Leaders’ Immorality-Encouragement: When do Subordinates Succumb?



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Organizational researchers have recently begun to investigate antecedents of unethical pro-organizational behaviors, or unethical behaviors intended to help the organization or its members while violating societal norms or laws (e.g., inflating earnings; Umphress & Bingham, 2011). However, this nascent research field has failed to investigate leaders’ pressures for subordinates to engage in unethical pro-organizational behaviors. The current laboratory experiment investigated a possible important antecedent of unethical pro-organizational behaviors termed leaders’ immorality-encouragement (LIE), involving a subordinate’s perception of his or her supervisor urging immoral behavior on behalf of the organization. Using a factorial design with 304 undergraduates, I examined the effects of LIE on cheating behaviors that support a virtual team, including the moderators, leader-member exchange, leader-leader exchange, and teammates’ moral identity symbolization. I predicted that (a) LIE would lead to more unethical pro-organizational behaviors, (b) leader-member exchange and (c) leader-leader exchange would strengthen the relationship, and (d) teammates’ moral identity symbolization would weaken the relationship. Hierarchical logistic regression analyses supported the hypothesized relationships for LIE and leader-member exchange but not the other moderating variables. Supplementary analyses revealed that the incremental positive influence of leader-member exchange on LIE for unethical pro-organizational behaviors was stronger when the lab manager exhibited a close relationship with the team leader (i.e., high leader-leader exchange). These findings yield new insights into the contextual mechanisms that can lead to unethical pro-organizational behaviors.



Leaders, Ethics, Unethical work behavior, Leader-member exchange, Leader-leader exchange, Teammates’ moral identity symbolization