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Vol. 37. Num. 2. August 2021. Pages 93 - 106

How Contextual Performance Influences Perceptions of Personality and Leadership Potential

[Cómo influye el desempeño contextual en las percepciones de la personalidad y el potencial de liderazgo]

Danilo R. Le Sante, Asia A. Eaton, and Chockalingam Viswesvaran


Department of Psychology, Florida International University, USA


https://doi.org/10.5093/jwop2021a10

Received 12 September 2020, Accepted 10 May 2021

Abstract

Research has found that employees high in cooperative and persistent personality traits tend to engage in more contextual performance at work—extra-role behaviors that support and maintain organizational structure. In a between-subjects experiment, we examined whether descriptions of employees engaged in contextual performance affected inferences about their personality traits and leadership potential. We also examined whether the effects of interpersonal facilitation on perceptions of agreeableness, and perceptions of agreeableness on leadership emergence, were moderated by target employee gender. As predicted, the positive relationship between interpersonal facilitation and leadership emergence was explained by increased perceptions of extraversion and agreeableness, though no effects of target gender emerged. By engaging in interpersonal facilitation, employees may be able to increase others’ confidence in their leadership potential through personality inferences.

Resumen

La investigación ha encontrado que los empleados que puntúan alto en los rasgos de personalidad de cooperación y persistencia tienden a implicarse en más desempeño contextual en el trabajo -conductas extra rol que apoyan y mantienen la estructura organizacional. En un experimento entre sujetos, examinamos si las descripciones de empleados implicados en desempeño contextual afectaban a las inferencias sobre sus rasgos de personalidad y su potencial de liderazgo. También examinamos si el género del empleado moderaba los efectos de la facilitación interpersonal sobre las percepciones de amigabilidad y las percepciones de amigabilidad sobre la emergencia del liderazgo. Como predijimos, la relación positiva entre la facilitación interpersonal y la emergencia del liderazgo fue explicada por un incremento de las percepciones de extraversión y amigabilidad, aunque no emergieron los efectos debidos al género. Al implicarse en facilitación interpersonal, los empleados pueden ser capaces de aumentar la confianza de los demás en su potencial de liderazgo a través de inferencias de personalidad.

Palabras clave

Desempeño contextual, Facilitación interpersonal, Dedicación al puesto de trabajo, Liderazgo, Personalidad

Keywords

Contextual performance, Interpersonal facilitation, Job dedication, Leadership, Personality

Cite this article as: Sante, D. R. L., Eaton, A. A., and Viswesvaran, C. (2021). How Contextual Performance Influences Perceptions of Personality and Leadership Potential. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 37(2), 93 - 106. https://doi.org/10.5093/jwop2021a10

Correspondence: dlesante@fiu.edu (D. Le Sante).

Introduction

Research over the last 30 years finds that organizations regularly expect their employees to exhibit job performance that “goes the extra mile” (Allen & Rush, 1998; Organ, 1990; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2004). Because contextual performance, or discretionary non-task work, has been found to increase organizational effectiveness (Borman et al., 1995; Dunlop & Lee, 2004), employees in a variety of jobs and sectors today are expected to exceed prescribed job duties by their supervisors and organizations (Rotundo & Sackett, 2002; Werner, 1994). Contextual performance overlaps a considerable amount with other supportive behaviors related to organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB), extra-role-behavior, prosocial organizational behavior, organizational spontaneity, and employee reliability (George & Jones, 1997; Hogan et al., 1998; Organ, 1988; Viswesvaran & Ones, 2000). In addition to using contextual performance to “get along” with colleagues, employees also use it to “get ahead” in their organizations, or in some cases to achieve both (Hogan et al., 1998).

Contextual performance consists of two distinct facets: job dedication and interpersonal facilitation. Van Scotter and Motowidlo (1996) described job dedication as behaviors that reflect discipline, effort, and enthusiasm while at work, such as staying late, and seeking out additional assignments. On the other hand, individuals who are high in interpersonal facilitation are more likely to praise, comfort, and support others in the workplace, presumably reflecting amiable traits and socially desirable qualities. Job dedication and interpersonal facilitation were developed to improve the accuracy, stability, and predictive power of measures of contextual performance (Motowidlo & Van Scotter, 1994) and to offer researchers and organizations a useful classification system for extra-role behaviors.

Predictors of Contextual Performance

Like other models of job performance, contextual performance is frequently operationalized as the focal outcome (Ployhart et al., 2006), with research often focusing on its predictors. These typically include personality, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment (Hogan et al., 1998; MacKenzie et al., 1998; Meyer et al., 2002; Motowidlo & Van Scotter, 1994; Shore et al., 1995; Witt et al., 2002). Borman and Motowidlo (1997) found that the relationship between personality and overall job performance is mostly the result of personality relating to contextual performance. Indeed, this is supported by research, which finds positive associations between personality traits (i.e., agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness) and contextual performance (Delgado-Rodriguez et al., 2018; Hogan et al, 1998; ; Van Scotter & Motowidlo, 1996; Witt et al., 2002).

Outcomes of Contextual Performance

Contextual performance has become so normative that some research finds supervisors use employee extra-role behaviors to make formal appraisal decisions (Allen & Rush, 1998; Podsakoff et al., 2000; Rosopa et al., 2013; Rotundo & Sackett, 2002; Whiting et al., 2008). While much research in I-O Psychology has focused on contextual performance as an outcome, some work has also examined the consequences of contextual performance, such as changes in performance evaluations (Conway, 1999; Rotundo & Sackett, 2002; Viswesvaran et al., 2005), organizational performance (Podsakoff & MacKenzie, 1997), and reward recommendations (Rosopa et al., 2013).

Nonetheless, few studies have explored the potential mediators of these relationships (Podsakoff et al., 2009). Exploring the potential mediators between contextual performance and workplace outcomes, like leadership potential, will help researchers and practitioners understand the meanings supervisors attribute to contextual performance, and the inferences they make about employees based on this discretionary behavior. Thus, we investigate how engagement in contextual performance affects the perceptions of personality for a focal employee and how such personality perceptions affect leadership opportunities for that focal employee.

Inferring Personality from Contextual Performance

Ample research demonstrates significant links between employee’s personality characteristics and their engagement in contextual performance, though we are not aware of any research investigating the reverse – whether an employee’s engagement in contextual performance affects how others perceive his/her personality. While personality is likely to influence employees’ interpretation of the organizational environment and their behaviors, these personality dimensions also tend to be informally evaluated by colleagues and supervisors. Indeed, the literature does suggest that third-party ratings of personality can have meaningful impacts in the workplace (Connelly & Ones, 2010; Oh et al., 2011). For instance, Colbert et al. (2012) found that observed ratings of personality explained more variance in employee leadership potential than self-reported evaluations.

Past research also supports the notion that individuals can accurately perceive the personality traits of other people, specifically when presented with information related to their performance (Borkenau, 1992; Connelly & Ones, 2010). Contextual performance may be one such source of performance information that enables observers to make inferences about a target’s personality. For instance, Rosopa et al. (2013) found that observers of OCBs were likely to make internal attributions as to why individuals engaged in particular behaviors. Specifically, employees who engaged in altruistic behavior were perceived to be more extraverted, agreeable, and conscientious than those who withheld altruistic behavior.

One prominent theory explaining why observers make inferences about targets’ personality based on target behavior is Implicit Personality Theory (Schneider, 1973). Implicit Personality Theory contends that observers assume inferential relationships among attributes of people, being especially inclined to make trait inferences from behaviors. When forming impressions about unfamiliar people based on a limited amount of information, this theory posits that individuals rely on preconceived patterns and biases to inform judgments (Carlston & Skowronski, 1995). The recurring relationship that actual personality traits have with employee’s engagement in contextual performance in the workplace (Hurtz & Donovan, 2000) may therefore serve as a source of information for observers who make personality inferences after observing contextual performance.

Taken together, with this study we make at least three contributions to the literature. First, we examine the extent to which employee’s contextual behavior might relate to leadership opportunities. While research has found that contextual behavior correlates positively with leadership performance (e.g., Conway, 1999), it remains to be seen whether nonmanagerial employees who engage in contextual performance are given credit for their potential excellence as leaders. Indeed, the qualities that support leadership success are not always the ones that support leadership emergence (Judge et al., 2002; Luthans, 1988). Thus, we aim to examine whether individuals recognize the leadership value of employees engaged in contextual performance, and whether they do so similarly for men and women employees.

Second, we offer an original explanation for the means by which contextual behavior might relate to leadership emergence and effectiveness—attributions of personality. Should there be a relationship between contextual performance and ratings of leadership emergence and effectiveness, a substantive contribution to theory requires an articulation of why this pattern exists (Sutton & Staw, 1995). Overall, there is a need to better understand the mechanisms through which OCBs, like contextual performance, work to influence individual-level outcomes (Podsakoff et al., 2009). We propose that attributions about personality are one such mechanism.

Third, while research finds that extraverted people are more inclined to perform contextual behaviors like interpersonal facilitation (e.g., LePine & Van Dyne, 2001), this is the first test of the inverse relationship—whether contextual performance can produce beliefs about employees personality. Evidence for this additional causal direction helps us to better understand the correlation between personality and contextual performance when it is observed. While an employee’s personality may motivate her or him to engage in contextual performance, contextual performance behaviors can lead to third-party attributions of personality that carry significant outcomes for employees.

Extraversion. Extraverted individuals experience positive emotions in social settings and interpersonal interactions (McCrae & Costa, 1989; Watson & Clark, 1997). Traits associated with extraversion to include sociability, gregariousness, assertiveness, and talkativeness (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Over the years, extraversion has undergone various theoretical conceptualizations—from differences in arousal (Eysenck, 1973) to positive emotionality (Watson & Clark, 1997) to sociability (Ashton et al., 2002). However, as Ashton et al., 2002 found, a core feature of extraversion is social attention (i.e., “a tendency to engage and enjoy social attention”). Based on the qualities associated with interpersonal facilitation (e.g., building rapport with colleagues, cooperation, compassion), it is expected that individuals engaged in collaborative and supportive behavior with others will be perceived to be more extraverted than employees who do not explicitly demonstrate these actions. In other words, interpersonal facilitation may be perceived by a rater as a form of social attention. More specifically, we expect that interpersonal facilitation will be perceived as an extraversion driven behavior, which will influence a rater’s perceptions of extraversion of the target employee.

Hypothesis 1a: Employees who exhibit interpersonal facilitation will be perceived as higher in extraversion.

Agreeableness. Agreeableness describes individuals who are sympathetic, cooperative, and consistently display altruistic behavior (McCrae & Costa, 1989). Agreeableness, or likability, has been associated with traits such as courtesy, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and altruism (Barrick & Mount, 1991). With regard to contextual performance, Witt et al. (2002) found that agreeableness was positively and significantly correlated with the interpersonal facilitation dimension of contextual performance. This connection is sound, since interpersonal facilitation contains characteristics that reflect putting people at ease, consideration, and building and mending relationships (Witt et al., 2002).

Hypothesis 1b: Employees who exhibit interpersonal facilitation will be perceived as higher in agreeableness.

Conscientiousness. Conscientious individuals tend to be highly organized, persistent, and have a high need for achievement (McCrae & Costa, 1989). Traits associated with conscientiousness (achievement, dependability, etc.) have a common core of prioritizing long-term goals and takes the form of fulfilling one’s obligations, working hard, and accepting challenges (Barrick & Mount, 1991). These components of conscientiousness reflect a dedication to one’s job (Dudley et al., 2006). Job dedication centers on self-disciplined behaviors such as following rules, working hard, and taking the initiative to solve a problem at work (Van Scotter & Motowidlo, 1996). In past research, conscientiousness has been shown to predict job dedication (Chiaburu et al., 2011; Hurtz & Donovan, 2000; Witt et al. 2002). Additionally, observers are more likely to notice these types of self-disciplined, conscientious behaviors in an employee who is high on job dedication.

Hypothesis 1c: Employees who exhibit job dedication will be perceived as higher in conscientiousness.

Personality, Gender, and Contextual Performance

The hypothesized effects of contextual performance on personality inferences are often dependent on the target’s gender. A vast body of research shows that we observe, evaluate, and respond differently to targets who are performing the exact same behavior in the workplace depending on whether the target is a woman or man (Cameron & Nadler, 2013; Heilman & Chen, 2005). These differing expectations, and their implications for workplace rewards and opportunities, can be explained by the social role theory, which describes how people are expected to behave in socially defined categories (Eagly & Karau, 2002).

Social role theory suggests that perceptions of the personality of men versus women employees who engage in contextual performance are likely to differ because women are expected to exhibit greater levels of communal and pro-social behavior than men (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Therefore, engagement in interpersonal facilitation may be more salient and impactful for men than for women, for whom pro-social behavior is seen as normative. Additionally, Heilman and Chen (2005) found different outcomes for men and women who performed the same altruistic behavior, with men benefitting more from the behavior. Since altruism is a descriptive term associated with agreeableness (McCrae & Costa, 1989), it suggests that the relationship between contextual performance and perceptions of personality may vary between men and women.

Hypothesis 2: Both men and women employees who exhibit interpersonal facilitation will be perceived as higher in agreeableness than their same-gender counterparts, but this effect will be weaker for women, for whom interpersonal facilitation is stereotype-consistent behavior.

Personality, Gender, and Leadership Potential

One of the workplace outcomes commonly associated with personality is leadership potential (Colbert et al., 2012; Judge et al., 2002). Leadership potential includes two facets—leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness. Leadership emergence refers to characteristics related to an individual who is perceived to be leader-like, particularly when there is limited information about the employee’s performance (Judge et al., 2002). Leadership effectiveness concerns judgments about a leader’s impact on organizational outcomes, such as productivity and profit (Judge et al., 2002).

Prior research has established that some personality traits are consistently associated with leader emergence and effectiveness (Colbert et al., 2012; Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). Additionally, Ones et al. (2005) found support for the relationship between Big Five factors and leadership, reinforcing the explanatory value of personality on leadership outcomes. Thus, when raters make personality inferences about employees from their contextual performance behaviors, these inferences should also influence the rater’s evaluation of an individual’s leadership potential.

Hypothesis 3: Perceptions of employees’ extraversion will mediate the positive relationship between interpersonal facilitation and (a) leadership effectiveness and (b) leadership emergence.

Hypothesis 4: Perceptions of employees’ conscientiousness will mediate the positive relationship between job dedication and (a) leadership effectiveness and (b) leadership emergence.

Agreeableness and leadership potential. Some research has found notable support for the relationship between agreeableness and leadership (see de Vries, 2008; de Vries, 2012; Ones et al., 2005). Similarly, a review by Smith et al. (2018) addresses the importance of dark traits (e.g., narcissism) and leadership while also making note of the lack of association between bright traits (e.g., agreeableness) and leadership. This suggests that the link may be contingent on the situational context, such as in settings where cooperative behaviors are valued (e.g., classroom environments; Judge et al., 2009).

De Vries (2012) found that the relationship between personality and leadership was strong. Specifically, agreeableness was positively related to supportive leadership. Moreover, supportive leadership is also known to be associated with leader effectiveness (Judge et al., 2004). Since charismatic and considerate leaders tend to be characterized by high agreeableness (de Vries, 2008), it is likely that agreeableness shares a relationship with specific types of leadership that may influence ratings of effectiveness and emergence.

Agreeableness and gender. Gender may not only affect the relationship between contextual performance and perceptions of personality, but also the relationship between these variables and leadership outcomes. For example, Heilman and Chen (2005) found that men and women targets received different evaluative reactions for work-related altruistic behaviors. Men were rated higher on their performance evaluations, reward recommendations, competence, and interpersonal civility than women, even after performing (or withholding) the same helping behavior.

Social role theory and role incongruity theory also suggest varying effects of perceived agreeableness on women’s and men’s leadership outcomes (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Eagly et al., 2000). Eagly and Carli (2007) found that prejudice can surface toward women in leadership roles because of the incongruity between the communal qualities expected of women and the agentic qualities associated with successful leaders. This mismatch between the qualities associated with women and those expected from leaders results in biased evaluations and opportunities that stifle women’s ascent into higher-level roles at an organization (Heilman, 2001). Specifically, women leaders who are agreeable are not selected for leadership roles or respected in them (Heilman, 2001). Therefore, while agreeableness may have a positive effect on perceptions of leadership effectiveness for all target employees (Nana et al., 2010), it may not be a factor that enables women to emerge as leaders. Therefore, we hypothesize:

Hypothesis 5: Agreeableness will mediate the relationship between interpersonal facilitation and leadership emergence for men, but not women.

Method

Participants

To test the proposed model we designed an experimental study employing Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) participants, who have been found to be more similar to the general population than university students (Highhouse & Zhang, 2015). Participants were randomly assigned to one of 8 employee target conditions in a 2 (employee gender: man or woman) x 2 (interpersonal facilitation: engaged or withholding) x 2 (job dedication: engaged or withholding) between-subjects design. The initial sample included 402 MTurk workers who self-reported being employed full-time in the U.S. and were required to have an approval rating of 95% or higher to participate in the study. This serves as a quality check to strengthen the likelihood of reliable responses. Thirty-four (8%) were subsequently excluded from the analysis for failing an attention check based on recalling the target employee’s gender. Thus, the final count of participants was 368. Participants were compensated $3.28 (i.e., the equivalent of minimum wage) to incentivize quality responses (Litman et al., 2015; Shank, 2016). The mean age of the sample was 37.9 years (SD = 9.89). The average number of years spent working full-time was 13.6 (SD = 9.94). A total of 202 (54.9%) participants identified as men and 166 (45.1%) as women.

Procedure

Participants were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and were informed that the study focused on performance appraisal methods and was primarily concerned with evaluating the perceived leadership potential of employees. Participants then read a performance evaluation of a fictitious employee (man or woman) from a made-up organization and asked to respond to a series of questions related to the employee and his or her performance appraisal.

After reading the study requirements and providing informed consent, participants were shown the fictional employee’s performance evaluation, ostensibly completed by her/his immediate supervisor. The evaluation included ratings of the target on six technical task performance items central to the employee’s job, such as “Provides expertise and exceptional service.” Across each condition, employee ratings on task performance were the same.

Next, participants were presented with information on the target’s contextual performance via an open-ended feedback section on the evaluation. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of four sets of open-ended feedback evaluations relating to the target’s contextual performance: (1) the withholding condition (i.e., “the control group”), in which the employee was not engaged in interpersonal facilitation and job dedication; (2) a job dedication condition (“job dedication only”), which described the employee as being highly engaged in job dedication, but said nothing about their engagement in interpersonal facilitation; (3) an interpersonal facilitation condition (“interpersonal facilitation only”), which described the employee as being highly engaged in interpersonal facilitation, but said nothing about their job dedication; and (4) an interpersonal facilitation and job dedication condition (“both”), which described the employee as being highly engaged in both interpersonal facilitation and job dedication. For each of the aforementioned conditions, there was a man and woman target employee version. Thus, there were a total of eight between-subjects conditions.

After reviewing the employee performance appraisal, participants were asked to respond to several questions. The first section of the survey was a manipulation check, asking participants about their perceptions of the employee’s level of interpersonal facilitation and job dedication. This was followed by a questionnaire that asked participants about their perceptions of the target employee’s personality. Participants were then asked about how they perceived the employee’s leadership potential, which included measures of leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness. The final section included a single attention check as well as some items pertaining to participant demographics. Examples of the study materials (including excerpts) and survey items are located in the Appendix.

Measures

Contextual performance manipulation. The manipulation for job dedication and interpersonal facilitation in this study was based on the contextual performance taxonomy put forth by Van Scotter and Motowidlo (1996). Information on the target’s engagement in the contextual performance dimensions of interpersonal facilitation and/or job dedication was provided via a “feedback” section on the employee evaluation form where the employee’s supervisor could respond to the following two prompts: “aspects of the employee’s performance that describes helping and cooperating with others” and “aspects of the employee’s performance that describe typical work habits.” The control condition did not include either of these descriptions, and the “both” condition included the two excerpts.

We assessed ratings of the employee’s contextual performance using items from Van Scotter and Motowidlo (1996). For the manipulation check, participants were asked “While performing the job, how likely is it that this person would” followed by an item assessing contextual performance. An example item for interpersonal facilitation was "Praises coworkers when they are successful.” For job dedication, an example item was “Put in extra hours to get work done on time.” Each item was rated on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (extremely unlikely) to 7 (extremely likely). These items contained elements of interpersonal facilitation (7 items) and job dedication (8 items) for a total of 15 items. The reliability within the current sample was strong (interpersonal facilitation α = .87, job dedication α = .90).

Perceptions of personality. Perceptions of personality followed the manipulation check and were assessed using the 50-item International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) representation of Costa and McCrae’s (1992) NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO-PI-R) domains for the Big Five factor structure. These dimensions included emotional stability (neuroticism) (10 items), extraversion (10 items), openness to experience (10 items), agreeableness (10 items), and conscientiousness (10 items).

The items were adapted to a third-person format, because observer perceptions were the measure of interest. Items were prefaced with the gender pronoun of the given condition as well as, as "Based on your perceptions of the employee, what is the likelihood that” followed by the item. For extraversion, an example of an item was, “skilled at handling social situations.” For agreeableness, an example item was “has a good word for everyone.” An example of conscientiousness was “gets chores done right away.” Each item was rated on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not likely at all) to 7 (extremely likely). The reliability within the current sample was strong for each personality dimension tested (extraversion α = .88, agreeableness α = .90, conscientiousness α = .92). Openness to experience and emotional stability were also measured, though no predictions were made for these traits nor were they included in the proposed model.

Perceived leadership potential. Perceptions of leadership potential were assessed next using the 12-item perceived leadership scale by Colbert et al. (2012), which included items related to an employee’s leadership emergence (5-items) and leadership effectiveness (7-items). Items were adapted to the gender of the employee in the condition. Each item within the leadership emergence scale was prefaced with the phrase "If the employee was tasked with leading a team of employees, what is the likelihood of the following outcomes based on your perceptions?” followed by the item. An example item for emergence was “the amount of leadership the employee exhibits.” Items were rated on a 7-point scale ranging for 1 (very low) to 7 (very high).

Each item within the leadership effectiveness scale was prefaced with "Based on your perceptions, how would you rate the following regarding the employee’s potential as a leader?” followed by the item. An example item for effectiveness was "the group will perform better as a result of the employee’s participation.” Items were rated on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (very low) to 7 (very high). The reliability within the current sample was strong for each leadership facet (leadership emergence α = .91, leadership effectiveness α = .91).

Attention check. A single item served as the attention check (i.e., “What was the gender of the employee?”) to confirm that participants were cognizant of the employee’s gender.

Data Analysis

A one-way ANOVA was conducted to confirm successful manipulation of the two contextual performance facets. Subsequently, a series of regression analyses were conducted to examine the paths of our empirical model. Specifically, mediated and moderated-mediated regressions were used to analyze the hypothesized relationships. Given the four contextual performance conditions in this study, our analysis contained three unique “path a” coefficients as a result of the k-1 groups formed from the multicategorical predictor (i.e., a1, a2, and a3). Each coefficient represents the mean difference in the mediator variable between each condition and the control group. Subsequently, the product of “path a” and “path b”, or the coefficient derived from the relationship between the mediator and dependent variable (i.e., a1b, a2b, and a3b), forms the indirect effect for each condition relative to the control group, thus generating the relative indirect effect.

In checking for common method variance, we conducted a CFA in which all items (for mediating and outcome variables) were loaded into one common factor. The one-factor model had poor fit, which offered support that common method variance was not a major source of concern for the current study. Perceived extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were tested as mediators in the association between contextual performance and perceived leadership emergence and effectiveness. Furthermore, we tested whether the indirect effect of interpersonal facilitation on leadership emergence through perceived agreeableness was moderated by the target employee’s gender. Conditional process modeling was used to test for moderated mediation as detailed by Hayes (2013) using the PROCESS macro in SPSS (this corresponds to Model 58 in Hayes, 2013). Subsequently, we tested whether a moderating effect would yield differences in the indirect effect between the man and woman target employee. The significance of indirect effects was determined using bias corrected bootstrapped 95% confidence intervals based on 5,000 bootstrapped samples, as recommended by Hayes and Preacher (2014).

Results

Manipulation Check for Contextual Performance

There was a statistically significant difference between conditions in ratings of interpersonal facilitation as determined by a one-way ANOVA, F(3, 364) = 10.73, p < .001, partial η2 = .08. A Tukey post hoc test revealed that the “interpersonal facilitation only” condition (M = 6.55, SD = 0.58) and the “both” condition, in which the employee was high in both interpersonal facilitation and job dedication (M = 6.58, SD = 0.53), were significantly different from the “job dedication only” condition (M = 6.27, SD = 0.64) and the “control” condition (M = 6.17, SD = 0.58).

Similarly, a one-way ANOVA confirmed that the job dedication manipulation was successful, F(3, 364) = 5.82, p < .05, partial η2 = .05. The “job dedication only” condition (M = 6.55, SD = 0.53) and the “both” condition (M = 6.45, SD = 0.59) were significantly different from the “interpersonal facilitation only” condition (M = 6.24, SD = 0.67) and the control condition (M = 6.23, SD = 0.74). Overall, our conditions were effective in manipulating participants’ perceptions of the target’s level of interpersonal facilitation and job dedication.

Descriptive Statistics

Data were screened for potential outliers using a univariate approach for each variable (i.e., excluding any cases with z-scores of +/- 3.29 or higher) (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). We also screened for the possibility of any cases with data entry errors, though did not detect any upon close inspection. Moreover, analyses were conducted with and without outliers to determine if these cases influenced our results, though results were unchanged.

Means, standard deviations, correlations, and scale reliabilities of mediators and dependent variables are presented in Table 1. In addition to examining the correlations across all conditions, we analyzed correlations by target employee gender (man and woman). Means and standard deviations across each condition by target employee gender are presented in Table 2.

Table 1

Means, Standard Deviations, Cronbach’s Alphas, and Bivariate Correlations

Note. N = 368, 1n = 176, 2n = 192; all correlations were significant at the 0.01 (2-tailed) level. Reliabilities located on diagonal. Uncorrected correlations are on lower diagonal. Corrected correlations are on upper diagonal.

Table 2

Means and Standard Deviations across Conditions

Note. N = 368; IF = interpersonal facilitation; JD = job dedication; CP = contextual performance. A higher mean represents a more favorable rating. Ratings were scored on 7-point scales across all measures. For males, n = 34 in No CP condition, n = 45 in JD only condition, n = 47 in IF only condition, n = 50 in JD & IF condition. For females, n = 44 in No CP condition, n = 53 in JD only condition, n = 47 in IF only condition, n = 48 in JD & IF condition.

Contextual Performance and Perceptions of Personality

Employees who were high in interpersonal facilitation were also perceived to be higher in extraversion, β = .39, t(367) = 2.59, p < .05, supporting H1a (see Table 3). Similarly, and consistent with H1b, employees engaged in interpersonal facilitation were rated higher in perceived agreeableness, β = .46, t(367) = 2.08, p < .05 (see Table 5). However, the relationship between perceptions of conscientiousness and job dedication was not statistically significant, β = .20, t(367) = 1.33, p = .18 (see Table 4). H1c was not supported.

Table 3

Mediation for Perceived Leadership Potential Outcome through Perceived Extraversion

Note. N = 368. Effect size estimates are standardized coefficients.

IF = interpersonal facilitation; JD = job dedication; CP = contextual performance; DV = dependent variable; SE = standard error; boot 5,000 bootstrap samples, LLCI = bias corrected lower limit confidence interval; ULCI bias corrected upper limit confidence interval.

*p < .05, **p < .01.

Table 4

Mediation for Perceived Leadership Potential Outcome through Perceived Conscientiousness

Note. N = 368. Effect size estimates are standardized coefficients.

IF = interpersonal facilitation; JD = job dedication; CP = contextual performance; DV = dependent variable; SE = standard error; boot 5,000 bootstrap samples, LLCI = bias corrected lower limit confidence interval; ULCI bias corrected upper limit confidence interval.

*p < .05, **p < .01.

Table 5

Mediation and Moderated-mediation for Perceived Leadership Emergence Outcome through Perceived Agreeableness

Note. N = 368. Effect size estimates are standardized coefficients.

IF = interpersonal facilitation; JD = job dedication; CP = contextual performance; DV = dependent variable; SE = standard error; boot 5,000 bootstrap samples, LLCI = bias corrected lower limit confidence interval; ULCI bias corrected upper limit confidence interval.

*p < .05, **p < .01.

Interaction of Interpersonal Facilitation and Target Gender on Agreeableness

While interpersonal facilitation was positively related to perceived agreeableness for both men and women employees, the interaction between target employee gender and interpersonal facilitation was not statistically significant, β = .10, t(363) = .33, p = .75 (see Table 5). Hence, H2 was not supported.

Relative Indirect Effects through Perceived Personality

Relative indirect effect through perceived extraversion. The relative indirect effect representing interpersonal facilitation on perceived leadership effectiveness through perceived extraversion was statistically significant, relative indirect effect = .22, p < .05 (see Table 3). The findings support H3a, which posited that engagement in interpersonal facilitation indirectly influenced perceived leadership effectiveness through perceived extraversion. The relative indirect effect on leadership emergence was also statistically significant, relative indirect effect = .18, p < .05 (see Table 3), thus, supporting H3b.

Relative indirect effect through perceived conscientiousness. No support was found for H4a and H4b. The relative indirect effect of job dedication on perceived leadership emergence through perceived conscientiousness was not significant, relative indirect effect = .13, p > .05 (see Table 4). Similarly, the relative indirect effect of job dedication on perceived leadership effectiveness through perceived conscientiousness was not significant, relative indirect effect = .15, p > .05 (see Table 4).

Relative conditional indirect effect through perceived agreeableness and target gender. In evaluating H5, a moderated-mediation regression was conducted to test the indirect effect of interpersonal facilitation on perceived leadership emergence through perceived agreeableness and target employee gender. For men and women targets, the relative indirect effect of interpersonal facilitation on perceived leadership emergence was positive and significant, relative indirect effect = .20, p < .05, relative indirect effect = .27, p < .05, respectively (see Table 5).

The effect of interpersonal facilitation, relative to the control group, on perceived leadership emergence through perceived agreeableness was not significantly different between men and women target employees, index = .07, p > .05 (see Table 5). Therefore, H5 was not supported. While perceived agreeableness mediated the relationship between interpersonal facilitation and perceived leadership emergence for men and women employees, the difference was not significant.

Discussion

The job performance construct has generated substantial scholarly attention over the last several decades (Austin & Villanova, 1992; Borman & Motowidlo, 1993; Campbell, 1977; Werner, 2000). Nonetheless, evaluating and managing performance remains one of the more complex and critical issues organizations have struggled with in recent years, particularly because of the changing nature of work (Chiaburu et al., 2017). In this study, we have extended research on this valuable concept to find that discretionary, non-task behaviors can affect inferences about an employee’s personality, and judgments about their leadership potential. While this represents a novel finding, we also want to stress that agreeable, extroverted, and conscientious people tend to be better performers (both on tasks and on contextual performance measures). In fact, process mechanisms have been postulated and empirically tested as to why these relations exist. Several empirical studies find support for the personality-outcome relationship and meta-analytic cumulations of these studies exist (e.g., Bono & Judge, 2004; Borman et al., 2001; Chiaburu et al., 2011; Judge et al., 2002; Salgado, 1997; Salgado, 2002). For example, Barrick et al. (1993) have shown that conscientious individuals set higher goals and thus perform better. Thus, we are not challenging the notion that personality influences contextual performance, rather, we are just going one step further to examine if there is a reciprocal effect (i.e., engagement in these behaviors leads to inferences of specific personality and leadership inferences about a target).

The major contribution of the current research is the examination of the mediating effects of perceptions of personality on contextual performance and leadership potential. First, our findings indicate that engagement in interpersonal facilitation and job dedication lead to perceptions of leader emergence. Moreover, we found that engagement in interpersonal facilitation influences perceived leadership emergence through perceived extraversion and agreeableness. Additionally, interpersonal facilitation is related to perceived leader effectiveness through perceived extraversion. The positive association we found between an employee’s interpersonal facilitation and perceived extraversion suggests that engaging in interpersonal facilitation can lead to inferences about a target individual’s sociability and willingness to interact with others.

The findings reported here reinforce the idea that supervisors and colleagues form impressions of other employees based on the target’s behavior at work. Whether these perceptions are accurate or not, there are substantial implications regarding access to leadership opportunities. A supervisor’s favorable impressions about a subordinate do not necessarily suggest that she or he would immediately associate these judgments with leadership potential. There may be other factors that contribute to this association, and the current study promotes the need for additional research to explore other mediating factors.

Nonetheless, engaging in interpersonal facilitation could be a way that employees showcase positive emotions in social settings (McCrae & Costa, 1989; Watson & Clark, 1997), which leads others to infer higher levels of extraversion within these individuals. This finding is further supported by earlier work, which provides evidence that job performance and personality are related to leadership potential (Allen & Rush, 1998; Colbert et al., 2012; Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). Nonetheless, this does not imply that extraverted individuals are superior leaders to employees who are not extraverted, but it seems clear that these attributions may be common among observers.

It is important to note that perceptions do not necessarily predict an individual’s actual effectiveness or a specific set of abilities. However, implicit leadership theory has conveyed the notion that leadership perceptions are based on leaders exhibiting particular personality traits (Keller, 1999). Therefore, the current findings suggest that inferences about a target employee’s ability to lead a team or organization are at least partially explained by the associations other individuals make about an employee’s perceived level of extraversion.

We also anticipated that engagement in job dedication would positively influence perceptions of conscientiousness, but did not find support for this. Employees who are rated highly on task performance items, as all target employees in this study were, may also be rated highly on conscientiousness regardless of their engagement in job dedication. Van Scotter and Motowidlo (1996) had concluded in their discussion that job dedication may be too strongly associated with task performance for it to be a separate facet of contextual performance, and therefore, the relationship between the two may overlap substantially.

With regard to gender differences, some research has addressed this surprising lack of relationship between gender and OCBs like contextual performance; however, more evidence is needed prior to establishing this conclusively (Podsakoff et al., 2000). Perhaps, contextual performance is performance, not a role. Contextual performance is a set of behaviors, not a set-of-behaviors-performed-by-a-man-or-a-woman. Though we did not test for differences between men and women employees across all focal variables, we conducted an exploratory analysis to examine whether any differences surfaced (via an independent samples t-test). We did not find any significant differences between target men and women employees in how they were rated on mediating and outcome variables.

It is also possible that the job of the employee was not perceived as masculine or feminine, which may potentially cancel out any differences between men and women in this study (Kidder & McLean Parks, 2001). This relationship may depend on how others perceive the job role and an individual’s level of femininity/masculinity when examining the effects of gender roles on OCBs (Kidder & McLean Parks, 2001). We also conducted a post-hoc analysis to examine whether participant gender changed our results in any way. Specifically, we added rater gender as a covariate, though this did not change the outcome of the tested relationships.

Future research could examine whether engaging in certain behaviors at work may offset biases related to the associations individuals tend to make regarding an employee’s gender. Also, future studies may explore how job dedication is related to conscientiousness when the task performance of a target employee is not observable or at least known to be very high. For example, witnessing a colleague staying late at the office might signal inferences about that employee’s conscientiousness, especially in the absence of information commonly found in an objective job performance evaluation.

From an employee’s perspective, this study demonstrates that one potential way to elicit perceptions of leadership would be to engage in OCBs that emphasize collaborative and interpersonal skills in specific situations. This information is useful for individuals who attempt to strengthen their opportunities for growth and advancement within an organization. Researchers often focus on the consequences of OCBs in a macro context. In practice, organizations do not necessarily have a formal, evaluative approach for capturing OCBs, so our understanding of how OCBs contribute to organizational effectiveness is limited to aggregated results. However, the current study shows that rewards (i.e., perceptions of leadership potential) can actually be obtained directly by individuals who exhibit certain personality traits. We now know that one way is through their engagement in contextual performance, specifically interpersonal facilitation.

Additionally, some studies have examined the effects of OCB, CWB, and task performance of individuals on overall job performance (Rotundo & Sackett, 2002). However, no study has shown how OCB is linked to leadership opportunities—only that OCB has a positive relationship with overall job performance ratings. Therefore, this study is also unique in showing that the effects of engaging in contextual performance enhances ratings of leadership potential.

Limitations and Future Directions

The current study provides some novel findings regarding how an employee’s engagement in contextual performance, specifically interpersonal facilitation, may lead to various attributions about an employee’s personality and leadership potential. However, it is not without limitations. First, the study’s design is cross-sectional, and we are therefore unable to confirm whether an individual’s engagement in contextual performance and the resulting perceptions are sustainable over time. Additionally, future research should consider how these judgments may vary across supervisors, particularly men and women managers. Understanding the perspective of individuals in leadership roles may offer a nuanced view into how subordinates ascend into leadership roles.

While the small size of our main effects (particularly between contextual performance and personality) should be noted, it is likely that personality perceptions are explained by many other factors in the workplace and often depend on an individual’s interactions and relationship with others. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that the dialogue surrounding the relationship between personality predicting performance may be expanded to some extent. At least to some degree, it is possible that these behaviors can lead to perceptions of the personality traits that are often linked to OCBs. Future research can explore this further by including other contextual factors and sources of information for raters in experimental designs such as this one.

The use of vignettes describing a fictional employee also inhibits the inferences we are able to draw from true organizational settings. Other sources of information (e.g., personal interactions, reputation, recognition, etc.) are often present and may contribute to perceptions employees have of their colleagues and subordinates. This is a notable limitation with regard to generalizability, and future research should build on this single experiment approach by accounting for the situational experiences of real employees. However, the current design actually enables more precision in our examination of the unique contribution of OCBs on perceptions of personality since confounding sources of information in real-world settings often create interference with this type of analysis (see Mook, 1983). Additionally, prior research has found notable support for perceptions related to OCBs to be similar across laboratory and field settings (e.g., Allen & Rush, 1998).

Also, future studies should attempt to mitigate biases that stem from objective performance criteria when assessing outcomes of contextual performance (see Viswesvaran et al., 2005). For example, it is possible that the relationship between job dedication and conscientiousness might be stronger for employees who are rated moderately on task performance than those who are rated highly on task performance, though this was beyond the scope of the current study. Nonetheless, this is an empirical question that merits further research.

It is possible that target gender differences were not found because the role in question might have influenced less biased responses. Future research that attempts to examine a similar model should consider incorporating a scale, which measures participants’ masculine/feminine perceptions toward the job role. The current study did not gather this information, and so it is unclear as to why we did not observe any differences in how an employee was rated based on their gender.

Furthermore, our sample consisted of MTurk workers who were full-time employees throughout the Unites States. We did not collect information related to their industry, political preferences, or region in which they work. MTurk participants have been shown to lean significantly more liberal and progressive when compared to the overall U.S. population (Levay et al., 2016). Given the investigation of gender bias in this study, future studies should consider obtaining a sample that is more politically diverse and representative of the population or at least attempt to control for this variable.

Nevertheless, the results of this study enhance our understanding of the observed relationships between personality, job behaviors, and leadership assessments. Not only does personality influence job behaviors and leadership, our findings underscore the fact that job behaviors will influence observer ratings of personality and leadership. Future research should replicate and build on these findings to delineate boundary conditions.

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Dr. Joseph S. Raiker for comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

Cite this article as: Le Sante, D. R., Eaton, A. A., & Viswesvaran, C. (2021). How contextual performance influences perceptions of personality and leadership potential. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 37(2), 93-106.https://doi.org/10.5093/jwop2021a10

References

Appendix

Part II: Performance Summary (optional)

List aspects of the employee’s performance that describe helping and cooperating with others:

Jane regularly highlights the accomplishments of her colleagues during staff meetings. This praise often encourages our staff. Jane carefully considers the input of her colleagues with regard to critical team projects and typically consults with them when making important decisions. Her fair approach often motivates others to overcome their differences and get along. Furthermore, she is known for being a great source of personal support for her colleagues. For example, one of our employees was experiencing distress from a recent divorce. Upon learning about this situation, Jane took it upon herself to reach out to the troubled employee. She offered to help her colleague with various projects and even extended her availability if they needed someone to talk to. That’s the way Jane is.

List aspects of the employee’s performance that describe typical work habits:

Back in early November, we had a couple of employees from the purchasing department abruptly leave the organization for positions at other companies. Rather than waiting to hear from upper-management on how to address the sudden departmental changes, Jane reached out, and offered to take on additional responsibilities that were not normally part of her job. She handled the additional workload without any added benefit other than just helping us keep up with departmental goals. Not only did Jane take on these additional responsibilities, but completed the tasks effectively while still performing her job at a high level and without taking any unauthorized shortcuts. Throughout the whole process, Jane embraced the challenge, maintained a positive attitude, and sustained a high level of energy. Additionally, Jane is often seen spending extra hours after work to complete important projects under tight deadlines.

This annual performance review will become part of your IOP personnel file. Please sign below:

Survey Items Administered to Participants

Note. 3Represents reverse-coded items; 1, 2, 5were rated on a 1-7 Likert scale (from 1 = extremely unlikely to 7 = extremely likely); 4was rated on a 1-7 Likert scale (from 1 = very low to 7 = very high).

Cite this article as: Sante, D. R. L., Eaton, A. A., and Viswesvaran, C. (2021). How Contextual Performance Influences Perceptions of Personality and Leadership Potential. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 37(2), 93 - 106. https://doi.org/10.5093/jwop2021a10

Correspondence: dlesante@fiu.edu (D. Le Sante).

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