Ingratiating with Despotic Leaders to Gain Status: The Role of Power Distance Orientation and Self-enhancement Motive

Journal of Business Ethics 171 (1):157-174 (2021)

Abstract

This study adds to business ethics research by investigating how employees’ exposure to despotic leadership might influence their peer-rated workplace status, along with a mediating role of ingratiatory behavior targeted at supervisors and a moderating role of their power distance orientation and self-enhancement motive. Multisource, three-wave data from employees and their peers in Pakistani organizations reveal that exposure to despotic leaders spurs employees’ upward ingratiatory behavior, and this behavior in turn can help them attain higher status in the organization. The mediating role of upward ingratiatory behavior also is more prominent among employees with higher levels of power distance orientation and self-enhancement motive. For business ethics scholars, this study thus pinpoints a potentially dangerous pathway—featuring employees’ deliberate efforts to impress self-centered, destructive supervisors—by which despotic leadership can generate beneficial outcomes for employees but not for the organization, as well as how this process varies due to key personal characteristics.

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