This dissertation integrates theory and empirical findings on incivility, group processes, and leadership in an attempt to gain a better understanding of how uncivil leaders can affect the way that group members interact and ultimately perform. This research focused on theoretical arguments about the tendency for uncivil behaviors to spread among group members, as suggested by Andersson and Pearson's (1999) incivility spiral theory. To serve as an initial investigation into this theory, this dissertation set out to answer two basic questions.
First, this research explored whether uncivil behavior on the part of a leader affect two group processes: relationship conflict and collective efficacy. If Andersson and Pearson's (1999) theory was correct, group members could be expected to behave more rudely to one another, hence increasing reported relationship conflict. Furthermore, if leader incivility expresses a leader's displeasure with the group's performance, the group's collective efficacy would also be expected to be damaged by uncivil leadership behaviors.
Second, this research explored whether a negative influence of incivility on group-level performance was mediated through these group process variables. In other words, this dissertation sought to determine whether incivility affected performance through increased conflict and/or decreased collective efficacy.
Incivility, relationship conflict, and collective efficacy were measured among store clerks using a survey. Group level performance was measured in two different ways. First, the participating organization provided a metric reflecting the speed and accuracy with which store employees executed objectives on the sales floor and in the stockroom. Second, the participating organization provided a metric reflecting the number of accidents that occur within the store.
The current research identified a negative association between uncivil leader behaviors and relationship conflict, suggesting that as leaders exhibit more uncivil behaviors, employees reported less conflict among group members. This finding contradicts Andersson and Pearson's (1999) argument that uncivil behaviors from one group member prompts similarly uncivil behaviors from other group members. Collective efficacy, however, did not appear to be affected by uncivil leader behaviors.
Structural equation modeling (SEM) also indicated no significant link between the mediating variables (relationship conflict and collective efficacy) and performance metrics. Finally, analyses of indirect effects of incivility on performance suggested that the link between incivility and performance was not mediated by either conflict or collective efficacy.
The empirical findings of this study contradict the theory of the incivility spiral; specifically, rude behavior on the part of the leader appears to be associated with less conflict among group members. This finding also suggests that leader incivility may have some positive effects on group processes. The results of this study should be viewed with caution, however. Response rates to the surveys were quite poor, and relationships that are typically large and robust in other studies were noticeably non-significant in this study. Furthermore, because there was low agreement among group members on ratings of incivility and collective efficacy, group means do not represent a reliable estimate of the construct. Hence, replication of the findings is necessary. Future research should continue to explore the effect incivility has on other types of group process and performance. Additional research should also be conducted to clarify when incivility is beneficial and when it is detrimental to group processes and performance.