, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 131-143
Date: 30 Apr 2013

Getting Followers to Transcend Their Self-Interest for the Benefit of Their Company: Testing a Core Assumption of Transformational Leadership Theory

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We aimed at testing transformational leadership’s (TFL’s) capacity to enhance followers’ willingness to engage in selfless pro-organizational behavior (SPB), that is, behavior for the benefit of the company that is inapt to be instrumentally used for self-serving purposes and carried out despite salient personal costs. Furthermore, we aimed at demonstrating organizational identification to mediate this relation.


In this study with three time points of data collection, 321 employees completed questionnaires measuring TFL, organizational identification, and—to control for dispositional effects—honesty/humility. SPB was captured applying a distribution task where participants had to make trade-off decisions between pro-self and pro-company distribution alternatives. In addition, participants’ general willingness to engage in SPB was measured using a self-report questionnaire.


We found TFL to predict followers’ (willingness to engage in) selfless pro-organizational behavior and organizational identification to fully mediate this relation.


Among other things, our findings challenge the negative assumptions regarding human motivation and behavior (e.g., people invariably driven by self-interest) inherent in some influential management-related theories (e.g., agency theory).


Getting followers to transcend their self-interest for company benefits is a core element of TFL theory. However, this core idea is difficult to test by means of questionnaires that measure citizenship behavior in field study research because three motives remain intertwined: pro-social values or orientation, organizational concern, and impression management motive. By disentangling company interest from employees’ self-interest and controlling for honesty/humility as an indicator for pro-social orientation, our study represents a more rigorous attempt to empirically confirm this assumption.