It is increasingly recognized that middle managers play a central role in balancing the demands of exploitation and exploration in organizations. While some scholars have recently begun to explain the nature and antecedents of ambidextrous behaviour among middle managers, much remains to be learned about the micro-foundation origins of this behaviour. Adopting a people-situation interaction approach, I investigate the antecedents to managers’ ambidexterity in terms of both individual differences and situational considerations. Guided by individual differences theory, I first develop a model that charts the managerial characteristics, including personal traits (learning goal orientation) and skills (functional experience breadth and political skill), as antecedents to middle managers’ ambidexterity. To further understand these effects within situational constraints, I then examine the moderating influence of discretionary slack through the lens of trait/ability activation theory.
I test our model and hypotheses using a sample of 305 middle managers, combining survey and archival data. The result indicates that both learning goal orientation and political skill are positively related with managers’ ambidexterity, whereas there is no significant relationship between functional experience breadth and managers’ ambidexterity. For the moderation effect, discretionary slack is found to moderate the association between learning goal orientation and ambidexterity, and functional experiences and ambidexterity, both positively. The interaction between political skill and discretionary slack on ambidexterity is not supported. These results, while providing general support for our predictions, reveal new insights into the ambidexterity literature.