Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 587–598

Do Role Models Matter? An Investigation of Role Modeling as an Antecedent of Perceived Ethical Leadership


DOI: 10.1007/s10551-013-1769-0

Cite this article as:
Brown, M.E. & Treviño, L.K. J Bus Ethics (2014) 122: 587. doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1769-0


Thus far, we know much more about the significant outcomes of perceived ethical leadership than we do about its antecedents. In this study, we focus on multiple types of ethical role models as antecedents of perceived ethical leadership. According to social learning theory, role models facilitate the acquisition of moral and other types of behavior. Yet, we do not know whether having had ethical role models influences follower perceptions of one’s ethical leadership and, if so, what kinds of role models are important. We conducted a field study, surveying supervisors and their subordinates to examine the relationship between three types of ethical role models and ethical leadership: the leader’s childhood role models, career mentors, and top managers. We found that having had an ethical role model during the leader’s career was positively related to subordinate-rated ethical leadership. As expected, this effect was moderated by leader age, such that the relationship between career mentoring and ethical leadership was stronger for older leaders. Leader age also moderated the relationship between childhood models and ethical leadership ratings, such that having had childhood ethical role models was more strongly and positively related to ethical leadership for younger leaders. We found no effect for top management ethical role models. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


Ethical leadership Ethical role modeling Role models 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Penn State-ErieErieUSA
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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