Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 153, Issue 3, pp 645–658 | Cite as

Just the Right Amount of Ethics Inspires Creativity: A Cross-Level Investigation of Ethical Leadership, Intrinsic Motivation, and Employee Creativity

  • Jie Feng
  • Yucheng ZhangEmail author
  • Xinmei LiuEmail author
  • Long Zhang
  • Xiao Han


Based on ideology-infused psychological contract theory and cognitive evaluation theory, this study investigated the curvilinear relationship between ethical leadership and employee creativity. A curvilinear mediation model was proposed to explain the impact of ethical leadership on creativity, using employee intrinsic motivation as the mediator. Applying a two wave sampling design that consist 258 employees and their leaders, we found that employee creativity improved as ethical leadership increased from low to moderate levels. However, the employee creativity improvement was attenuated when ethical leadership increased from moderate to high levels. Furthermore, the study also revealed that employee intrinsic motivation partially mediated this curvilinear relationship. The theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.


Ethical leadership Curvilinear relationship Intrinsic motivation Employee creativity 



This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71572140), Young Scientists Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71602163) and Young Scientists Fund from Ministry of Education in China Project of Humanities and Social Sciences (Grant No. 16YJC630171).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Management and Labor RelationsRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Southwestern University of Finance and EconomicsChengduChina
  3. 3.School of ManagementXi’an Jiaotong UniversityXi’anChina
  4. 4.School of Business AdministrationHunan UniversityChangshaChina

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