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The role of leader support in facilitating proactive work behaviour: a perspective from attachment theory


  • Wu, Chia-Huei
  • Parker, Sharon K.


Researchers have proposed that leader support helps employees behave proactively at work. Leader support can facilitate the opportunities for employees to bring about change, as well as their motivation to do so. Nevertheless, empirical studies have shown mixed effects of leader support on employees’ proactive behavior. In this study, to reconcile the inconsistent findings on the impact of leader support on employees’ proactive behavior, the authors consider the content, mediating mechanisms, and boundary conditions of leader support in shaping employees’ proactive behavior. On the basis of attachment theory, the authors propose that secure-base support from leaders (support in the form of leader availability, encouragement, and noninterference) positively predicts employees’ proactive work behavior by increasing their role breadth self-efficacy and autonomous motivation. These hypotheses are supported in an online-survey sample from U.S. participants (N = 138) and a sample from a large gas and oil company in China (N = 212). The authors further propose that the beneficial effects of secure-base support from leaders are more prominent for individuals with lower attachment security. This hypothesis was also supported: Individuals high in attachment anxiety especially benefited from leader secure-base support in terms of its effect on role breadth self-efficacy; whereas those who are high in attachment avoidance especially benefited from leader secure-base support in terms of its effect on autonomous motivation. Our study helps explain how leaders’ support motivates employees’ proactive behavior, particularly for those individuals who have lower attachment security.

Suggested Citation

  • Wu, Chia-Huei & Parker, Sharon K., 2017. "The role of leader support in facilitating proactive work behaviour: a perspective from attachment theory," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 57311, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:57311

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    Cited by:

    1. Jing Zhang & Lynda J. Song & Yue Wang & Guangjian Liu, 2018. "How authentic leadership influences employee proactivity: the sequential mediating effects of psychological empowerment and core self-evaluations and the moderating role of employee political skill," Frontiers of Business Research in China, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 1-21, December.
    2. SuJin Son & Jae Young Lee, 2023. "When Humble Leaders Enhance Employee Job Crafting: The Role of Gender and Trust in Leaders," SAGE Open, , vol. 13(3), pages 21582440231, July.
    3. Jean-Sébastien Boudrias & Francesco Montani & Christian Vandenberghe, 2021. "How and When Does Psychological Wellbeing Contribute to Proactive Performance? The Role of Social Resources and Job Characteristics," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(5), pages 1-23, March.
    4. Mariola Laguna & Karolina Walachowska & Marjan J. Gorgievski-Duijvesteijn & Juan A. Moriano, 2019. "Authentic Leadership and Employees’ Innovative Behaviour: A Multilevel Investigation in Three Countries," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 16(21), pages 1-17, October.
    5. Talat Islam & Saima Ahmad & Ishfaq Ahmed, 2023. "Linking environment specific servant leadership with organizational environmental citizenship behavior: the roles of CSR and attachment anxiety," Review of Managerial Science, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 855-879, April.
    6. Eunmi Jang & Xing Chen, 2022. "How Can We Make a Sustainable Workplace? Workplace Ostracism, Employees’ Well-Being via Need Satisfaction and Moderated Mediation Role of Authentic Leadership," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(5), pages 1-16, March.
    7. Chung-Jen Wang & I-Hsiu Yang, 2021. "Why and How Does Empowering Leadership Promote Proactive Work Behavior? An Examination with a Serial Mediation Model among Hotel Employees," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(5), pages 1-18, March.
    8. Greta Mazzetti & Silvia Simbula & Chiara Panari & Dina Guglielmi & Alessio Paolucci, 2019. "“Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda”. Workers’ Proactivity in the Association between Emotional Demands and Mental Health," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 16(18), pages 1-13, September.
    9. Escrig-Tena, Ana B. & Segarra-Ciprés, Mercedes & García-Juan, Beatriz & Beltrán-Martín, Inmaculada, 2018. "The impact of hard and soft quality management and proactive behaviour in determining innovation performance," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 200(C), pages 1-14.
    10. Luu, Tuan, 2019. "Relationship between benevolent leadership and the well-being among employees with disabilities," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 282-294.
    11. Pai, Jieun & Whitson, Jennifer & Kim, Junha & Lee, Sujin, 2021. "A relational account of low power: The role of the attachment system in reduced proactivity," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 167(C), pages 28-41.
    12. Luu Trong Tuan, 2021. "Effects of environmentally-specific servant leadership on green performance via green climate and green crafting," Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Springer, vol. 38(3), pages 925-953, September.
    13. Yijing Lyu & Chia-Huei Wu & Ho Kwong Kwan & Cynthia Lee & Hong Deng, 2023. "Why and when job insecurity hinders employees’ taking charge behavior: The role of flexibility and work-based self-esteem," Economic and Industrial Democracy, Department of Economic History, Uppsala University, Sweden, vol. 44(3), pages 853-874, August.
    14. He, Jinbo & Chen, Xinjie & Fan, Xitao & Cai, Zhihui & Hao, Shudan, 2018. "Profiles of parent and peer attachments of adolescents and associations with psychological outcomes," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 163-172.
    15. Mario Mikulincer & Phillip R. Shaver, 2020. "Enhancing the “Broaden and Build” Cycle of Attachment Security in Adulthood: From the Laboratory to Relational Contexts and Societal Systems," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 17(6), pages 1-19, March.
    16. Sunwang Kim & Jimin Kwon & Dongil Jung, 2023. "Going beyond the firm perspective: what do employees think of high-performance work systems (HPWS)?," Asian Business & Management, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 22(5), pages 2106-2134, November.
    17. Yuanjie Bao & Chaoping Li, 2019. "From moral leadership to positive work behaviors: the mediating roles of value congruence and leader-member exchange," Frontiers of Business Research in China, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 1-18, December.
    18. Rawan Abukhait & Faridahwati Mohd. Shamsudin & Shaker Bani-Melhem & Mohd Ahmad Al-Hawari, 2023. "Obsessive–compulsive personality and creative performance: the moderating effect of manager coaching behavior," Review of Managerial Science, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 375-396, January.
    19. Ana Martínez-Díaz & Miguel A. Mañas-Rodríguez & Pedro A. Díaz-Fúnez & José M. Aguilar-Parra, 2021. "Leading the Challenge: Leader Support Modifies the Effect of Role Ambiguity on Engagement and Extra-Role Behaviors in Public Employees," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(16), pages 1-14, August.

    More about this item


    leadership; proactivity; attachment style; motivation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J50 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - General

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