Entitlement Versus Obligation: The Role of Attributed Motives in Subordinate Reactions to Leader Leniency

Journal of Business Ethics:1-20 (forthcoming)
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Although previous research has examined the effectiveness of various levels of punitive reactions to misconduct, researchers have given leader leniency relatively inadequate attention. Prior studies consistently suggest the beneficial effects of reacting less punitively toward misconduct. The current research challenges this notion by delineating a mixed effect of leader leniency on subordinate psychological and behavioral reactions. Building on social exchange theory (i.e., reciprocity norm and rank equilibration norm) and motive attribution literature, the authors argue that when subordinates hold high levels of instrumental motive attribution, leader leniency relates positively to subordinate psychological entitlement, which in turn leads to workplace deviance. In contrast, when subordinates develop high levels of value-expressive motive attribution, leader leniency is positively associated with their felt obligation toward leaders, which positively influences their subsequent organizational citizenship behavior. The results of a field study, a scenario experiment, and a recall experiment conducted to test these hypotheses confirm the double-edged effects of leader leniency. These findings have important implications for theory and practice.



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