A secure base for proactivity: how supportive leaders compensate for individual's insecure attachment styles

Chia-Huei Wu

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Proactive behavior is defined as self-initiated and future-oriented actions that aim to change and improve one's situation or oneself, and has been found to contribute to individuals' career and work success. However, there are individual differences in engaging in such behavior. This research aims to understand why some people are more likely to engage in proactive behavior than others and how leaders can promote employees’ proactive behavior at work, especially for those who tend not to have proactive dispositions. Specifically, this research examines proactive behavior from a relational perspective based on attachment theory, which contends that attachment security promotes individuals' exploration of novel environments. Conceptualizing proactivity as a form of exploration, the author proposes that individuals with insecure attachment styles engage in less proactive behavior because attachment negatively influences their proactive motivation. After validating a two-dimensional measure of adult attachment styles (i.e., attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance) in a student sample (n = 453), this mediation hypothesis was supported with a student sample (n = 187). Anxiously attached individuals engaged in less proactive career behavior because of lower self-efficacy; avoidantly attached individuals engaged in less proactive career behavior because of lower intrinsic motivation and lower positive affect. The author further hypothesizes that leaders' support can mitigate the negative effects of insecure attachment styles. This moderated-mediation hypothesis was supported in a study of supervisor–subordinate dyads (n = 138), which also replicated the findings from Study 1. Insecure attachment style was negatively linked to employees' proactive motivation and hence proactive behavior, but only when support from the leader was lacking. This investigation enriches relational perspectives on proactive behavior by showing that attachment style can affect proactive motivation and behavior at work, and that leaders can offset the negative effects of insecure attachment by providing a "secure base" with individualized support. Implications to proactivity literature and adult attachment literature were discussed respectively. Directions for future research in terms of dispositional and leadership mechanisms in shaping proactive behavior and application of attachment theory to work behavior were highlighted.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013

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