Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 107, Issue 3, pp 295–312

Love of Money and Unethical Behavior Intention: Does an Authentic Supervisor’s Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE) Make a Difference?


    • Department of Management and MarketingJennings A. Jones College of Business, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Hsi Liu
    • Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and EconomicsMercer University

DOI: 10.1007/s10551-011-1040-5

Cite this article as:
Tang, T.L. & Liu, H. J Bus Ethics (2012) 107: 295. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-1040-5


We investigate the extent to which perceptions of the authenticity of supervisor’s personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) moderate the relationship between people’s love of money (LOM) and propensity to engage in unethical behavior (PUB) among 266 part-time employees who were also business students in a five-wave panel study. We found that a high level of ASPIRE perceptions was related to high love-of-money orientation, high self-esteem, but low unethical behavior intention (PUB). Unethical behavior intention (PUB) was significantly correlated with their high Machiavellianism, low self-esteem, and low intrinsic religiosity. Our counterintuitive results revealed that the main effect of LOM on PUB was not significant, but the main effect of ASPIRE on PUB was significant. Further, the significant interaction effect between LOM and ASPIRE on unethical behavior intention provided profoundly interesting findings: High LOM was related to high unethical behavior intention for people with low ASPIRE, but was related to low unethical intention for those with high ASPIRE. People with high LOM and low ASPIRE had the highest unethical behavior intention; whereas those with high LOM and high ASPIRE had the lowest. We discuss results in light of individual differences, ethical environment, and perceived demand characteristics.


Meaning of moneyMoney ethics Love/stewardship of moneyAuthentic supervisor’s personal integrity and characterHonesty and integrityCaring servantTransparent helpTrustworthy leaderFairnessJusticeSpiritualUnethical behavior intentionWork devianceCounterproductivePerceived demand characteristicsModeratorDemographicPanel studyMeasurement invariance

Good moral character is the first essential in a man.

George Washington

This study investigates an issue with many theoretical, empirical, and practical implications (Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan 2007) on behavioral ethics (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010): Is the love of money (LOM) the root of all evil? Do perceptions of authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character (ASPIRE)1 moderate the relationship between individuals’ LOM and their own unethical behavior intention (a small part of evil)? Several lines of research motivate us to examine this issue empirically, described below.

Many executives in recent scandals (Parboteeah and Cullen 2010) graduated from the most prestigious business schools. These scandals are not caused by executives’ lack of “intelligence” or “brains,” but rather, by their self-interests (their LOM) and lack of “wisdom,” “virtue” (Feiner 2004, p. 85), or integrity, honesty, and character (Becker 1998; Tang and Chen 2008). The recent economic downturn has eliminated more than eight million jobs in the US and an estimated 210–239 million jobs worldwide. Executives eliminate jobs and cut cost to weather through dangerous threats, seize opportunities, and thrive in turbulent markets (Sull 2009). These harsh decisions may not only enhance organizations’ bottom line, but also enrich executives’ own deep pockets in the form of bonuses. As a consequence, organizational trust, morale, flexibility, communication, empowerment, creativity, and innovation suffer significantly; at the same time fear, anxiety, anger, moral outrage, retaliation, dishonesty, and organizational misbehavior rise (Gilbert and Tang 1998; Gulatir 1995; Mishra et al. 2009; Tang and Fuller 1995). The lack of top executives’ integrity and character may “trickle down” to lower level managers/employees in organizations causing a significant increase of unethical behaviors, those with high LOM, in particular. In this study, we focus on perceptions of authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character (ASPIRE).

Ethical scandals have garnered a lot of attention across multiple sectors of our society. Researchers and practitioners have expressed serious concerns regarding business students, managers, and executives’ cheating, corruption, workplace deviant behavior, and unethical behavior intention (Anand et al. 2004; Arbaugh 2008; 2009; Ashforth et al. 2008; Evans et al. 2006; Giacalone 2004; Martin et al. 2007; McCabe et al. 2006; Tang and Tang 2010; Tang, Luna-Arocas et al. 2011, Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011). Treviño’s (1986) person-situation interactionist model of ethical decision making focuses on bad apples, bad cases, and bad barrels of unethical decision at work (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Tang, Chen et al. 2008).

Getting Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Princeton students to contemplate their own ethical values by “recalling the Ten Commandments or signing an honor code” eliminates cheating completely, while offering “poker chips” to redeem for cash, a few seconds later, doubles the level of cheating (Ariely 2008, p. 24; Aquino et al. 2009). Further, with a high level of supervisory guidance, a high (or low) level of behavioral integrity (Simons 2002a, b) curbs (or incites) deviant behavior (Dineen et al. 2006). Thus, supervisor’s behavioral integrity is a moderator of the relationship between supervisory guidance and deviant behavior (Robinson and Bennett 2000). There are several important implications: most people’s ethical intentions and behaviors are influenced by ethical values and cultures at the individual and organization levels (Gerhart 2009; Kish-Gephart et al. 2010). The Ten Commandments and poker chips signify sacred and secular values. These temptations trigger individuals to behave either ethically or unethically. Thus, perceptions of ASPIRE may have an impact on people’s ethical/unethical behavior intention.

In this study, we specifically treat the perception of authentic supervisors’ behavioral integrity and character (ASPIRE) as a moderator of the relationship between people’s LOM (Tang and Chiu 2003) and their propensity to engage in unethical behavior (PUB, Chen and Tang 2006). It is plausible that high love-of-money individuals have many foolish and harmful desires, are likely to take action and make money (Tang et al. 2000), fall into temptation (Ariely 2008), and have high unethical behavior intentions (Tang and Chiu 2003). High love-of-money individuals have high Machiavellianism (Christie and Geis 1970) and are likely to employ aggressive and devious methods to achieve goals without regard for feelings, rights, and needs of other people. That, in turn, leads to a high level of unethical behavior intention (Tang and Chen 2008).

Authentic supervisors with a high level of personal integrity and character (high ASPIRE) may serve as role models for employees, create an ethical culture in the organizational environment, encourage people to behave ethically, and curb unethical behavior intention than those without (low ASPIRE). We argue that with the presence of high ASPIRE, high love-of-money people are likely to obey authority figures (Milgram 1974), follow positive temptations (Ariely 2008), and do what is ethically right and rewarded (Skinner 1972). As a consequence, their manipulative, exploitative, and devious intention will not come out, leading to a low level of unethical behavior intention. On the other hand, with the absence of ASPIRE, high love-of-money people are likely to employ manipulative, exploitative, and devious strategies that in turn, will lead to a high level of unethical behavior intention.

Very little research has examined all these constructs simultaneously. To fill the void, we incorporate intrinsic religiosity, self-esteem, Machiavellianism, the LOM, ASPIRE, and unethical behavior intentions using a multiple-panel research design in this study. We posit a significant interaction effect: High love-of-money individuals are more susceptible to the impact of their supervisors’ authentic personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) than their low love-of-money counterparts. We hope that results of this study may provide theoretical, empirical, and practical contributions to the literature and enhance future theory development and testing (Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan 2007).

Theory and Hypotheses

Borrowing from the theory of planned behavior (TPB), attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control can be used to predict behavioral intention that, in turn, can be used to predict actual behavior (Ajzen 1991). Attitudes will predict behavior effectively when there is a high correspondence between the attitude object and the behavior options (Tang and Baumeister 1984). We acknowledge that there are significant differences between behavioral intentions and actual behaviors. We turn to the meaning of money and LOM first.

The Meaning of Money

Although money is considered as the instrument of commerce and as a measure of value (Smith 1776/1937), money has many different social meanings (Zelizer 1994). The meaning of money is in the eye of beholder (McClelland 1967). Money is a tool and a drug (Lea and Webley 2006). Money (as a tool) is instrumental in satisfying biological and psychological needs. Metaphorically and psychologically, money is a functionless, yet powerful, addictive, and insatiable drug to some people. Just like drug addicts who require larger dosages to maintain the same level of “high” (Mason 1992), most people want more money in order to achieve the same original level of utility.

Money has symbolic power. It includes feelings of self-sufficiency (Vohs et al. 2006) that leads to people’s desire to become independent, reduce request for help, donate less money to charity, and keep a large physical distance between themselves and others. Further, considering the notion that time is money leads people to volunteer less (DeVoe and Pfeffer 2007). Counting 80 $100 bills (compared to counting 80 pieces of paper) reduces people’s physical pain (Zhou et al. 2009). The anticipation of pain amplifies the desire for money (Zhou and Gao 2008). The presence of abundant wealth (with visible $7,000 in real $1 bills on two tables) provokes feelings of “envy toward wealthy others” that, in turn, cause a significantly higher percentage and a much larger magnitude of cheating for personal gains than a condition without such presence of abundant money (Gino and Pierce 2009a, p. 142). Monetary experiences and the economic environment at the individual, organization, and entity levels shape our deeply rooted monetary values, beliefs, or attitudes (Lim and Sng 2006). We posit that money attitude plays a critical role in unethical behavior.

Money Ethics

Among many money-related measures (Furnham 1984; Goldberg and Lewis 1978; Lim and Teo 1997; Mitchell and Mickel 1999; Rose and Orr 2007; Srivastava et al. 2001; Stone et al. 2010; Wernimont and Fitzpatrick 1972; Yamauchi and Templer 1982), we focus on the Money Ethic Scale (MES) (Tang 1992) which has Affective (Good and Evil), Behavioral (Budget), and Cognitive components (Achievement, Respect/Self-Esteem, and Freedom/Power). Older people and females budget their money carefully. High-income individuals consider money as their achievement and less evil. People with high Protestant Work Ethic budget money carefully and see money as evil and power. People with economic and political values consider money as achievement, respect, and power; whereas those with social and religious values are less likely to associate money with achievement and power. Religious values are negatively correlated with money as good and respect. People who value money as achievement experience low levels of satisfaction with work, promotion, supervision, co-worker, and overall life satisfaction. If one considers money as power, one has lower satisfaction with work, pay, co-worker, and overall life satisfaction. Those with high work satisfaction feel that money is not evil. Individuals with high budget scores are satisfied with their life. High income is significantly related to satisfaction with work, pay, and promotion.

Later, Tang, and his associates expanded constructs to include Good/Rich, Motivator, Evil/Unethical, Non-Motivator, Make Money, Budget Money, Donate Money to Charity, Importance, Power, Respect, Achievement, and Equity (Tang 1993, 2010; Tang and Fuller 1995; Tang et al. 2005; 2006). As expected, “the love of money” (Rich, Motivator, Achievement, Respect, Power, and Importance) is related to unethical behavior intention and low life and pay satisfaction. “The stewardship of money” (Make Money, Budget Money, and Donate Money to Charity) is related to ethical behavior intention and high satisfaction. The LOM Scale (LOM) is a subset of MES.


The LOM is operationally defined as (1) one’s attitudes toward money with affective, behavioral, and cognitive components, (2) the meaning people attribute to money, (3) people’s aspiration for money (Easterlin 2001), (4) not one’s needs, greed, or materialism (Belk 1985; Kasser 2002), and (5) a multidimensional individual-difference variable. The MES or LOM construct has been considered as one of the most “well-developed” and systematically used measures of money attitude in the literature (Mitchell and Mickel 1999). It has been tested empirically in about three dozens of geopolitical entities/countries around the world (e.g., Du and Tang 2005; Gbadamosi and Joubert 2005; Lim and Teo 1997; Liu and Tang 2011; Sardžoska and Tang 2009; Tang 1993; Tang and Chiu 2003; Tang, Chen et al. 2008; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2008; Tang et al. 2006; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011; Urbain 2000; Vitell et al. 2006; Wong 2008), cited in influential reviews (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Lea and Webley 2006; Mickel and Barron 2008; Mitchell and Mickel 1999; Zhang 2009), cited/published in multiple languages (e.g., Chinese, English, French, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and many others), and discussed in various organizational behavior and compensation books (Colquitt et al. 2011; Furnham and Argyle 1998; McShane and Von Glinow 2008; Milkovich and Newman 2008; Milkovich et al. 2011; Rynes and Gerhart 2000).

In this study, we specifically selected three Factors of LOM: Factors Rich, Motivator, and Importance. Factor Rich (the affective component) refers to one’s positive affect toward money. Most people love money and want to be rich. Factor Rich has the highest factor loading of LOM among Hong Kong professionals (Tang and Chiu 2003) and managers in 31 countries across six continents (Tang et al. 2006; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011). American adult consumers who desire to be Rich are likely to condone questionable consumer activities (Vitell et al. 2006). In Swaziland, public sector employees’ high LOM attitude leads to compromised ethical standards (Gbadamosi and Joubert 2005). Singaporeans with financial hardship are obsessed with money (Lim and Teo 1997). Those who want to be rich have foolish and harmful desires that lead them to fall into temptation (Badaracco 2006) and have low subjective well-being (Easterlin 2001; Michalos 1985) and high unethical intention (Tang and Chiu 2003).

When money is a Motivator (the behavioral component), people will do whatever it takes to make money. On the positive side, among four motivational techniques, nothing comes even close to money in increasing work performance (Locke et al. 1980). People take action (change jobs) in order to make more money (Tang et al. 2000). On the negative side, when people are rewarded for finding insect parts in a food process plant, innovative employees brought insect parts from home to add to the food just before they removed them and collected the bonus (Milkovich et al. 2010). Malaysian Christians in business with the most favorable money attitude (considering money as a Motivator) are less critical to unethical practices (Wong 2008). This notion (motivator) leads to either positive or negative outcomes.

Money is Important (the cognitive component). The importance of money is the most consistent thread in literature of money attitudes (Mitchell and Mickel 1999). Money is important because it is a scorecard. We use it to compare ourselves with others and “keep up with the Joneses” (Furnham and Argyle 1998). In short, high love-of-money people want to be rich, are motivated by money, and consider money important.

Unethical Behavior Intention

It is difficult and almost impossible for researchers to directly measure managers or other people’s actual unethical behavior because most of these behaviors are performed in private or behind closed doors. With the exception of formal criminal investigations of corruption cases, police records (Fisman and Miguel 2007), and laboratory experiments, there is no instrument, to the best of our knowledge, for researchers to observe, measure, and quantify directly unethical behavior, e.g., the amount of money managers receive under the table or steal from an organization.

Research suggests that most individuals are more willing to provide accurate information for specific questions in an anonymous paper-and-pencil survey or computer-administered questionnaire than in a face-to-face interview (Richman et al. 1999). Researchers usually get what they ask for (Schoorman and Mayer 2008). Several empirical studies have provided strong evidences to suggest that the incumbent’s self-report and the coworker’s peer-report converged significantly on counterproductive work behavior toward other persons (De Jonge and Peeters 2009; Fox et al. 2007). Although there are significant differences between the two, it is concluded that “using intention as a proxy for behavior is not likely to influence the direction of correlations.” Further, “the correlation with behavior was always greater than with intention” (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010, p. 14). We asserted that self-reported behavioral intentions examined in this study are arguably adequate surrogate measures of actual unethical or deviant behaviors (Jones and Kavanagh 1996).

Researchers have investigated workplace deviance (Robinson and Bennett 2000), counterproductive behavior (Cohen-Charash and Spector 2001), corruption (Anand et al. 2004; Ashforth et al. 2008; Martin et al. 2007), and misbehavior in the literature (Ivancevich et al. 2005; Vardi and Weitz 2004). Corruption implies “a willful perversion of order, ideals, and, perhaps most important, trust—a moral deterioration” (Ashforth et al. 2008, p. 671) and involves: (1) the misuse of organizational position, power, or authority for personal or organizational gain (receiving gifts, money, loan, bribery, and kickbacks), (2) acts committed against the company (sabotage and theft), and (3) acts conducted on behalf of the organization (laying off employees for personal gain). Following the literature on corruption (e.g., fraud, bribery, graft, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, and cheating, Ashforth et al. 2008, p. 677), bribery (Martin et al. 2007), and deviant workplace behavior (e.g., sabotage, kickbacks, and stealing, Robinson and Bennett 2000, p. 565), we adopt the PUB Scale (a measure of intention in behavioral ethics) (Chen and Tang 2006; Tang and Chiu 2003) with five sub-constructs: Resource Abuse, Not Whistle Blowing, Theft, Corruption, and Deception. These constructs are related to publicized scandals and white-collar crime. This PUB scale has been tested empirically in Hong Kong (Tang and Chiu 2003), Macedonia (Sardžoska and Tang 2009), the US (Chen and Tang 2006; Tang and Chen 2008; Tang and Tang 2010), and 31 geopolitical entities around the world (Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011), included in a meta-analytic review article (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010), and cited in textbooks (e.g., (Bateman and Snell 2009, 2011).

Love of Money and Unethical Behavior Intention

We assert that money, the meaning of money, or LOM is not, in itself, evil.2 On the positive side, people with high LOM are likely to take action in order to achieve their goals and create more wealth quickly, efficiently, and effectively than their counterparts. In order to make more money, high love-of-money mental health workers have high voluntary turnover than their counterparts (Tang et al. 2000). Tang, Luna-Arocas et al. (2011) treated LOM as a mediator of the relationship between materialism and personal financial optimism among 1,011 citizens in Spain and examined both the negative direct path (Materialism → Optimism) and the positive indirect path (Materialism → LOM → Optimism) across sub-groups of demographic variables. Those with high personal financial optimism (males, married people, urban residents, and people in the 45–59 years old age group) have a stronger positive indirect path and a weaker negative direct path. Thus, LOM plays a positive role in enhancing personal financial optimism. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776/1937) provides an example that illustrates the principle of the invisible hand: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

On the negative side, only limited studies have tested the validity of this oft-cited proposition directly (Tang and Chen 2008; Tang and Chiu 2003; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011): “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6: 9–10). Following our operational definition of LOM, high love-of-money managers have high aspirations for money, are obsessed with money, and are likely to do whatever it takes to make money in order to satisfy deprived needs. Money may satisfy people’s basic biological needs as a tool; but it may never fully satisfy their LOM as a drug (Maslow 1954).

High self-interest is related to unethical behavior (Wimbush et al. 1997). For public servants in Swaziland, money attitude is related to their moral conduct (Gbadamosi and Joubert 2005). Adult consumers in the US who desire to be Rich condone unethical activities (Vitell et al. 2006). Hong Kong managers’ LOM is directly and indirectly (through pay dissatisfaction) related to unethical intention (Tang and Chiu 2003). LOM is indirectly related to university students’ unethical behavior through Machiavellianism in a two-wave panel study (Tang and Chen 2008). These studies involve different constructs, measures, and samples, but show similar results. We propose that the LOM (attitude) elicits strong unethical behavior intention (intention), following TPB.

Hypothesis 1

Love of money is positively related to unethical behavior intention.

Authentic Supervisors’ Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE) as a Moderator

Borrowing the literature from job satisfaction (Iaffaldano and Muchinsky 1985; Locke 1969), satisfaction with my supervisor (Scarpello and Vandenberg 1987), behavior integrity (Simons 2002a), ethical leadership (Brown et al. 2005), authentic leadership (Avolio et al. 2004; Bass and Steidlmeier 1999; Graen and Uhlbien 1995; May et al. 2003), spiritual leadership (Fry 2003; Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010), and servant leadership (Barbuto and Wheeler 2006; Greenleaf 1970; Liden et al. 2008; Sendjaya et al. 2008), we investigate the construct of “Authentic Supervisors’ Personal Integrity and Character” (ASPIRE) in this study. ASPIRE has three inter-related sub-constructs: Supervisors who (1) show honesty, fairness, and integrity (Honesty and Integrity), (2) care about others’ work and provide services to subordinates as servants (Caring Servant), and (3) are friendly and offer transparent decision making and professional development (Transparent Help). We briefly described these sub-constructs below.

Honesty and Integrity

Ethical and authentic leaders (Avolio and Gardner 2005; Brown et al. 2005; Goffee and Jones 2005; Guisinger and Smith 2002) have a good reputation and credibility due to their honesty (Murphy 1993), fairness (Colquitt et al. 2001; Folger and Konovsky 1989; Tang and Sarsfiled-Baldwin 1996), and integrity. Honest leaders are likely to tell the truth, maintain high behavioral integrity and trust, and treat people fairly.

Behavioral integrity is defined as the perceived pattern of alignment between an actor’s words and deeds, (Palanski and Yammarino 2009; Simons et al. 2007). Keeping one’s promises is an ascribed trait of a trustworthy leader. Behavioral integrity has a significant impact on deviant behavior and acts as a moderator of an impact of supervisory guidance on employee deviant behavior (Dineen et al. 2006). Fairness involves both distributive and procedural justice (Colquitt et al. 2001; McFarlin and Sweeney 1992). Unfair outcomes evoke greater activation in the emotional areas of the brain, whereas unfair procedures evoke greater activation in the social cognition parts of the brain (Dulebohn et al. 2009). Perceptions of unfair treatment incite people to take action in the name of justice (Greenberg 1993) or equity (Gino and Pierce 2009b) and engage in unethical behavior (Cohen-Charash and Spector 2001).

Caring Servant

Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term servant leadership, stated: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served” (1970, p. 4). Servant leaders view themselves as stewards and are entrusted to develop and empower followers to reach their fullest potential (Avolio et al. 2004; Barbuto and Wheeler 2006; Conger and Kanungo 1988). They offer hope, empower followers, and serve as mentors for their protégés.

Transparent Help

“Transparency fosters and potentially enhances individual and organizational integrity, confidence, and trust.” “To be transparent is an intentional, ethical choice to be clear, plain, forthright, and above board” (Milton 2009, p. 23). It is an important part of authentic decision making and authentic leadership (Davis 1997; May et al. 2003; Simon 1959). Transparent supervisors are fair, open, without favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, or selfish desires for their own personal gains. In a study of goal content across 15 cultures, Grouzet et al. (2005) found that spirituality is the highest goal near self-transcendence; hedonism (financial success) is the lowest value next to physical self. “Spirituality” and “money” are opposite to each other supporting the notion: “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6: 24). The combination of all these aforementioned sub-constructs leads to the authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character—revealing spiritual and self-transcendent values (Giacalone 2004).

On the one hand, authentic supervisors with personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) (Brown et al. 2005; Giacalone 2004; Reave 2005; Thompson 2004) may serve as positive, ethical, and authentic role models for their employees, create an ethical culture, instill ethical values in organizations (Rook 1987; Wright and Goodstein 2007), and provide positive temptations and strong perceived demand characteristics (PDC) (Salomon 1984) to employees to do the right things (Ariely 2008). As mentioned, recalling the Ten Commandments or signing an honor code eliminates cheating completely (Ariely 2008). Authentic supervisors with personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) have high spiritual and self-transcendent values (Grouzet et al. 2005; Tang 2010). ASPIRE may trigger their employees to obey authority figures, do what is rewarded in organizations (Treviño 1986), and behave ethically (Tang and Chen 2008). In short, supervisors educate and instill ethical values in subordinates and influence and control (reward/punish) subordinates’ interests (e.g., promotion, compensation, and allocation of resources and information). Subordinates learn form their supervisors and the immediate social environment. They realize that the cost of unethical behavior/corruption outweighs the benefit (Tepper et al. 2007). Following Socrates, an ancient Greek thinker: “No one desires evil. No one errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.”

On the other hand, with the absence of these characteristics, truthful and ingenuous employees are likely to retaliate (Skarlicki and Folger 1997) against disingenuous and unauthentic supervisors (low ASPIRE), get even (Gino and Pierce 2009b; Greenberg 1993, 2002), or take the advantage of the unethical culture/environment, fall into negative and unethical temptations, and behave unethically (Ariely 2008). Therefore, a strong main effect exists.

Furthermore, authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character moderates the relationship between the LOM and unethical behavior intention. We provide our rationale below. On the one hand, authentic supervisors with a high level of personal integrity and character (high ASPIRE) may (1) provide their own ethical and authentic values as role models for followers, (2) inspire, uplift high love-of-money people, (3) make these followers fully aware of their inadequacy and shortcoming (Avolio et al. 2004; Fry 2003; Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010; Luke 5: 1–11), (4) have the great potential to transform these inadequate followers to a higher level of moral standards and performance and display transformational leadership (Bass and Steidlmeier 1999; Matthew 4: 19), and (5) significantly curb their unethical behavior intention. High love-of-money individuals have higher Machiavellianism (Christie and Geis 1970) and are more likely to use manipulative strategies and engage in unethical behavior than their low love-of-money counterparts (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Tang and Chen 2008). We argue that in front of supervisors with high ASPIRE, high love-of-money individuals/subordinates behave ethically due to supervisors’ strong PDC (Salomon 1984) and their own desire to be rewarded.

On the other hand, unauthentic and disingenuous supervisors (low ASPIRE) may consciously or unconsciously encourage or allow high love-of-money individuals to (1) apply deeply rooted characters (expediency, manipulation, exploitation, and deviousness) that are devoid of the traditional virtues of trust, honor, and decency, (2) adopt aggressive and devious methods to achieve goals without regard for feelings, rights, and needs of other people (Wilson et al. 1996), and (3) fall into unethical temptations and escalate significantly their unethical behavior intention. In front of supervisors with low ASPIRE, high love-of-money individuals/subordinates behave unethically due to the lack of strong PDC.

In addition, for those low love-of-money individuals without these aggressive and devious intentions, their supervisors’ personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) does not provide much impact, positively or negatively, on their unethical behavior intention. We argue that high love-of-money individuals are more susceptible to the effect of their leaders’ integrity and character (ASPIRE) or other forms of temptations than their low love-of-money counterparts. Taken together, the presence (absence) of ASPIRE may have a much stronger impact on high love-of-money individuals’ ethical (unethical) behavior intention than their low love-of-money counterparts. Thus, ASPIRE is a moderator of the relationship between LOM and unethical behavior intention. We propose the following Hypotheses.

Hypothesis 2

High (or low) ASPIRE is significantly related to a low (or high) level of unethical behavior intention.

Hypothesis 3

ASPIRE moderates the relationship between the LOM and unethical behavior intention. High (or low) ASPIRE curbs (or incites) unethical behavior intention for people with high LOM, but not for those with low LOM.


Panel Studies

Panel studies measure the same respondents at different points in time and may enable researchers to provide cause–effect relationships or strong external validity. We briefly searched the ISI Web of Knowledge data base. As of June 1, 2011, out of 4,787 journal articles published (from 1982 to 2011) in the Journal of BusinessEthics, only 33 papers mentioned the term “longitudinal” and 12 articles included the term “panel” in their abstracts and/or keywords. Although we may have overlooked many articles without using these terms in this search, we realize that panel/longitudinal studies are rare in ethics research.

Participants and Procedures

We collected data from 266 part-time employees who were business students in the Principles of Management classes offered by the Department of Management and Marketing in the College of Business (accredited by AACSB-International) at a southeastern regional state university with 950 full-time faculty members and 25,000 students. Participants completed approximately 22 activities including five research questionnaires with filler items (a five-wave panel study) and other surveys in a semester in order to receive in-class participation credits. We collected data for unethical behavior intention (PUB) before the coverage of a chapter on social responsibility and ethical decision making in the Principles of Management class. This procedure avoided the possible impact of the ethics intervention on their unethical behavior intention (PUB). Further, data for PUB and ASPIRE were collected about eight to ten weeks apart. These procedures may disguise the intent of this study, avoid possible impacts of fatigue/memory/training, common method variance (CMV) bias, and enhance the psychological separation of predictors and criterion (Podsakoff et al. 2003). Data were collected from 155 (58.27%) male and 111 (41.73%) female students (return rate = 95%) in several sections of one course in a two-year period, taught by the same instructor, who was blind regarding students’ survey results. Students were debriefed the purposes of this study at the end of the semester.


Participants provided demographic variables: gender (male = 1, female = 0, % male), age, education (years), total work experience (years), and annual income. They completed (1) the 9-item, 3-factor LOM (Tang and Chen 2008; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011), (2) 15-item, 5-factor PUB (Chen and Tang 2006; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011), and (3) 9-item, 3-factor Authentic Supervisors’ Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE) Scale (Liu 2004). We included self-esteem (Rosenberg 1965), intrinsic religiosity (Allport and Ross 1967), Machiavellianism (Christie and Geis 1970) due to variables’ significant contributions in predicting unethical behavior or intention in the literature (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Tang and Tang 2010).

For the LOM and Authentic Supervisors’ Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE) Scale, we employed a five-point Likert-type scale with disagree strongly (1), disagree (2), neutral (3), agree (4), and agree strongly (5) as anchors. For the ASPIRE measure, we asked participants to think about their direct supervisor at work. For the unethical behavior intentions measure, we used different scale anchors [very low probability (1), low (2), average (3), high (4), and very high probability (5)] with the following instructions: If you were given the opportunity in your work environment, what is the probability that you may engage in these activities (sample items): reveal company secrets for several million dollars; accept money, gifts, and kickbacks from others.


Confirmatory Factor Analysis

Besides exploratory factor analysis (EFA) which is data driven, management and organization researchers have become increasingly interested in confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) which is theory driven (Vandenberg and Lance 2000). Following reasonably rigorous and acceptable criteria for evaluating our measurement model: χ2/df < 5.0, CFI > .90, RMSEA < .10 (e.g., (Cheung and Rensvold 2002; Epitropaki and Martin 2004; Vandenberg and Lance 2000), CFA results for LOM and PUB in this study were as follows: LOM (χ2 = 82.54, df = 24, χ2/df = 3.44, IFI = .92, CFI = .92, SRMSR = .06, RMSEA = .10) and PUB (χ2 = 217.04, df = 85, χ2/df = 2.55, IFI = .90, CFI = .90, SRMSR = .07, RMSEA = .08). The Cronbach’s alphas for the whole scale were .810 (LOM) and .816 (PUB), respectively. Since our results passed all general criteria for CFA analysis and reliability for these two measures, we have confidence in using these measures for subsequent data analyses and calculated the overall scores for these two measures.

Authentic Supervisor Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE)

In a preliminary study, data were collected from a sample of 40 full-time employees (Liu 2004). Among them, 11 (27.5%) had Ph.D./M.D., 12 (30%) had M.A./M.S., and 15 (37.5%) had B.S. degrees. Eight people had more than 10 years of work experience, 10 had six to 10 years, 12 had two to five years, and the rest had less than one year. The majority (n = 19, 47.5%) had worked under the same supervisor for two to five years; three had worked for the same supervisor for six to 10 years; and one had the same supervisor for more than 10 years. We identified three strong factors (Factors Honesty and Integrity, Caring Servant, and Transparent Help) with very good reliability measures (Cronbach’s alpha, α = .907, .916, and .888, respectively and for the whole 9-item scale, α = .952). People with more education and work experience tended to have higher levels of ASPIRE, but the correlations were not significant (r = .305, p = .056; r = .304, p = .056, respectively).

Confirmatory Factor Analysis

On the basis of these EFA results, we analyzed the ASPIRE measure using CFA in the present sample (N = 266). Results showed a good fit between our 9-item, 3-factor model and data (χ2 = 57.36, df = 24, χ2/df = 2.39, IFI = .97, NFI = .95, TLI = .94, CFI = .97, RMSEA = .06) (see Appendix for individual items and factor loadings). We examined measurement invariance of the 3-factor measurement model across gender (male vs. female), next.

Measurement Invariance

Results of configural (factor structures) invariance showed that there was a good fit for our male sample (χ2 = 40.20, df = 24, χ2/df = 1.67, IFI = .98, NFI = .94, TLI = .95, CFI = .97, RMSEA = .07) and also for our female sample (χ2 = 53.86, df = 24, χ2/df = 2.24, IFI = .94, NFI = .90, TLI = .89, CFI = .94, RMSEA = .11). RMSEA is one of the absolute fit indices that assess the degree to which the model implied covariance matrix matches the observed covariance matrix that have a built in penalty for lack of parsimony. Further, “RMSEA tends to over-reject a true model when sample sizes are small and is more likely to be affected by sample size and model complexity” (Tang et al. 2006, p. 446; Tang and Austin 2009). Our RMSEA results (sample size) for the whole sample (RMSEA = .06, N = 266) and the male sample (RMSEA = .07, n = 155) were better than the female sample (RMSEA = .11, n = 110) that can be explained by the relatively small sample size of the female sample in this study.

We examined the metric (factor loadings) invariance across gender (male vs. female) using multi-group confirmatory factor analyses (MGCFAs) and compared (1) our original measurement model (χ2 = 94.09, df = 48, χ2/df = 1.96, IFI = .96, NFI = .92, TLI = .92, CFI = .96, RMSEA = .06) with (2) our measurement model with constraints (setting factor loadings to be equal) (χ2 = 108.75, df = 54, χ2/df = 2.01, IFI = .95, NFI = .91, TLI = .92, CFI = .95, RMSEA = .06) and found no significant differences in these two models (ΔCFI = .01, ΔRMSEA = .00) (Cheung and Rensvold 2002). Taken together, we have achieved both configural and metric measurement variance for Authentic Supervisor Personal Integrity and Character (ASPIRE) Scale across gender. Due to good reliability for both the preliminary study (Cronbach’s alpha = .952) and this study (.899), we calculated an overall score for all nine items of this scale in subsequent analyses. In summary, researchers have confidence in using these measurements in future studies.

Common Method Variance Bias

The CMV problem should not be a concern for the interaction effect in this study because we obtained data from students/employees at different time periods. The use of similar methods to collect measures on criterion and predictor variables is not a source of spurious interactions (Aiken and West 1991; Evans 1985). In order to address possible concerns, we examined this CMV issue below (Podsakoff et al. 2003; Spector 2006). We conducted Harman’s single-factor test and examined the unrotated factor solution involving all items of interest in an EFA. We found eight factors with eigenvalues greater than one and listed the scale and the amount of variance explained (total = 64.73%) as follows: all three factors of ASPIRE (19.96%), Factors Corruption and Deception of PUB (12.90%), all three factors of LOM (10.69%), Factor Not Whistle Blowing of PUB (5.37%), Factor Theft of PUB (4.51%), and Factor Resource Abuse of PUB (4.25%), and items with cross loadings (3.74%, and 3.32%). There was no one dominant factor that covered all the major variables. Our predictors and criterion were in separate factors of this EFA analysis. Thus, the CMV bias was not a concern in this study (Spector 2006). Now we test our hypotheses, below.

Descriptive Statistics

The means, standard deviations, and correlations of variables for the whole sample are presented in Table 1. Correlation results suggested that age (22.56 years) was positively related to education, work experience, and income, but negatively related to intrinsic religiosity. Education was significantly correlated to work experience, income, and their perceptions of supervisor’s personal integrity and character (ASPIRE). A high level of ASPIRE was related to a high love-of-money orientation, high a self-esteem, but low unethical behavior intention (PUB). Unethical behavior intention was significantly related to low self-esteem, low intrinsic religiosity, and high Machiavellianism. People with high Machiavellianism tended to have low self-esteem and low intrinsic religiosity. These aforementioned (EFA, CFA, measurement invariance, CMV, and nomological network of correlations) results provided solid validity, reliability, and psychometric properties for the ASPIRE measure.
Table 1

Mean, standard deviation, correlations of major variables














1. Age




2. Sex (% male)





3. Education (year)






4. Work exp. (year)







5. Income ($)








6. Love of money (LOM)









7. Supervisor (ASPIRE)










8. Unethical (PUB)











9. Self-esteem












10. Religiosity













11. Machiavellianism (Mach IV)













PUB Propensity to engage in unethical behavior

N = 266. * p < .05, ** p < .01

Regression Results

We employed hierarchical multiple regression in our data analysis (Table 2) to predict unethical behavior intention (PUB). We entered demographic variables (age, sex, education, and work experiences) in Step 1 and attitudinal variables (self-esteem, intrinsic religiosity, and Machiavellianism (Mach IV) in Step 2. Then, we used authentic supervisor’s personal integrity and character (ASPIRE), LOM, and the interaction between ASPIRE and LOM (both grand mean centered) to predict participants’ PUB in Steps 3, 4, and 5, respectively. Our counterintuitive results showed that the main effect of LOM was not significant. Results failed to support Hypothesis 1. However, the main effect of ASPIRE and the interaction effect between ASPIRE and LOM (ASPIRE × LOM) were significant, supporting Hypotheses 2 and 3. Since both the main effect and the interaction effect were significant, we focused exclusively on the interaction effect (see Fig. 1).
Table 2

Multiple regression results on unethical behavior intention








1. Age, sex, education, work







2. Self-esteem, religiosity, Mach







3. Supervisor (ASPIRE)







4. Love of money (LOM)














ASPIRE × LOM: grand mean centered

p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Fig. 1

Two-way interaction on unethical behavior intention (PUB)

The relationship between LOM and unethical behavior intention was positive for participants who had low ASPIRE, but negative for participants who had high ASPIRE. Among people with high LOM, those with low ASPIRE had the highest level of unethical behavior intention, whereas those with high ASPIRE had the lowest. The significant interaction effect suggested that the perception of supervisor’s personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) was a moderator.


This research provides the following theoretical, empirical, and practical contributions to the literature. First, we reveal the importance of incorporating people’s perceptions regarding the authenticity of their supervisors’ personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) and the LOM in investigating their PUB (Chen and Tang 2006) in a sample of part-time employees/students. We control three attitudinal variables in Step 2. Unethical behavior intention is correlated with low self-esteem, low intrinsic religiosity, and high Machiavellianism, support findings in the literature (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Tang and Chen 2008). The main effect of ASPIRE is also significant. Our significant interaction effect shows that the presence (or absence) of authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character does curb (or incite) unethical behavior intention for people with high love-of-money orientation, but not for those with low love-of-money orientation. ASPIRE is a moderator.

Second, our 9-item, 3-factor ASPIRE scale is simple, short, easy-to-use, and practical for empirical research and has good reliability and psychometric properties. The ASPIRE scale is similar to, but different from the behavioral integrity construct (Simons 2002a). Our results reveal a significant main effect (ASPIRE) and a significant interaction effect (ASPIRE × LOM) on unethical behavior intention, similar to that of the effects of behavior integrity on deviant behavior (Dineen et al. 2006). Their 8-item behavior integrity scale measures only perceived pattern of alignment between supervisors’ words and deeds (Simons et al. 2007) and the extent to which supervisors keep their promises. Our 9-item, 3-factor ASPIRE scale consists of nine items and three inter-related sub-constructs: (1) Honesty and Integrity, (2) Caring Servant, and (3) Transparent Help.

Our Honesty and Integrity sub-construct covers not only keeping promises (Dineen et al. 2006), but also honesty (Murphy 1993) and fairness (Colquitt et al. 2001; Greenberg 1993). Further, supervisors care about their employees, serve their subordinates, and make themselves servants, i.e., the servant leadership (Avolio et al. 2004; Barbuto and Wheeler 2006; Greenleaf. 1970; Sendjaya et al. 2008). Moreover, these servant leaders are genuine and friendly to others and help, develop, and empower protégés to reach their fullest potential using transparent policies in their decision making. Taken together, all these authentic characteristics lead to an ascribed trait of an ethical, moral, spiritual, self-transcendent, well-rounded, and trustworthy supervisor.

Third, the love-of-money construct deals with people’s own money-related attitude or their aspiration for money (Easterlin 2001; Tang and Chen 2008), whereas the ASPIRE construct reveals most people’s aspiration for an ethical, moral, spiritual, self-transcendent, and trustworthy supervisor. The former is related to people’s secular values; the latter their sacred values. The presence or absence of authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character triggers not only people, in general, to behave ethically or unethically, but also those with high secular values (i.e., high LOM), in particular. Supervisors play an important and critical role in establishing ethical cultures and in influencing followers’ behaviors in organizations (Avolio et al. 2004).

Fourth, “you cannot serve both God and Money.” Similar to intrinsic religiosity (a sacred value) (Tang and Tang 2010), our measure of ASPIRE is close to the construct of a sacred value (Grouzet et al. 2005) that is different from, or opposite of LOM (a secular value). The former (a sacred value) prevails and has a strong impact on ethical/unethical behavior intentions (Vitell et al. 2006) than the LOM (a secular value). Enhancing religious values may reduce unethical behavior intention (Ariely 2008; Tang and Tang 2010) that deserves attention in future empirical research.

In materialistic societies, high love-of-money people want to satisfy their physiological and psychological needs (Lea and Webley 2006), master the worldly possessions, be served than serving others (Barbuto and Wheeler 2006), and are more vulnerable, susceptible to fall into temptations than their low love-of-money counterparts. Authentic supervisors’ integrity and character may inspire and make high love-of-money individuals fully aware of their inadequacy and shortcoming, have the great potential to transform these inadequate followers to a higher level of moral standards and performance, fall into positive temptations, and greatly enhance their ethical behavior intention (Avolio et al. 2004; Bass and Steidlmeier 1999; Fry 2003; Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010). When high love-of-money people face unauthentic and disingenuous supervisors (low ASPIRE), then, they may let their deeply rooted expedient, manipulative, exploitative, and devious characters come out (Christie and Geis 1970), employ aggressive and devious strategies to achieve goals without regard for feelings, rights, and needs of other people (Wilson et al. 1996), fall into unethical temptations, and significantly provoke and incite their unethical behavior intention. For those low love-of-money individuals who have little or no aggressive and devious intentions, their supervisors’ ASPIRE does not provide much impact to positively or negatively influence their unethical behavior intention.

Fifth, ASPIRE can be an important, practical, and powerful construct for researchers and practitioners in several highly related fields, e.g., job satisfaction, in general (Iaffaldano and Muchinsky 1985), satisfaction with my supervisor, in particular (Scarpello and Vandenberg 1987), behavior integrity (Palanski and Yammarino 2009), ethical leadership (Brown et al. 2005), authentic leadership (Avolio et al. 2004; Bass and Steidlmeier 1999), and servant leadership (Barbuto and Wheeler 2006; Greenleaf 1970), and business ethics (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010). More research is needed in these areas.

Sixth, besides the ASPIRE measure, we also had a 9-item, 3-factor matching scale which tapped on peoples’ satisfaction with their authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character (i.e., S-ASPIRE). We found a significant and strong correlation between these two measures (r (ASPIRE and S-ASPIRE) = .962, p < .01). Further, our S-ASPIRE had a significant main effect and interaction effect on unethical behavior intention in this sample. In other words, we have obtained almost identical results using S-ASPIRE.

Meyer et al. (1993) suggested that the wording of the items is such that someone wanting to use the scales in other contexts “could do so simply by substituting the appropriate descriptors” (Meyer et al. 1993, p. 539). Therefore, the term “supervisor” in our measurement scale can be changed easily to teachers, professors, mentors, leaders, managers, and executives. Future research may explore this construct in other contexts following aforementioned procedures. See our description of S-ASPIRE mentioned in the previous paragraph. This leads to significant theory development and theory testing in the future (Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan 2007).

We test our theory in a sample of part-time employees who are business students. These students will enter the labor market and become managers in the near future. This regional state university is located in the southeastern US, the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. Thus, religion or intrinsic religiosity may play a significant role in this sample (Tang and Tang 2010; Vitell et al. 2006). Public universities are not affiliated with any religion. Students are admitted openly after meeting admission standards and are functioning mostly in a world dominated by secular values; yet these students’ perceptions regarding an authentic supervisor’s personal integrity and character make a difference. As William James (1902) observed in TheVarieties of Religious Experience, a lot of good people are not religious. They have moral codes based on moral theories that do not include any sort of religious beliefs, god, worship, rituals, prayer, etc. With that said, the authenticity of supervisors’ personal integrity and character may signify direct supervisors’ ethical, moral, and sacred values that may provide, to some extent, moral codes or ethical values for people in the environment that makes a difference in this study.

In this study, the LOM is not related to unethical behavior intentions. There are several plausible reasons for these non-significant findings. Part-time students’ income may have less meaning to them than full-time employees (Tang and Chen 2008) and has a very limited impact on their LOM and their unethical behavior intentions. In previous research, data were collected at one point in time (Tang and Chiu 2003) or at two points in time (Tang and Chen 2008). The time lags between these measures in this study may contribute to these differences.

It is not the income (money), but the motive (LOM) that causes pay dissatisfaction (Hsee et al. 2009; Srivastava et al. 2001; Tang 2007). The income to the LOM relationship is negative among highly paid Hong Kong professionals, non-significant among adequately paid males and Caucasians, but positive among underpaid females and African-Americans. Females and African-Americans tend to have lower pay than their male and Caucasian counterparts, respectively, in the US. Part-time employees (students) change jobs frequently and are mostly paid at the market value (Tang 2010). Executives must pay employees fairly and reduce their LOM in organizations (Milkovich et al. 2011).


The use of part-time employees or a student sample may raise the issue of external validity. In our study, most of these participants worked part-time and had 5.62 years of total work experience and an average self-reported income of $20,006. We argue that the issue of ethics and unethical behavior intention examined here may be applicable to other students and part-time employees who will become future managers (Evans et al. 2006; McCabe et al. 2006). We do not suggest that our results can be generalized to students in other types of institutions, regions, or full-time managers in organizations.

Our adaptation of well-developed instruments with proven psychometric properties, time lags between the predictors and criterion variable, and Harman’s single-factor test show that CMV is not a concern. Due to our data collected in only one semester, our results do not provide a strong cause-and-effect relationship. Ideally, a longitudinal study that lasts for several years or decades will provide a strong cause-and-effect relationship. This is a challenging task because the mortality issue and the decrease of sample size over time may hurt the internal validity of the study. Students attend business classes due to their self-selection, but not due to random assignment by researchers. Ideally, a social desirability scale could have been included as a part of the survey.

We measure only students’ PUB, but not actual unethical behaviors that may be verified in laboratory experiments (Ariely 2008). Since intent is absolutely not always causally related to behavior, researchers must be aware of the monumental gap between intent and behavior. The correlation with behavior was always greater than with intention (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010). We assert that if we examine actual behavior, the results may be even stronger than intentions.

Our small, convenience sample selected from only one institution may not represent the population of all universities or the specific (business) discipline. Researchers may explore students and managers in different institutions (private vs. public; religious vs. non-religious; selective vs. non-selective; Evans et al. 2006), regions, and cultures to investigate the generalizability our theoretical model to other contexts. Attitudinal, personality measures, and qualitative data may be included in future studies to identify employees and students’ attitudes and behavior intentions.


The philosopher Socrates argued almost 2,500 years ago that ethics consists of knowing what we ought to do and that such knowledge can be taught. People’s unethical intention was correlated with their low self-esteem, low intrinsic religiosity, and high Machiavellianism. High ASPIRE scores were related to high LOM, high self-esteem, but low unethical behavior intention. At the individual level, students bring dispositional values (Staw et al. 1986) to the university. These values and attitudes may have been established early in their lives and may be difficult for professors in business schools to change in a short period of time. Students’ perceptions of their authentic supervisors’ personal integrity and character moderate the relationship between LOM and unethical behavior intention. It is an important variable in the social environment. We need to expand our discussion to issues of bad apples (individual), bad cases (moral issue) and bad barrels (organizational environment) (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010).

Research suggests that both good apples and bad apples express strong concerns for having a heavier emphasis and significantly more courses on making profits than making ethical decisions in the business curriculum (Tang and Tang 2010). Some scholars wonder whether the business curriculum has contributed to or failed to decrease unethical orientation. We need to be aware of (1) the gaps between what they know and what they actually do, between head (intelligence) and heart (wisdom or virtue), and (2) what they have done (Resource Abuse, Theft, Corruption, and Deception) and what they have failed to do (Not Whistle Blowing). At the institutional level, AACSB-International and business deans need to revamp the business curriculum and create a stronger emphasis on making ethical decisions in the organizational culture of business schools than before.

According to Ariely, “most individuals, operating on their own and given the opportunity, will cheat—but just a little bit.” As people become better acquainted, then, cheating for the sake of the team increases. Therefore, in a social environment, “cheating is infectious” (Ariely 2009, p. 81). “When cheating is one step removed from cash,” people tend to rationalize and justify their dishonesty easily. “Such latitude is the force behind the Enrons of the world” (Ariely 2008, p. 24). Following these arguments, it is important for professors at universities in general and business schools in particular to strengthen ethics training and courses and improve our students’ character at the individual level and possibly reduce or convert “a few unsavory individuals,” or bad apples, to good apples (Treviño and Youngblood 1990, p. 378). Some argue that managers can’t be created in a classroom and should learn from their own experiences (Mintzberg and Gosling 2002). Some full-time MBA students are required to visit federal prisons and interview white-collar criminals who are paying their dues to society—often for cooking the books (Kercheval 2004; Merritt 2004). These experiences may help students and managers behave ethically. These activities may also enhance students’ understanding of moral issue characteristics (highly context-sensitive “cases”) that may vary by the specific circumstances and across time. Most importantly, unethical choices may reflect “bad barrels,” or characteristics of the general environment (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010; Tang, Sutarso et al. 2011).

Following the Parable of the Lost Sheep, “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15: 4–7, emphasis added). We posit that the lost sheep may not return home by itself and will need the shepherd’s help. We need authentic professors, supervisors, and executives with strong personal integrity and character (ASPIRE) to create real role models and ethical cultures in business school and organizations, hold these students/managers’ hands and do it with/for them, make them accountable, identify sources of the resistance, capture the window of opportunity, offer further business ethics training to enhance ethical values, and open their eyes and hearts.

Most people do look to the social context to determine what is ethically right or wrong (Bandura 1977), obey authority figures (Litzky et al. 2006; Milgram 1974), and do what is rewarded (Skinner 1972) in organizations. The presence of abundant wealth provokes feelings of envy toward wealthy others that, in turn, cause a significantly higher percentage and a much larger magnitude of cheating for personal gains than a condition without such presence of abundant money (Gino and Pierce 2009a). Following this argument, the simple “presence” of abundant authority figures, professors, mentors, and executive with a high level of ASPIRE creates a strong PDC that may lead to people’s ethical behavior. Institutional anomie theory (Cullen et al. 2004; Martin et al. 2007) suggests that a sea change of the ethical social norm in schools, organizations, and society, or ethical community-building (McCabe et al. 2006), is needed to fight against unethical behavior. Educators’ most exciting joy of this learning and education process is to bring the lost sheep back and make it aware: I was blind, but now I see. This is difficult to achieve because many are invited, but few are chosen. The easiest way out is to do nothing.

Business schools and executives must consider (1) prevention, to identify and reject business or MBA-applicants, job applicants, and employees who are prone to engage in unethical behaviors; (2) control, the use of normative force (code of ethics, internal control systems, a role model, and a social norm) and instrumental force (proper checks and balances, electronic surveillance devices, and reward and punishment); and (3) deterrence: dismissing students/managers, providing a strong response to harmful misbehavior that will promote ethical behaviors and deter unethical behaviors (Ivancevich et al. 2005; McCabe et al. 2006). Business schools need to invest in ethics education, support research on ethics, raise the bar for admission, sift for and expel bad apples, and satisfy all stakeholders in society (business, students, media, AACSB-International, and business school) (Pfeffer and Fong 2002; Trank and Rynes 2003). Professors in business schools and executives in organizations must instill, promote, and teach students and managers to become authentic individuals with personal integrity and character (ASPIRE). However, dismissing unethical employees or students (bad apples) may defeat the purposes of promoting business ethical decision making.

Future Research

Future researchers will investigate the “how, why, who, where, and when” issues: When (how and where) do students or employees learn from their supervisors’ personal integrity and character? Can we train people in general to become authentic supervisor with personal integrity and character? How long will it last? Is it specific for the person or context? Does the adaptation of a “Hippocratic Oath for Managers” (Khurana and Nohria 2008) set an ethical tenor and reduce managers’ corruption or unethical intention in organizations? How do we increase the professionalization of the practice of management (Arbaugh 2008, 2009; Giacalone 2004)? Similar to the Ten Commandments in a Judeo-Christian tradition, hyper-norms in other religions, cultures, and countries (e.g., Confucius’ ideology in China) may incite comparable emotions and behavior tendencies in most people (Tang, in press). Is it applicable to people across cultures in different parts of the world? Researchers must develop a comprehensive theory and test this proposition empirically in business and industry, across religious backgrounds (Christian vs. non-Christian), and across cultures in different parts of the world.

Educators need to incorporate value orientation and virtue in a materialistic world and identify the purpose of life. People do work for money—but they work even more for meaning in their lives (Pfeffer 1998). What has meaning? Who will judge and by whose standard? Productivity and profit are consistent with virtuous behavior (Locke 2002). Ultimately, the combination of “head” and “heart” will be the competitive advantage (Ashmos and Duchon 2000). We need to identify strategies to not only open one’s eyes/head (learning) but also one’s heart (virtue/wisdom) because character is not dead in the management field (Wright and Goodstein 2007). This study provides a useful preliminary framework for future theory building and theory testing on this challenging topic related to leadership (ASPIRE), individual differences (the LOM), and behavioral ethics (Kish-Gephart et al. 2010).


We develop the acronym “ASPIRE” based on the following two terms: “Authentic Supervisor’s Personal Integrity and Character”, or “Authenticity of Supervisor’s Personal Integrity and Character.” We use the full terms and the acronym ASPIRE interchangeably thereafter in this article.


We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for providing the inspiration that help us focus on a broader perspective and present discussions in this section.



We would like to thank Fr. Mark Sappenfield for his suggestions, Sarah Weinstein, Michael Walker, David Green, and Stevie Bryan for their assistance, and Editor-in-Chief Deborah C. Poff and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments and suggestions. We dedicate this article to the late Dr. Hsien-Hen Lu of Columbia University

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011