Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 146, Issue 2, pp 257–277 | Cite as

You May Not Reap What You Sow: How Employees’ Moral Awareness Minimizes Ethical Leadership’s Positive Impact on Workplace Deviance

  • Kubilay Gok
  • John J. Sumanth
  • William H. Bommer
  • Ozgur Demirtas
  • Aykut Arslan
  • Jared Eberhard
  • Ali Ihsan Ozdemir
  • Ahmet Yigit
Original Paper


Although a growing body of research has shown the positive impact of ethical leadership on workplace deviance, questions remain as to whether its benefits are consistent across all situations. In this investigation, we explore an important boundary condition of ethical leadership by exploring how employees’ moral awareness may lessen the need for ethical leadership. Drawing on substitutes for leadership theory, we suggest that when individuals already possess a heightened level of moral awareness, ethical leadership’s role in reducing deviant actions may be reduced. However, when individuals lack this strong moral disposition, ethical leadership may be instrumental in inspiring them to reduce their deviant actions. To enhance the external validity and generalizability of our findings, the current research used two large field samples of working professionals in both Turkey and the USA. Results suggest that ethical leadership’s positive influence on workplace deviance is dependent upon the individual’s moral awareness—helpful for those employees whose moral awareness is low, but not high. Thus, our investigation helps to build theory around the contingencies of ethical leadership and the specific audience for whom it may be more (or less) influential.


Ethical leadership Leadership Workplace deviance Moral awareness Substitutes for leadership Social exchange theory Social learning theory Field study Cross-cultural 



For trustworthy feedback on previous drafts we are grateful to our action editor, Tobias Goessling and two anonymous reviewers. We would also like to thank Sean Hannah and Scott Reynolds for their insightful conversations, encouragement and guidance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Business AdministrationWinona State UniversityWinonaUSA
  2. 2.School of BusinessWake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  3. 3.Craig School of BusinessCalifornia State University-FresnoFresnoUSA
  4. 4.Faculty of Economics and Administrative SciencesInonu UniversityMalatyaTurkey
  5. 5.Faculty of Economics and Administrative SciencesPirireis UniversityİstanbulTurkey
  6. 6.Faculty of Management SciencesAbdullah Gul UniversityKayseriTurkey
  7. 7.College of EngineeringAbdullah Gul UniversityKayseriTurkey

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