My Boss is Morally Disengaged: The Role of Ethical Leadership in Explaining the Interactive Effect of Supervisor and Employee Moral Disengagement on Employee Behaviors

Journal of Business Ethics 137 (4):731-742 (2016)
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Abstract

The popular press is often fraught with high-profile illustrations of leader unethical conduct within corporations. Leader unethical conduct is undesirable for many reasons, but in terms of managing subordinates, it is particularly problematic because leaders directly influence the ethics of their followers. Yet, we know relatively little about why leaders fail to apply ethical leadership practices. We argue that some leaders cognitively remove the personal sanctions associated with misconduct, which provides them with the “freedom” to ignore ethical shortcomings. Drawing on moral disengagement theory, we examine the relationship between supervisor moral disengagement and employee perceptions of ethical leadership. We then examine the moderating role of employee moral disengagement, such that the negative relationship between supervisor moral disengagement and employee perceptions of ethical leadership is stronger when employee moral disengagement is low versus high. Finally, we examine ethical leadership as a conditional mediator that explains that relationship between supervisor moral disengagement and employee job performance and organizational citizenship behavior. Results from a multi-source field survey provide general support for our theoretical model.

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