Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, or Do They? The Context-Dependency of Third Parties’ Ethical Leadership Perceptions



With the present paper, we challenge all too simplistic virtuous accounts of ethical leadership by showing that context matters. We specifically focus on preceding follower behavior and argue that such behavior critically qualifies how ethical subsequent leader behavior is perceived. Integrating scope of justice theory and accounts of moral emotions, we hypothesize that observers believe that disrespectfully (vs. respectfully) acting followers do (vs. do not) deserve disrespectful treatment. As a result, observers experience less (vs. more) anger following disrespectful (vs. respectful) leader behavior and consequently perceive the leadership as being less (vs. more) unethical. To test our hypotheses, we conducted an experiment in which participants ostensibly interacted with a fellow (dis)respectful follower and a (dis)respectful leader (Study 1), three experimental vignette studies (Studies 2a-c), and a critical incident study (Study 3). We find consistent support for the interaction rationale and the underlying processes. We discuss the resultant significant challenges for research on ethical leadership and the practice of the same.

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Meeting ID: 942 7432 8309