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The Mind is Willing, but the Situation Constrains: Why and When Leader Conscientiousness Relates to Ethical Leadership

Abstract

While previous research has established that employees who have a more conscientious leader are more likely to perceive that their leader is ethical, the underlying mechanisms and boundary conditions of this linkage remain unknown. In order to better understand the relationship between leader conscientiousness and ethical leadership, we examine the potential mediating role of leader moral reflectiveness, as well as the potential moderating role of decision-making autonomy. Drawing from social cognitive theory, results from two samples of workgroup leaders and their immediate reports situated in Africa and Asia show that leader conscientiousness is positively related to leader moral reflectiveness, which in turn, is positively associated with employees’ assessment of ethical leadership. Furthermore, and consistent with our hypothesis, results from the two samples show that leader decision-making autonomy moderates the indirect path from leader conscientiousness to ethical leadership through moral reflectiveness, such that only morally reflective leaders who have high (versus low) decision-making autonomy at work engage in ethical leadership behaviors. In our discussion, we highlight the theoretical and practical implications of our findings and suggest ways in which organizations can better foster ethical leadership.

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Correspondence to Liang Guo.

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Babalola, M.T., Bligh, M.C., Ogunfowora, B. et al. The Mind is Willing, but the Situation Constrains: Why and When Leader Conscientiousness Relates to Ethical Leadership. J Bus Ethics 155, 75–89 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3524-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3524-4

Keywords

  • Ethical leadership
  • Leader conscientiousness
  • Moral reflectiveness
  • Decision-making autonomy