Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 116, Issue 3, pp 641–653 | Cite as

The Relationship Between Ethical Leadership and Unethical Pro-Organizational Behavior: Linear or Curvilinear Effects?

  • Q. Miao
  • A. NewmanEmail author
  • J. Yu
  • L. Xu


In this study, we examine the nature of the relationship between ethical leadership and unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB), defined as unethical behavior conducted by employees with the aim of benefiting their organization, and whether the strength of the relationship differs between subordinates experiencing high and low identification with supervisor. Based on three-wave survey data obtained from 239 public sector employees in China, we find that ethical leadership has an inverted u-shaped (curvilinear) relationship with UPB. As the level of ethical leadership increases from low to moderate, UPB increases; as the level of ethical leadership increases from moderate to high, UPB decreases. Further, we find that the strength of this inverted u-curve relationship differs between subordinates with high and low identification with supervisor. That is to say, the inverted u-shaped relationship between ethical leadership and UPB was stronger when subordinates experienced high levels of identification with supervisor. The theoretical and managerial implications of our findings for understanding how to manage UPB in an organizational context are discussed.


Curvilinear relationship Ethical leadership Identification with supervisor Social exchange theory Social learning theory Unethical pro-organizational behavior 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Public AdministrationZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Business and EconomicsMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Henry B. Tippie College of BusinessUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  4. 4.MPA Education CenterZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina

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