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The Impact of Authoritarian Leadership on Ethical Voice: A Moderated Mediation Model of Felt Uncertainty and Leader Benevolence

Abstract

In a sample of 522 police officers and staff in an English police force, we investigated the role of authoritarian leadership in reducing the levels of employee ethical voice (i.e., employees discussing and speaking out opinions against unethical issues in the workplace). Drawing upon uncertainty management theory, we found that authoritarian leadership was negatively related to employee ethical voice through increased levels of felt uncertainty, when the effects of a motivational-based mechanism suggested by previous studies were controlled. In addition, we found that the negative relationship between authoritarian leadership and employee ethical voice via felt uncertainty is mitigated by higher levels of benevolent leadership. That is, when authoritarian leaders simultaneously exhibit benevolence, they are less likely to cause feelings of uncertainty in their followers who are then more likely to speak up about unethical issues. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of the findings.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. We were not allowed to collect other personal data, such as age, due to confidentiality concerns raised by force personnel.

  2. The original model fit was (χ2 = 2927.21, df = 692, RMSEA = .08, CFI = .86, TLI = .85, SRMR = .08). Following the model modification index, we correlated disturbances between two pairs of items which had modification values over 100. These two pairs were “after interacting with my supervisor I often feel uneasy (felt uncertainty)” and “after interacting with my supervisor I often feel uncomfortable (felt uncertainty),” and “I feel positive about my job (engagement)” and “I feel energetic at my job (engagement).” Hystad et al. (2010) argued that error correlation between item pairs is justifiable when there is perceived redundancy in item content. Following this, we argue that correlating the two item pairs mentioned above is justifiable because each pair was similar in content.

  3. We also excluded work engagement as a mediator and repeated all mediation analysis. We found that the results remained largely unchanged: authoritarian leadership was positively related to felt uncertainty (B = .52, p < .001), felt uncertainty was negatively related to ethical voice (B = − .23, p < .001), and the indirect effect of felt uncertainty was significant (indirect effect = − .12, 95% confidence intervals [− .19, − .06]).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to sincerely thank Marisa Plater (Durham University) and Natalie Brown (Durham University) for their effort on data collection and kind support of this research.

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Zheng, Y., Graham, L., Farh, JL. et al. The Impact of Authoritarian Leadership on Ethical Voice: A Moderated Mediation Model of Felt Uncertainty and Leader Benevolence. J Bus Ethics 170, 133–146 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04261-1

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Keywords

  • Authoritarian leadership
  • Felt uncertainty
  • Ethical voice