation. In sum, understanding the influence of paradoxical leadership on bootlegging innovation represents a future research opportunity, thus prompting our question: Can paradoxical leadership promote employees’ bootlegging innovation, and if so, how and why?

In light of the above, this study intends to answer these questions from two aspects. First, based on risk behavior theory, Globocnik found that, managerial support mediates the relationship between individual risk propensity and employees’ bootlegging innovation positively and negatively.17 Li and Ye, based on social cognitive theory, found that time leadership as a supportive leadership style was effective in enhancing self-efficacy and driving employees to bootlegging innovation.18 Jansen et al, suggested paradoxical leadership includes not only the performance dimension but also the support dimension.19 So distinguishing the performance and support dimensions of leadership behaviors corresponds to the situation where leaders both encourage innovation and set innovation norms, which sheds light on how to analyze the way paradoxical leadership promotes employees’ bootlegging behaviors in this paper. Second, this study attempts to draw on the cognitive-affective system theory by selecting psychological capital variable from the cognitive perspective and thriving at work from the affective perspective, to explore the multiple internal transformation mechanisms between paradoxical leadership and employees’ bootlegging. On the one hand, paradoxical leadership that acts as the most direct external environment individuals come into contact with, exerts many effects on individuals’ cognition and affection and ultimately influences their behaviors. Psychological capital is an individual’s perception (cognition) of the mental state, and thriving at work is manifested as an individual’s psychological and emotional state (affection) toward an organization. Integrating the two perspectives can help more clearly demonstrate the process mechanism by which paradoxical leadership influences employees’ bootlegging. This may produce two independent transmission paths: “paradoxical leadership – psychological capital – bootleg innovation” and “paradoxical leadership – thriving at work – bootleg innovation”. On the other hand, Westbrook et al pointed out that there is a certain progressive relationship between cognition, affection and behaviors, and that an individual’s cognition can influence their attitude and behaviors by activating affections.20 Therefore, the aforementioned two mediating paths are not isolated from each other. According to Spreitzer and Porath’s integrated model of personal growth, employees’ psychological factors play a role in motivating and creating thriving at work.21 Employees with high psychological capital tend to engage in challenging tasks, have the courage to keep moving toward their goals, and ultimately achieve success and “thrive” at work. Therefore, paradoxical leadership may have an impact on employees’ bootlegging through a chain mediation model, that is “paradoxical leadership – psychological capital – thriving at work – bootleg innovation”. Following these three logical lines, this study explores the synchronous mediating roles of psychological capital and thriving at work in ambidextrous behaviors of leaders and employees involved in paradoxical leadership, discusses the continuous mediating roles of psychological capital and thriving at work on this basis and thus open the black box of the role of paradoxical leadership in influencing employees’ bootlegging, in the hope of enriching and expanding existing research findings on paradoxical leadership and bootlegging behaviors and providing decision-making guidance for the application of paradoxical leadership.

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