This week our chosen articles offer some different perspectives on ethical leadership.
Indigenous insights into ethical leadership: A study of Māori leaders
The need for ethical leadership in navigating today’s complex, global and competitive organisations has been established. While research has confirmed the importance of ethical leaders in promoting positive organisational and employee outcomes, scant research has examined the antecedents of ethical leadership.
Furthermore, there has been a call for further examination of leadership models, particularly indigenous leadership models. Responding to these issues, this study suggests Māori leaders’ values add insights into enhancing ethical leadership. Three studies confirm the role of Māori values and ethical leadership.
Study one, based on kaupapa Māori research methods, is an exploratory 22-interview study of Māori leaders and identifies five values, (humility, altruism, long-term orientation, collectivism and cultural authenticity) as common to successful indigenous leaders.
In study two, 249 employees rate their leaders on these five dimensions in relation to their ethical leadership and exchange relationships. Structural equation modelling shows strong support for the distinct nature of the five values and their positive influence on ethical leadership perceptions and quality exchange relationships (LMX).
Study three, on 122 employees, reinforces the findings of study two—and demonstrates that LMX predicts job outcomes both indirectly and directly, with humility and collectivism also directly predicting outcomes.
The findings suggest that indigenous leaders’ values enhance perceptions and outcomes of ethical leadership for employees.
Jarrod Haar, Maree Roche and David Brougham. 2019. Indigenous Insights into Ethical Leadership: A Study of Māori Leaders.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(3), 621–640.
Can moral typecasting theory help ethical leaders?
Ethical leadership research has primarily relied on social learning and social exchange theories. Although these theories have been generative, additional theoretical perspectives hold the potential to broaden scholars’ understanding of ethical leadership’s effects. In this paper, the authors examine moral typecasting theory and its unique implications for followers’ leader-directed citizenship behaviour.
Across two studies employing both survey-based and experimental methods, the authors offer support for three key predictions consistent with this theory.
First, the effect of ethical leadership on leader-directed citizenship behaviour is curvilinear, with followers helping highly ethical and highly unethical leaders the least.
Second, this effect only emerges in morally intense contexts.
Third, this effect is mediated by the follower’s belief in the potential for prosocial impact.
The findings suggest that a follower’s belief that his or her leader is ethical has meaningful, often counterintuitive effects that are not predicted by dominant theories of ethical leadership. These results highlight the potential importance of moral typecasting theory to better understand the dynamics of ethical leadership.
Kai Chi Yam, Ryan Fehr, Tyler C. Burch, Yajun Zhang and Kurt Gray. 2019. Would I Really Make a Difference? Moral Typecasting Theory and its Implications for Helping Ethical Leaders.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(3), 675–692.
Does being an agent of shareholders dilute a manager’s moral obligations?
Some leading economists maintain that corporate managers have no social responsibilities other than to maximise profits and obey the law. To support that thesis, they rely, in part, on the agency theory of the firm. The theory provides that managers are agents of shareholders and must do what shareholders want, which is generally to make as much money as possible.
For purposes of this article, the author accepts that managers are agents of shareholders, but the author rejects the conclusion that the relationship dilutes their moral obligations. Managers, as agents, cannot justify immoral decisions on the grounds that their shareholders direct their actions.
Similarly, shareholders, as principals, lack moral bases to authorise managers to take actions the shareholders could not justify taking themselves. The author applies this thesis to the ethical challenges managers of government contracting businesses face when they consider whether to make independent political expenditures.
The author argues that where it is in the interests of government contractors to publicly disclose, limit, or forego making independent political expenditures, they can legally do so, and that in the absence of financial advantage or legal obligation, agency theory highlights the ethical obligations of shareholders and their managers agents. It does not grant them an ethical free pass.
Daniel M. Isaacs. 2020. When Government Contractors May or May Not Spend Money On Political Speech.
Journal of Business Ethics, 161(1), 91–102.
How leader character strengths and ethical leadership relate to leader outcomes
Evidence from a growing number of studies suggests leader character as a means to advance leadership knowledge and practice. Based on this evidence, the authors propose a process model depicting how leader character manifests in ethical leadership that has positive psychological and performance outcomes for leaders, along with the moderating effect of leaders’ self-control on the character strength–ethical leadership–outcomes relationships.
The authors tested this model using multisource data from 218 U.S. Air Force officers (who rated their honesty/humility, empathy, moral courage, self-control, and psychological flourishing) and their subordinates (who rated their officer’s ethical leadership) and superiors (who rated the officers’ in-role performance).
Findings provide initial support for leader character as a mechanism triggering positive outcomes such that only when officers reported a high level of self-control did their honesty/humility, empathy, and moral courage manifest in ethical leadership, associated with higher levels of psychological flourishing and in-role performance. The authors discuss the implications of these results for future theory development, research, and practice.
John J. Sosik, Jae Uk Chun, Ziya Ete, Fil J. Arenas and Joel A. Scherer. 2019. Self-control Puts Character into Action: Examining How Leader Character Strengths and Ethical Leadership Relate to Leader Outcomes.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(3), 765–781.
The effect of everyday practice on corporate responsibility
While mainstream CSR research has generally explored and argued for positive ethical, social and environmental performance, critical CSR scholars argue that change has been superficial—at best, and not possible in any substantial way within the current capitalist system. Both views, however, only address the role of business within larger systems.
Little attention has been paid to the everyday material CSR practice of individual managers. The authors go inside the firm to investigate how the micro-level acts of individual managers can aggregate to drive transformation of the macro-level business logic. The authors draw on the strategy-as-practice approach to organise the research.
The study reveals two orientations towards the integration of personal ethics into the workplace: abdication and activism. These orientations are supported by managerial practice such as reproductive and coping tactics (abdication) and covert and overt tactics (activism); and, three enabling conditions of activist practice: empowerment and psychological safety, moral shock, and morality praxis.
While the findings illustrate the tremendous challenges managers face when attempting to influence organisational practices towards their ethical and environmental aspirations, the authors also show that under specific conditions, individual managers can become fully engaged advocates and drivers of positive change from the inside. In so doing, an individual-level analysis of intrapreneurship provides a more complex picture of the possibilities for positive change than have been previously put forth by mainstream and critical CSR research.
Michal Carrington, Detlev Zwick and Benjamin Neville. 2019. Activism and Abdication on the Inside: The Effect of Everyday Practice on Corporate Responsibility.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(4), 973–999.
Individual reactions of HR managers and professionals to Sustainable HRM
This study contributes to the growing literature on the intersection between human resource management and corporate sustainability (CS) and, in particular, on sustainable human resource management (interpreted here as HRM practices informed by the CS principles, thus aiming at economic, social, environmental and human sustainability simultaneously).
In particular, this paper claims that the members of the HR professional community can increase their job satisfaction and decrease their intention to leave by implementing sustainable HRM. In addition, the authors test for the mediating role played by the meaning that HR professionals and managers attach to HR work. Indeed, when HR professionals and managers are involved in sustainable HRM perceive their job to become more meaningful as it has a broader scope which goes beyond the solely focus on economic performance, and that leads then to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover intention.
The study, which is based on 176 questionnaires collected through a cross-country survey, has been developed in partnership between the authors and a leading European association of HR managers and professionals. The findings, which in general extend the knowledge on the employees’ perception of CS-employee attitudes relationships, represent a data-driven argument for a more active role of HRM in developing Sustainable HRM.
Marco Guerci, Adelien Decramer, Thomas Van Waeyenberg and Ina Aust. 2019. Moving Beyond the Link Between HRM and Economic Performance: A Study on the Individual Reactions of HR Managers and Professionals to Sustainable HRM.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(3), 783–800.
Parentalism, power, and its legitimacy in business–society relations
This article proposes a theoretical re-conceptualisation of power dynamics and their legitimation in contemporary business–society relations using the prism and metaphor of parentalism. The paper develops a typology of forms of parentalism along two structuring dimensions: care and control.
Specifically, four ideal-types of parentalism are introduced with their associated practices and power-legitimation mechanisms. As the authors consider current private governance and authority through this analytical framework, they are able to provide a new perspective on the nature of the moral legitimation of power dynamics in contemporary business–society relations.
And the authors weave the threads between this conceptual frame and historical antecedents, suggesting that business ethicists need to revive old debates on paternalism in light of the current pervasive trend of modernised and subtler forms of parentalism. Implications for business ethics and political CSR are discussed.
Helen Etchanchu and Marie-Laure Djelic. 2019. Old Wine in New Bottles? Parentalism, Power, and Its Legitimacy in Business–Society Relations.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(4), 893–911.