• Discouraging unethicality versus encouraging ethicality: Unraveling the differential effects of prevention‐ and promotion‐focused ethical leadership

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Abstract

Theory on the impact of ethical leadership has traditionally been based on a deontological approach to morality. Underlying this perspective is the assumption that all leader behaviors which encourage “normatively appropriate conduct” will influence followers in a similar fashion. Put differently, the current consensus seems to suggest that actions which focus on preventing unethical behavior—attending to “the wrong”—will have the same impact as actions that focus on promoting ethical behavior—attending to “the right.” Taking a within‐person approach, we draw upon social exchange theory to challenge this consensus and build theory that suggests a follower’s felt trust from their leader will be differentially impacted by prevention‐ versus promotion‐focused ethical leadership. We also explore how these different types of ethical leadership may indirectly, through felt trust, impact citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior. Finally, we consider how the role of the “moral manager” may interact with the “moral person” by identifying leader moral hypocrisy as an important between‐person moderator of these effects. Given the importance of ethical decision‐making in organizations and the calls for increased ethical leadership, our findings have important implications for both theory and practice.

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