When ethical leader behavior breaks bad: how ethical leader behavior can turn abusive via ego depletion and moral licensing. (2016)
“…companies could consider formally requiring ethical behavior. “It’s more difficult for people to feel they’ve earned credit and moral license for performing something that is mandatory.”
Russell E. Johnson, Ass. Prof. Michigan State University
Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin and Jingjing Ma, Michigan State University
Journal of Applied Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1037/apl0000098
New research on leader behavior suggests ethical conduct leads to mental exhaustion and the “moral licensing” to lash out at employees.
…. Moral licensing is a phenomenon in which people, after doing something good, feel they have earned the right to act in a negative manner.
“Being ethical means leaders often have to suppress their own self-interest (they must do ‘what’s right’ as opposed to ‘what’s profitable’), and they have to monitor not only the performance outcomes of subordinates but also the means (to ensure that ethical/appropriate practices were followed).”
(To help deal) with moral licensing the researchers suggested companies could consider formally requiring ethical behavior. “If such behavior is required, then it’s more difficult for people to feel they’ve earned credit for performing something that is mandatory,” he said. “A sense of moral license is more likely when people feel they voluntarily or freely exhibited the behavior.”
Ethical behavior could also be formally rewarded with social praise or money. But the praise or bonus should come relatively soon after the ethical behavior in order to counteract the moral licensing, Johnson said.
Access the full paper here: When ethical leader behavior breaks bad
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