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Journal of Leadership &
2017, Vol. 24(3) 335 –344
© The Authors 2016
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As organizations encountered fierce global competitions
and rapid changes in technology and economics, employee
creativity has been regarded as a potential resource for
organizations’ survival, which refers to the generation of
novel and useful ideas of products, practices, services, and
procedures in workplace (Amabile, 1996). Among the
abundant factors, leadership has been proved to play an
essential role in facilitating employee creativity (e.g., Gong,
Huang, & Farh, 2009; Liao, Liu, & Loi, 2010; X. Zhang &
Bartol, 2010). However, transparent leadership, which
belongs to an important leadership style and is defined as
the relationship between leaders and followers that the
leader proactively shares relevant information during inter-
actions with the followers, is open to give and receive feed-
back, and shows true personal feeling, emotion, strength,
and weakness (Norman, Avolio, & Luthans, 2010;
Vogelgesang & Lester, 2009), has been neglected.
To filling this theoretical gap in the literature, we intend to
examine whether and why leaders’ transparent behavior
affects employee creativity. Primarily, the reasons why lead-
ers’ transparent behavior has a positive effect on employee
creativity was the following: The core tenet of transparent
leadership was theoretically relevant to employee creativity
(Vogelgesang & Lester, 2009), and when leaders show high
transparent behaviors, they will share relevant information
with their employees, and give and receive feedback and
behave frankly toward employees, which were all beneficial
to employee creativity (Huang, Hsieh, & He, 2014; A. Zhang,
Tsui, & Wang, 2011; Zhou, 2003). Thus, the first purpose of
the present study is to examine whether leaders’ transparent
behavior increases employee creativity.
In addition, we set out to explore why leaders’ transpar-
ent behavior affects employee creativity with the mediating
roles of psychological safety and ability to focus attention.
The extant researches almost treat leader’s transparent
behavior as an important part of authentic leadership
(Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson, 2008),
and its underlying mechanisms mostly focused on the posi-
tive psychological processes like psychological capital
(e.g., Rego, Sousa, Marques, & e Cunha, 2012, 2014). In
the present study, we argue that as a separate important part
of authentic leadership, transparent leadership will affect
employee creativity both through affective and cognitive
routes. From the affective perspective, we argue that lead-
ers’ with high transparent behaviors will treat employees
frankly and are forthright about the motives and reasons
behind decisions, which can facilitate employee psycho-
logical safety. From the cognitive perspective, leaders with
high transparent behaviors provide more information for
employees to do their work and, moreover, give feedback to
670306JLOXXX10.1177/1548051816670306Journal of Leadership & Organizational StudiesYi et al.
1Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan, China
2Northwest University, Xi’an, China
3Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
Hao Po, School of Economics and Management, Northwest University,
Xi’an 710127, China.
How Leaders’ Transparent Behavior
Influences Employee Creativity: The
Mediating Roles of Psychological Safety
and Ability to Focus Attention
Yi Han1, Po Hao2, Baiyin Yang3, and Wenxing Liu1
The present study examines whether and why leaders’ transparent behavior influences employee creativity. Field survey
data from 51 teams and 199 employees in a large IT company located in China showed that both psychological safety and
ability to focus attention mediated the positive relationship between leaders’ transparent behavior and employee creativity.
Furthermore, leaders’ transparent behavior was found to be positively related to employee psychological safety, which in
turn affected employee ability to focus attention and creativity. Finally, theoretical and practical implications were discussed.
leadership transparency, creativity, psychological safety, ability to focus attention
336 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 24(3)
employees which may also enhance their attention on work.
Therefore, we argue that both psychological safety and abil-
ity to focus attention will mediate the relationship between
leaders’ transparent behavior and employee creativity.
The theoretical model was depicted in Figure 1. In all,
we make several theoretical contributions to leaders’ trans-
parent behavior. First, we contribute to transparent leader-
ship by treating it as a separate construct from authentic
leadership, and suggest that leaders’ transparent behavior
can increase employee creativity. Second, we reveal the
underlying mechanisms of why leaders’ transparent behav-
ior has positive effect on employee creativity with psycho-
logical safety and ability to focus attention, which unravels
that in addition to the positive psychological processes,
affective and cognitive processes can also explain why
transparent leadership increases employee creativity (Rego
et al., 2012, 2014; Vogelgesang, 2008). Third, by illustrat-
ing the sequential processes of psychological safety and
ability to focus attention between leaders’ transparent
behavior and employee creativity, we not only enrich the
literature of creativity research by demonstrating the trans-
ferring effect of cognitive processes between affective pro-
cesses and employee creativity (Seo, Barrett, & Bartunek,
2004) but also prove the joint effect of employee psycho-
logical safety and cognitive processes on their creativity
(Edmondson, Kramer, & Cook, 2004).
Theory and Hypotheses
Leaders’ Transparent Behavior
Transparency dates back to the regulatory domain of public
accounting and finance, and the self-disclosure domain of
psychology (Bushman, Piotroski, & Smith, 2004; Jourard,
1964, 1971). In the realm of self-disclosure literature, trans-
parency has been proposed as a descriptive construct, which
refers to that whether the relevant information is open and
made known to all stakeholders by sharing deep thoughts,
values, and feelings (Jourard, 1964; Vogelgesang &
Crossley, 2006). So far, transparency has been used in the
disciplines of financial studies, international management,
strategic management, and psychology, while it has not
been fully explored in the organizational behavior. For
example, Walumbwa et al. (2008) just treated leaders’ trans-
parent behavior as a dimension of authentic leadership,
which means the relational transparency on the part of lead-
ers working with followers. On these bases, Vogelgesang
and Lester (2009) defined transparent leadership as the rela-
tionship between leader and follower which emphasized
sharing relevant information, being open to giving and
receiving feedback, being forthcoming regarding motives,
and the reasoning behind decisions.
In empirical studies, researchers have demonstrated that
authentic leadership has a positive effect on employee cre-
ativity (Rego et al., 2012, 2014); however, no study has
examined the relationship between leaders’ transparent
behavior and employee creativity by treating it as a separate
construct. What’s more, the extant research exploring the
underlying mechanisms between authentic leadership and
employee creativity was almost from the perspective of
positive psychology, such as psychological capital, hope,
and positive affect (Rego et al., 2012, 2014), neglect other
routes which delivers the effect of leaders’ transparent
behavior on employee creativity. In the present article, we
set out to examine whether and why leaders’ transparent
behavior affects employee creativity.
Leaders’ Transparent Behavior and Employee
Employee creativity refers to the generation of novel and
useful ideas of products, practices, services, and procedures
in workplace (Amabile, 1996). We propose that leaders’
transparent behavior will promote employee creativity from
two perspectives. From one perspective, when leaders’
transparent behavior is high, they will share relevant infor-
mation to employees, openly communicate with employees,
and give feedback to employees, which enrich the resources
for employees’ engagement in creative activities (Gong,
Cheung, Wang, & Huang, 2012; Zhou, 2003). Second, high
transparent leaders will frankly disclose both strengthens
and weakness behind the activities to cultivate an open and
transparent organizational climate, so that employees know
exactly what is to be rewarded, what is to be encouraged,
and do not have to worry about “naive ideas” is ridiculed by
colleagues. In such situation, employees are willing to dis-
cuss procedures, question the errors of their leaders, and
challenge the status quo and stereotypes, speak up, and
bring up alternative perspectives or new ideas in an open
manner (Edmondson, 2003; Roberto, 2002; Zhao & Olivera,
2006). Hence, leaders’ transparent behavior will contribute
to employee creativity by providing information for
employees and building a transparent climate. Moreover, in
empirical studies, some researchers have demonstrated the
positive link between authentic leadership and employee
Ability to focus
Figure 1. Conceptual model and estimated coefficients.
Note. N = 199. Controls: age, education, gender, tenure, and intrinsic
motivation. Unstandardized path coefficients reported.
*p < .05. **p < .01 (two-tailed tests).
Yi et al. 337
creativity (Rego et al., 2012, 2014), which indirectly sup-
ports the positive relationship between leaders’ transparent
leadership and employee creativity. Therefore, we propose
the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: Leaders’ transparent behavior is posi-
tively related to employee creativity.
The Mediating Role of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is defined as individuals’ perceptions
which they can freely offer their opinions and values with-
out fear of retaliation and scorn from others (Edmondson,
1999). We argue that leaders’ transparent behavior will
enhance employee psychological safety for the following
reasons. For one thing, high leaders’ transparent behavior
will reduce the psychological distance with employees.
When leaders’ transparent behavior is high, they are open to
communicate with employees and share the relevant infor-
mation about the work they do, which may build a closer
connection with employees, and benefit employee psycho-
logical safety. As evidence, Detert and Burris (2007) dis-
covered that managerial openness could increase employee
psychological safety. Similarly, Walumbwa and
Schaubroeck (2009) found that leaders’ ethical behavior
(i.e., openness and truthfulness) was also positively related
to employee psychological safety.
For another thing, high leaders’ transparent behavior will
cultivate a safety atmosphere in the team. High transparent
leadership manifests that leaders will disclose about the
motives and reasons behind decisions, which may create the
transparent team climate without any information hiding.
Vice versa, under ambiguous or ill-defined situations, stan-
dards for actions are not well understood, employees are not
well informed of acceptable and unacceptable activities,
and therefore do not perceive the existence of psychological
safety (May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004). Thus, the more lead-
ers’ transparent behaviors, the fewer employees take defen-
sive actions and fear of interpersonal threats (Carmeli,
Reiter-Palmon, & Ziv, 2010), benefiting the generation of
psychological safety. Furthermore, Edmonson and Lei
(2014) highlighted that an interpersonal climate of safety
must be combined with other essential ingredients (i.e., sup-
portive leadership) to best enable learning and performance.
In all, we argue that leaders’ transparent behavior will facil-
itate employee psychological safety by building psycho-
logical connections and cultivating a safety atmosphere in
team, and propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2: Leaders’ transparent behavior is posi-
tively related to employee psychological safety.
Taken together, Hypotheses 1 and 2 propose that leaders’
transparent behavior positively relates to employee creativity
and psychological safety; hence, we argue that psychological
safety mediates the positive link of transparent leadership
and employee creativity. In addition, some researchers have
found that employee psychological safety was positively
related to employee creativity (Carmeli et al., 2010; Gong
et al., 2012; Kark & Carmeli, 2009; Nembhard & Edmondson,
2006). Overall, we infer that leaders’ transparent behavior
would enhance employees’ psychological safety, and indi-
viduals who perceive a psychologically safe context are more
willing to challenge the status quo and participate in creative
activities, because they will not be penalized by the leader or
other employees for such behavior (Edmondson, 2003). In
line to this theorizing, some studies have demonstrated that
psychological safety played an essential mediating effect of
leadership behaviors and employee voice (Detert & Burris,
2007; Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009), which was similar
to creative behavior. Therefore, we propose the following
Hypothesis 3: Psychological safety mediates the rela-
tionship between leaders’ transparent behavior and
The Mediating Role of Ability to Focus Attention
Ability to focus attention refers to “one’s ability to pay
attention to value-producing activities devoid of concern
over the use of power by others in organizations” (Mayer &
Gavin, 2005, p. 875), it represents employees’ cognitive
resources that they are involved in certain tasks or activi-
ties, including both the number and intensity (Kanfer &
Ackerman, 1989). High ability to focus attention reflects
employees’ high ability to think about specific aspects of
their work (D. Gardner, Dunham, Cummings, & Pierce,
1987; George & Brief, 1996), and stronger reactions to the
particular aspect of their work. We argue that leaders’ trans-
parent behavior will influence employee ability to focus on
attention from the following two routes.
On one hand, high leaders’ transparent behavior provides
more information for employees to deal with their work, and
give feedback to them about their work, which may reduce
the time and efforts of employees to seek information and
resources, and both of them could enhance employees’ abil-
ity to focus on their work. Moreover, high transparent lead-
ership also teach employees to recognize their strengths and
talents and make a better fit between work demand and their
ability (W. Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumba,
2005), which may also enhance their engagement and ability
to focus attention on their work. On the other hand, high
transparent leadership treat employees frankly and are forth-
right about the motives and reasons behind decisions, so that
there is too much need for employees to guess what the
leader think and to cope with the organizational politics,
which in turn increases employees’ ability to focus attention.
338 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 24(3)
Mayer and Gavin (2005, p. 876) argued that “the more an
employee spends time and mental energy worrying about
what management or a specific manager might do that could
adversely impact the employee, the less cognitive resources
are available for productive efforts.” In total, we suggest that
leaders’ transparent behavior will accelerate employees’
ability to focus attention at work.
In support of this argument, W. Gardner et al. (2005)
proposed that authentic leadership would facilitate
employee engagement in their work. More relevantly,
Mayer and Gavin (2005) discovered that trust toward lead-
ers could facilitate employees’ ability to focus attention on
their work. Hence, we argue that leaders’ transparent behav-
ior increases to employee ability to focus attention, and pro-
pose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 4: Leaders’ transparent behavior is posi-
tively related to ability to employee focus attention.
In a similar vein, leaders’ transparent behavior is posi-
tively related to employee creativity and ability to focus
attention; thus, we demonstrate that ability to focus atten-
tion mediates the effect of leaders’ transparent behavior on
employee creativity. From one perspective, researchers
found that the more employees pay attention to a particular
aspect of their work context, and the less they focus on
other factors, the stronger their reactions to that particular
aspect of their work, such as creative activities
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 1992). In addition, according to
cognitive resource framework (Pugh, Skarlicki, & Passell,
2003), focusing on selective attention and behavior-related
information, and ignoring a large number of irrelevant
information will save cognitive attention resources
employed in creative activities. More important, Amabile
(1983) highlighted that cognitive ability was a vital element
of creativity generation. Hence, employees’ ability to focus
attention may have the positive impacts on their creativity
in the organization. From another thing, Mayer and Gavin
(2005) suggested that ability to focus attention mediated the
positive effect of trust of leaders on employee in-role and
extrarole work performance. Based on above rationales and
empirical evidences, we propose the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 5: Ability to focus attention mediates the
relationship between leaders’ transparent behavior and
Finally, we further argue that leaders’ transparent behav-
ior will affect employee psychological safety, which in turn
affects ability to focus attention and employee creativity.
Specifically, when leaders’ transparent behavior is high,
employees perceive high psychological safety, and they will
be more focused on their work due to that there is no need
for them to seek additional information from others, and
there is no worry about the schedules or bureaucratic,
resulting in use of limited cognitive resources and attention
resources for challenging work (Pugh et al., 2003). In turn,
their high ability to focus attention on their work will help
them engage in creative process and roles within the organi-
zation (Carmeli et al., 2010; Norman et al., 2010; Palanski,
Kahai, & Yammarino, 2011).
On the contrary, when leaders lack of transparency,
employees feel unsafe and suffer from role ambiguity, they
may divert their attention from creative activities to non-
functional operations (Mayer & Gavin, 2005), and decrease
their creativity. Under insecurity or lack of trust situations,
an employee must spend a lot of efforts to concern leaders
and colleagues to do and what not to do. They see that any
creative involvement activities will not be accepted, and
even be ridiculed and abused by supervisors or coworkers
(Jung, 1960; Mayer & Gavin, 2005), which may distract
employees from their work. Therefore, we propose that a
leader who interacts transparently with his or her followers
creates a psychologically safe environment which promotes
follower ability to focus attention and creativity. Thus, we
propose the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 6: Psychological safety mediates the rela-
tionship between leaders’ transparent behavior and abil-
ity to focus attention.
Hypothesis 7: Ability to focus attention mediates the
relationship between psychological safety and employee
Participants and Procedures
The data for this study were collected from a convenience
sample of a telecommunications company in China. The
company specializes in the field of fiber-optic broadband
access, dedicated fiber-optic technology, Ethernet technol-
ogy, and broadband access technology integration. Before
the data collection began, we conducted in-depth interviews
with four senior executives and three managers regarding
the company’s expectations and policies on employee cre-
ativity. We found that the company rewarded constructive
and novel ideas to improve performance and efficiency.
Then, we contacted the human resource department director
and discussed our research goals and scope. The author
attended the work sites, briefly presented the subject of the
study, and handed out the questionnaires.
To avoid the common method bias, team members
answered the measures of leadership transparency, psycho-
logical safety, ability to focus attention, intrinsic motiva-
tion, and some demographic variables. Team leader
answered employee creativity. A total of 266 employees and
58 team leaders participated in the survey, and after deleting
the missing or incomplete questionnaires, we got 199
employees and 51 teams, the respond rate was 74.8%. On
Yi et al. 339
average, 3.90 employees (ranging from 3 to 10) work for a
supervisor. Among the 199 employees, 75.6% were male,
with the age ranging from 25 to 44 years (79.4%) and 99%
of the participants held a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and
the remainder of the participants held a high school diploma
or equivalent, and 78.2% had worked with their current
supervisors for 2 years or below. We examined potential
nonresponse bias based on personnel records from the com-
pany, and we did not find any significant differences in age,
gender, or years of education between respondents and
We used the back-translation process for all items to guar-
antee the content validity of the Western scales in the
Chinese context (Brislin, 1970). Unless otherwise indi-
cated, all the variables were measured using items on a
6-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree to 6 =
strongly agree). We averaged the items for each measure to
obtain an overall scale score.
Leadership Transparency. Leadership transparency was mea-
sured with a five-item scale developed by Walumbwa et al.
(2008), which was used by Norman et al. (2010). Previous
research has shown a good validity of this scale with Chi-
nese samples (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, &
Avolio, 2010). A sample item was “My leader tells me the
hard truth.” Cronbach’s alpha for this variable in our article
Psychological Safety. Psychological safety was measured with
a three-item scale developed by Edmondson (1999). This
scale has been widely used in previous research with Chi-
nese samples (Schaubroeck, Lam, & Peng, 2011). A sample
item was “I am able to bring up problems and tough issues.”
Cronbach’s alpha for this variable in our article was .68.
Ability to Focus Attention. Ability to focus attention was mea-
sured with a six-item scale adapted from Mayer and Gavin
(2005). A sample item was “The work climate here allows
me to focus on doing my job.” Cronbach’s alpha for this
variable in our article was .78.
Employee Creativity. Employee creativity was measured
with a 13-item scale developed by Zhou and George (2001).
X. Zhang and Bartol (2010) have proved the good validity
of this scale among Chinese samples. A sample item was
“This employee is a good source of creative ideas.” Cron-
bach’s alpha for this variable in our article was .83.
Control Variables. We controlled demographic variables
which have been found to be significantly related to employ-
ees’ creativity (e.g., Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004; X.
Zhang & Bartol, 2010; Zhou & George, 2001). These demo-
graphic variables include age, gender, education, and ten-
ure. Employee education was measured as a categorical
variable. Employee tenure was measured as a categorical
variable (1 = 2 years and below, 2 = 3-5 years, 3 = 6-10
years, and 4 = 10 years and above). In addition, we also
controlled employee intrinsic motivation, which also may
influence employee creativity (X. Zhang & Bartol, 2010).
Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, reliabilities,
and correlations. Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics,
correlations, and scale reliabilities for the variables in the
study. Leadership transparency was positively related to
employee creativity (r = .23, p < .01), psychological safety
(r = .50, p < .01), and ability to focus attention (r = .61, p <
.01). Psychological safety was positively related to employee
creativity (r = .35, p < .01) and ability to focus attention (r =
.50, p < .01). Ability to focus attention was also positively
related to employee creativity(r = .31, p < .01).
In a formal sample survey, we conducted CFA on leader-
ship transparency, psychological safety, ability to focus
attention and employee creativity. To achieve an optimal
ratio of sample size versus the number of estimated param-
eters, according to previous research (Netemeyer, Johnston
& Burton, 1990; Wang, Law, Hackett, Wang & Chen, 2005),
we randomly combined the 5 items of leadership transpar-
ency, the 6 items of ability to focus attention and the 13
items of employee creativity scale into 3 parcels. This study
will be only one factor variable randomly divided into three
parts (This method avoids potential structural equation
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, Reliability, and Correlations Among Study Variables.
Variable M SD 1 2 3 4
1. Leadership transparency 5.09 .67 .87
2. Psychological safety 5.02 .69 .50** .68
3. Ability to focus attention 5.15 .66 .61** .50** .78
4. Employee creativity 4.78 .56 .23** .35** .31** .83
Note. n = 199. Reliability coefficients are reported along the diagonal. Age and education are categorical variables.
*p < .05. **p < .01 (two-tailed).
340 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 24(3)
Table 3. Structural Equation Modeling With Mediation Results.
Model test χ2df χ2/df RMSEA TLI CFI
1 LT → PS → AF → ER and LT → AF 75.60 50 1.51 0.051 0.98 0.98
2 LT → PS → ER + AF 77.12 50 1.54 0.052 0.98 0.98
3 LT → PS → ER and LT → AF → ER 95.53 50 1.91 0.068 0.97 0.97
4 LT → PS → ER + AF and LT → ER 76.61 49 1.56 0.053 0.98 0.98
5 LT → PS → ER + AF and LT → AF 75.63 49 1.54 0.052 0.98 0.98
6 LT → PS → ER + AF and LT → AF + ER 75 48 1.56 0.053 0.98 0.98
Note. LT = leadership transparency; ER = employee creativity; PS = psychological safety; AF = ability to focus attention; → = refers to path;
RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation; df = degrees of freedom; TLI = Tucker–Lewis index; CFI = comparative fit index.
model caused by only one indicator variable model cannot
We conducted a set of confirmatory factor analyses to dis-
cern the discriminant validity among the four latent variables
(i.e., leadership transparency, psychological safety, ability to
focus attention, and employee creativity). Results presented in
Table 2 shown that our hypothesized four-factor model was a
good fit to the data (χ2 = 75, degrees of freedom [df] = 48, χ2/df =
1.56, root mean square error of approximation [RMSEA] =
0.05, nonnormed fit index [NNFI] = 0.98, comparative fit
index [CFI] = 0.98). In addition, chi-square difference tests
suggested that four-factor model was superior to (1) the three-
factor model (psychological safety and ability to focus atten-
tion were combined), Δχ2(df = 3) = 40.66, p < .001; (2) the
two-factor model (psychological safety, ability to focus atten-
tion, and leadership transparency were combined), Δχ2(df = 5) =
161.18, p < .001; and (3) the one-factor model, Δχ2(df = 6) =
385.71, p < .001.
The correlations between leadership transparency and
employee creativity (r = .23, p < .01) provided preliminary
evidence to support Hypothesis 1, which states that leader-
ship transparency has a positive relationship with employee
creativity. The correlations between leadership transpar-
ency and psychological safety (r = .53, p < .01) provided
preliminary evidence to support Hypothesis 2, which states
that leadership transparency has a positive relationship with
psychological safety. The correlations between leadership
transparency and ability to focus attention (r = .61, p < .01)
provided preliminary evidence to support Hypothesis 4,
which states that leadership transparency has a positive
relationship with ability to focus attention.
To test the remainder four research hypotheses, the
researcher examined a series of nested models. Table 3
summarizes all the model fit indexes. Figure 1 presents the
final structural model with path coefficients.
Our baseline model is presented as the first model
(Model 1). Specifically, we included the direct paths from
(1) leadership transparency to psychological safety and
ability to focus attention and (2) ability to focus attention to
employee creativity. (Refer to Table 3 for an illustration of
the model and the model information criteria.) This model
does not have direct paths from leadership transparency to
employee creativity. As Table 3 shows, all fit indexes have
satisfactory fit (χ2 = 75.60, df = 50, χ2/df = 1.51, p < .01,
CFI = 0.98, NNFI = 0.98, RMSEA = 0.05).
We then tested indirect effect by removing the direct
path from leadership transparency to ability to focus
Table 2. Confirmatory Factor Analysis on the Four Variables.
Model χ2df χ2/df RMSEA NNFI CFI Δχ2(df)
Model 1: Hypothesized four-factor model 75 48 1.56 0.053 0.98 0.98
Model 2: Three-factor model (psychological safety and ability to focus
attention are combined)
115.66 51 2.27 0.080 0.96 0.97 40.66 (3)
Model 3: Three-factor model (leadership transparency and ability to
focus attention are combined)
224.04 51 4.47 0.13 0.91 0.93 149.04 (3)
Model 4: Three-factor model (leadership transparency and
psychological safety are combined)
121.20 51 2.38 0.083 0.95 0.96 46.20 (3)
Model 5: Two-factor model (leadership transparency, psychological
safety, and ability to focus attention are combined)
236.18 53 4.46 0.13 0.90 0.92 161.18 (5)
Model 6: Single-factor model 460.71 54 8.53 0.20 0.76 0.80 385.71 (6)
Note. df = degrees of freedom; CFI = comparative fit index; NNFI = nonnormed fit index; RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation. All
alternative models were compared with the hypothesized four-factor model. All Δχ2 differences are significant at
p < .001.
Yi et al. 341
attention and adding the direct path from psychological
safety to employee creativity from Model 1. This third
model (Model 3, χ2 = 77.12, df = 50, χ2/df = 1.54, p < .01,
CFI = 0.98, NNFI = 0.98, RMSEA = 0.05) also had a rela-
tively poorer fit to the data than Model 1, as evidenced by
the Table 3 results. Hypothesis 3 was not supported.
Psychological safety did not mediate the relationship
between leadership transparency and creativity.
Next, we evaluated whether psychological safety and
ability to focus attention were independent from each other
in affecting creativity. We want to know whether psycho-
logical safety was a partial or full mediator of the relation-
ship between leadership transparency and ability to focus
attention by eliminating the direct path from psychological
safety to ability to focus attention from Model 1 (i.e., testing
a full mediate on model). This second model (Model 2, χ2 =
95.53, df = 50, χ2/df = 1.91, p < .01, CFI = 0.97, NNFI =
0.97, RMSEA = 0.07) had a poorer fit to the data than
Model 1, suggesting that the full mediation relationship
between leadership transparency and ability to focus atten-
tion was not sufficient to account for the total relationship
between these two variables. As such, psychological safety
was a partial mediator of the relationship between leader-
ship transparency and ability to focus attention. Hypothesis
6 was fully supported.
To further examine the results concerning Hypothesis 5
and Hypothesis 7, we tested fourth model (Model 4), fifth
model (Model 5), and sixth model (Model 6). Model 4, χ2(df =
1) = 1.01, Model 5, χ2(df = 1) = 0.03, and Model 6, χ2(df =
2) = −0.6, were not significantly different from Model 1.
Under the principle of model parsimony, therefore, these
results suggested that Model 1 best fitted our data. The
results shown in Table 3 support our Hypothesis 3: Ability
to focus attention fully mediates the relationship between
leadership transparency and employee creativity. Figure 1
shows that the coefficient of the path from leadership trans-
parency to ability to focus attention was significant (β = .20,
p < .05), as were the coefficients of the paths from ability to
focus attention to employee creativity (β = .44, p < .01).The
results shown in Table 3 also support our Hypothesis 5:
Psychological safety mediated partially the relationship
between leadership transparency and ability to focus atten-
tion. Figure 1 shows that the coefficient of the path from
leadership transparency to psychological safety was signifi-
cant (β = .74, p < .01), as were the coefficients of the paths
from psychological safety to ability to focus attention (β =
.60, p < .05). In support of Hypothesis 7, we found statisti-
cally significant and positive coefficients for the paths from
psychological safety to ability to focus attention (β = .60,
p < .01), and from ability to focus attention to employee
creativity (β = .44, p < .01).
In summary, Hypotheses 1 to 7 have been examined,
and Hypothesis 3 has not been proven effectively (1) abil-
ity to focus attention mediated partially the relationship
between leadership transparency and employee creativity;
(2) ability to focus attention mediated fully the relation-
ship between psychological safety and employee creativ-
ity; and (3) psychological safety mediated partially the
relationship between leadership transparency and ability
to focus attention.
In the present study, we examine whether and how leaders’
transparent behavior affects employee creativity and reveals
the following findings. First, leaders’ transparent behavior
is positively related to employee creativity. Second, psy-
chological safety and ability to focus attention both mediate
the positive association of leaders’ transparent behavior and
employee creativity. Third, leaders’ transparent behavior
positively influences employee psychological safety, which
in turn affects their ability to focus attention and creativity.
The present study contributes to transparent leadership lit-
eratures in several ways. First, we verify that transparent
leadership is a pivotal contextual factor of employee cre-
ativity. For one thing, although some studies have found the
relationships between leadership styles (e.g., empower-
ment, communication, and leader support behavior) and
employee creativity (e.g., Amabile, Schatzel, Moneta, &
Kramer, 2004; X. Zhang & Bartol, 2010; Zhou & George,
2003), transparent leadership has surprisingly not been paid
adequate attention. We found that the more leaders are
transparent, the more resources and information employees
will get, and the higher creativity they have. For another
thing, so far, leaders’ transparent behavior is regarded as an
important part of authentic leadership, and no study have
examined its separate influence on employee creativity. In
the present study, we confirm the positive relationship
between transparent leadership and employee creativity by
treating it as a separate construct.
Second, we reveal the underlying mechanisms between
transparent leadership and employee creativity. The results
showed that both psychological safety and ability to focus
attention mediated the relationship between leaders’ transpar-
ent behavior and employee creativity. These findings demon-
strated that in addition to positive psychological processes
(e.g., psychological safety; Rego et al., 2012, 2014), the affec-
tive (i.e., psychological safety) and cognitive processes (i.e.,
ability to focus attention) can also transfer the positive effect
of leaders’ transparent behavior on employee creativity.
Third, we discovered that there existed the sequential
mediating effect of psychological safety and ability to focus
attention on the relationship between transparent leadership
and employee creativity. These findings contribute to organi-
zational creativity as researchers have suggested that there is
a need to examine the role of individual cognitions between
employee affect and employee creativity (Seo et al., 2004).
342 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 24(3)
We found that ability to focus attention mediates the relation-
ship between psychological safety and employee creativity,
supporting the underlying mechanism of cognitions between
affective states and employee creativity. Furthermore, we
also contribute to psychological safety literature because
Edmonson and Lei (2004) stressed that psychological safety
was not sufficient to ensure employees’ learning behavior,
and it must be combined with a need and capacity for thought-
ful and involvement in the work, through which employees
could generate greater learning and creative behaviors.
Transparent leadership built a safe climate, and thus led to
employee conservation of cognitive resources, and finally,
has more vigor and psychic energy to invest in creative activ-
ities (Hobfoll, 2002; Shirom, 2004). Vice versa, employees
perceive transparent leadership and psychological safety;
however, if they do not have enough psychic energy or cogni-
tive capacity to invest in creative activity itself, the creativity
will be less likely to occur (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992).
The present study has some practical implications to enhance
employee creativity. First, as leaders’ transparent behavior
has been proved as a vital precursor of employee creativity,
managers can improve the transparency of their behaviors,
they can create a climate of safe climate, articulate the clar-
ity of objectives by “sharing the information needed to make
decisions, accepting others’ inputs, and disclosing his/her
personal values, motives, and sentiments in a manner that
enables followers to more accurately assess the competence
and morality of the leader’s actions”(Norman et al., 2010, p.
352). Second, we reveal that employee psychological safety
and ability to focus attention are two crucial intervening
roles transferring the positive effect of leadership transpar-
ency on employee creativity. Hence, managers can consoli-
date the psychological safety, like cultivating the overall
team safety climate and training employees and promoting
their abilities to deal with the interpersonal risk in work con-
texts (Bradley, Postlethwaite, Klotz, Hamdani, & Brown,
2012). Due to that psychological safety is also positively
related to employees’ ability to focus attention, so managers
can improve employees’ concentration on the domain and
focusing their attention to achieve creative goal by appropri-
ate task assignment and strengthening the trustworthiness
toward their leaders (Mayer & Gavin, 2005).
Limitations and Future Directions
Despite this study makes several contributions, there still
exists some limitations deserving consideration. First, the
cross-sectional research design may lead to the causality
between leaders’ transparent behavior, psychological safety
and ability to focus attention, and employee creativity. In
future study, researchers can use longitudinal research
design or experiment to retest these mediating effects.
Second, we collect data within a single firm which may
restrict the generalization of conclusions. Future studies
should use multiple data from various firms. Third, we just
use psychological safety and ability to focus attention as a
proxy of affective and cognitive mechanism, accordingly,
in future researchers should consider other mediators such
as liking and work engagement. Fourth, we conduct this
study just in Chinese context, which has relative high power
distance and collectivism. In such context, leaders may
incline to disclose more private information (e.g., authentic
feeling, true thoughts) to those who have high relationship
quality with them than those out-group employees (Gong
et al., 2012; Pellegrini & Scandura, 2008). So researchers
should take some boundary conditions into consideration to
explore the relationship among leadership transparency,
psychological safety and ability to focus attention, and
employee creativity in future studies, such as leader–
member exchange quality and perceived insider status.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The
author(s) wish to thank The National Science Foundation of
China: No. 71502175; The National Social Science Fund of China:
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Yi Han is a professor at the School of Business Administration in
Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. His research
focusses on leadership behaviors and voice, and on how to create
better climate for organizational performance.
Po Hao is a lecturer at the School of Economics and Management
in Northwest University. Her research intersts include shared lead-
ership, empowering leadersip, and proactive behaviors.
Baiyin Yang is a professor at the School of Economics and
Management in Tsinghua University. His research interests
include creativity and organization innovation, leadership devel-
opment, conflict management, and power.
Wenxing Liu is an assistant professor at the School of Buiness
Administration in Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.
His research focusses on leadership and employee behaviors. His
research aims at how to guide employees work effectively in orga-