Why Leaders Not Always Disapprove of Unethical Follower Behavior: It Depends on the Leader’s Self-Interest and Accountability
By showing disapproval of unethical follower behavior (UFB), leaders help creating an ethical climate in their organization in which it is clear what is morally acceptable or not. In this research, we examine factors influencing whether leaders consistently show such disapproval. Specifically, we argue that holding leaders accountable for their actions should motivate them to disapprove of UFB. However, this effect of accountability should be inhibited when leaders personally benefit from UFB. This prediction was supported in a lab experiment. Furthermore, a follow-up study showed that followers in fact accurately predict when leaders will most likely disapprove of UFB. These findings imply that followers can thus get away with unethical behavior in some situations and they are capable of accurately predicting such situations.