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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 5, October 2011, Pages 942–955
Leader ethical decision-making has received a great deal of attention in the academic literature. Most research examining ethical leadership has focused on the leader characteristics and subordinate outcomes associated with ethical leadership, but research examining the situational variables influencing leader ethical decision-making is limited. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine a number of situational variables that may influence leader ethical decision-making. This study examined the impacts of performance pressure, interpersonal conflict, the leader's decision-making autonomy, the type of ethical issue at hand, and the level of authority of the other person involved in the interaction. The results indicated that when making a decision in response to a superior (as opposed to a peer or subordinate), leaders make worse decisions. Additionally, a number of interactions of the other variables negatively impacted leaders' ethical decision-making. The implications of these findings are discussed.
A number of organizations have been accused of, and even convicted of, criminal behavior resulting from breeches in ethical conduct, including Enron, WorldComm, Tyco, and HealthSouth (Jennings, 1999, McCraw et al., 2009 and Russell and Smith, 2003). Egregious cases of unethical conduct such as these are particularly salient in the media, because these actions are often intentional, unethical, and even illegal. Because of the threat that unethical business practices can pose to both the business community, industry, and the everyday lives of millions of people (Verschoor, 2006 and Verschoor, 2007b), business leaders, and academics alike, have begun work to improve the ethical conduct of members of organizations, both in terms of research examining the mechanisms surrounding ethical behavior and decision-making, and exploring and designing training interventions aimed at improving ethical behavior and decision-making. In order to address the ethical misconduct occurring in organizations, many look to organizational leaders (McCraw, Moffeit, & O'Malley, 2009). Indeed, Verschoor (2007a) points out that organizational leaders, including CEO's, boards of directors, and other leaders, are largely to blame for organizational ethics scandals. Additionally, findings from the 2007 Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Ethics & Workplace survey indicated that managers and supervisors play a critical role in promoting ethical conduct by all employees. Specifically, survey respondents ranked the behavior of management and direct supervisors as the top two factors involved in promoting an ethical workplace environment (Verschoor, 2007b). Furthermore, Hunter (2008) outlines the role of top organizational management in promoting ethical conduct in organizations. He recommends that organizational leaders take responsibility for promoting an ethical culture by acting as ethical role models for the rest of the organization, as employees often imitate their bosses' behavior. Thus, while it is important for leaders to behave ethically and make ethical decisions, in order to promote ethical behavior and decision-making organization-wide, there are likely to be a number of factors influencing a leadership ethical decision-making. The purpose of this study is to examine situational factors that may influence a leader's ethical decision-making. Because it is apparent that ethical leadership is critically important for the success of organizations, both financially and in terms of general organizational integrity, there has been a great deal of research on ethical leadership. Ethical leadership has been found to be associated with positive affective reactions toward the leader, including perceptions of effectiveness and trustworthiness (Brown and Trevino, 2006 and De Hoogh and Den Hartog, 2008), and a number of important outcome variables, including job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behaviors (Brown et al., 2005 and Mayer et al., 2009). While there has been much research on what ethical leadership is and how ethical leadership impacts employee and organizational outcomes, there has been much less attention given to situational influences on leader ethical decision-making. Situational influences have been demonstrated to predict ethical decision-making (Mumford et al., 2007b). More specifically, Brown and Trevino (2006) point out that there are a number of situational influences on a leader's ethical decision-making. Indeed, the organizational context creates additional pressures and complexity, influencing the relationship between ethical decision-making and ethical behavior (Trevino & Brown, 2004). Furthermore, leaders are in a unique position in organizations: not only do their decisions and behavior, especially with regard to ethics, set the standard for the decision-making and behavior of their subordinates (Hunter, 2008 and Verschoor, 2007b), but a leaders' ethical behavior has implications for important subordinate and organizational outcomes (Brown et al., 2005, De Hoogh and Den Hartog, 2008 and Mayer et al., 2009). While there is a dearth of research examining situational variables impacting leader ethical decision-making, theoretical perspectives on destructive leadership and corporate corruption can inform this area of research, by suggesting a number of broad contextual variables that may influence leader ethical decision-making. Mumford et al. (2007a) proposed that, in addition to individual leader characteristics, characteristics of the group, organization, and external environment are likely to contribute to destructive leadership. Indeed, situational characteristics such as perceptions of injustice (Moghaddam, 2005) and a high degree of organizational centralization (Post, Ruby, & Shaw, 2002) have been proposed as contributors to destructive leadership. Furthermore, models of corporate corruption also emphasize the influence of a number of situational factors on (un)ethical decisions and behaviors (Baucus, 1994 and Finney and Lesieur, 1982). Specifically, in the prevailing model of corporate corruption, Baucus (1994) suggests that pressure, opportunity, and predisposition, with regard to the organization and the external environment, influence corporate corruption. Situational variables that impact ethical decision-making are likely to be especially salient in leaders' ethical decision-making, as they strive to make the best decisions possible for their subordinates and organizations. This project examined a number of specific situational variables that are likely to influence a leader's ethical decision-making. Specifically, this study will examine the impact of six situational variables, indicated to be relevant by research in ethical leadership, destructive leadership, and corporate corruption: performance pressure, interpersonal conflict, threats to self-efficacy, decision-making autonomy, type of ethical issue, and level of authority of the people involved.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics and intercorrelations among our study constructs. A mixed-design ANCOVA was used to analyze these data. The between factors included performance pressure, interpersonal conflict, autonomy, and threat to self-efficacy. The within factors included type of ethical issue and level of authority of the person requesting the decision. The dependent variable was the aggregation of the dimensions of ethicality. The ethicality constructs were highly correlated (ranging from .86 to .97). Additionally, a factor analysis was performed, revealing only a single factor with an Eigenvalue greater than 1, explaining 93.61% of the variance. Thus, it was determined that the constructs were not distinct enough to constitute four different dependent variables. Table 2 presents the results of the mixed-design ANCOVA. Gender, scores of task motivation, and the Sanctions scale of the Influence Tactics measure were retained as significant covariates. Females' decisions were more ethical than males', task motivation was positively related to ethicality, and the tendency to use sanctions in influence attempts was negatively related to ethicality. The only significant main effect was that of Authority. Additionally, the corporate corruption literature can provide another potential mechanism for the observed effect of interacting with a superior when making an (un)ethical decision, which suggests that a high degree of commitment to an organization can lead to unethical decisions (Baucus, 1994). When an organizational leader interacts with a superior, he or she may desire to appear more committed to the organization, so as to get in the “good graces” of the superior. This greater degree of organizational commitment when interacting with a superior may induce leaders to forego their own personal standards, and society's standards, and put the needs of the organization above all else. By ignoring personal and broader cultural ethical standards, leaders may be more likely to make poor ethical decisions. Moreover, there were a number of interactions among the situational variables examined in this study that had significant impacts on leader ethical decision-making. First, when leaders have less autonomy to make independent decisions, and their self-efficacy is threatened, they appear more likely to use the authority of the superior involved in the interaction as an excuse to make a poorer decision. Low autonomy is likely to contribute to this effect because the leaders feel like most of the decision-making is the responsibility of the superior (Gagne and Deci, 2005, Hardre and Reeve, 2009 and Ryan and Deci, 2000). Furthermore, the findings with regard to low autonomy are consistent with the idea that a high degree of centralization, which leads to low decision-making autonomy, is associated with destructive leadership (Post et al., 2002). Additionally, threats to self-efficacy may also enhance a leader's desire to appear committed to the organization in the eyes of his/her superior. If a leader is feeling incompetent, he or she may seek positive feedback from organizational superiors (Baumeister, 1984), perhaps by zealously committing to the organization. Thus, when a leader's self-efficacy is threatened, he or she may overemphasize the needs of the organization, over the needs of individuals, leading to a poor decision (Baucus, 1994). Second, when leaders have low decision-making autonomy, and they are in an organizational environment with relatively low conflict and pressure, they appear to make poorer decisions in response to superiors. Once again, with low autonomy, the leaders are likely to defer responsibility for the decision to his or her superior (Gagne and Deci, 2005, Hardre and Reeve, 2009 and Ryan and Deci, 2000), who, in this study, had the final say in the leader's decisions; this low degree of accountability for decisions is likely to contribute to poorer decision-making. Additionally, low interpersonal conflict means that there is little role ambiguity; thus, the person understands his or her role in the organization and may be more comfortable with deferring responsibility to the superior (Milgram, 1965). Additionally, this effect occurs even in the absence of pressure; this effect will be discussed more below. Third, when a leader is under low performance pressure, has experienced a threat to self-efficacy, and is interacting with a superior with an issue involving following the rules, he/she is likely to make poorer decisions. The mechanisms involving the threat to self-efficacy and a desire to endear oneself to superiors mentioned previously (i.e., enhanced organizational commitment toward superiors) may account, in part, for this finding. It may be that one way the threatened leader can attempt to enhance appearance of organizational commitment is to follow organizational rules to the letter, without taking the situation, including extenuating circumstances, into account. Failure to take situational variables into account has been proposed as a significant influence on poor ethical decisions (Mumford et al., 2008). Again, this effect occurs in the absence of high performance pressure. Finally, when a leader experiences low autonomy, low interpersonal conflict, and low performance pressure, it appears that he/she may make poor ethical decisions. Interestingly, in this and a number of the other interactions, the leader is making poor decisions in a relatively stress-free environment: low autonomy (low responsibility), low conflict, and low pressure. Perhaps when people experience high levels of interpersonal conflict, they are more likely to take into account the needs, goals, motives, and expectations of other people, in order to minimize the impact of the interpersonal conflict. A related, but different, mechanism may be that interpersonal conflict serves to make salient the needs, goals, motives, and expectations of others. Thus, those participants who were not presented with interpersonal conflict might have been less likely to consider other people. A similar effect may occur with regard to performance pressure; enhanced pressure may benefit a leader's ethical decision-making by causing the leader to focus on the most relevant situational variables at hand, in making the decision (Stenmark et al., 2010). Finally, autonomy increases intrinsic motivation, which fosters the sense of responsibility for the outcomes of decisions ( Gagne and Deci, 2005, Hardre and Reeve, 2009 and Ryan and Deci, 2000); which may lead to better ethical decisions. Thus, some level of stress, pressure, and/or accountability is likely to be necessary for leader ethical decision-making. The conclusions from this study have a few important implications for practice in enhancing leaders' ethical decision-making. First, the finding that leaders make worse decisions when responding to superiors indicates that, perhaps flatter organizations, with less of an emphasis on hierarchy, could facilitate leaders' taking full responsibility for their decisions. This responsibility, in turn, may lead to more ethical organizational decisions. Additionally, organizations may simply want to emphasize the responsibility of leaders to make their own decisions, enhancing decision-making autonomy, but also removing the temptation to use a superior's authority as an excuse to make a poor decision. Indeed, in this study, low autonomy was an important factor (especially in combination with other situational variables) in contributing to poorer leader decisions. Thus, increasing autonomy is likely to improve leader ethical decision-making (Gagne and Deci, 2005, Hardre and Reeve, 2009 and Ryan and Deci, 2000). Additionally, the findings with regard to the “low stress” situations examined in this study have interesting implications. Leaders experiencing low interpersonal conflict, low performance pressure, and low autonomy (low responsibility for their decisions) made poor decisions. It may be that leaders actually need some stress in their workday, in order to ensure that the leader fully analyzes the problem situation when making a decision. This is consistent with findings that munificent environments may actually impede creative problem-solving (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997); indeed, ethical decision-making can be seen as a type of problem-solving, involving ambiguous, ill-defined situations (Mumford et al., 2008). Furthermore, low interpersonal conflict, which allows for little to no role ambiguity, may contribute to this effect by making the rules more salient by emphasizing that there is a particular way things proceed in the organization. In other words, the lack of ambiguity may highlight the idea that there is little room for deviation from organizational rules; this lack of ambiguity is likely to allow less for consideration of other relevant situational, extenuating factors that may influence the problem situation. Not only has interpersonal conflict been cited as one of the foremost stressors on the job (Keenan & Newton, 1985), it has also been demonstrated that too much pressure can be detrimental to decision-making and problem-solving. High performance pressure is likely to contribute to a heuristic processing (De Dreu, 2003 and Ordóñez and Benson, 1997) that encourages people to fall back on simple black-and-white decision-making processing, without taking the time, energy, and resources, to consider other situational factors that might be relevant. Thus, while there is evidence to suggest that organizations should attempt to minimize performance pressures as much as possible, in order to allow leaders the time and resources to think through the problem situation (Mumford et al., 2008), in order to take into account both rules and additional situational variables that may be relevant in making the decision, the findings of this study suggest that organizational efforts to decrease performance pressure (Amabile et al., 2002 and Cardinal and Hatfield, 2000) may not improve the ethical decision-making of leaders. Thus, while organizations should continue to strive to reduce performance pressures and interpersonal conflict, they should keep in mind that when leaders do not feel any stress or pressure, their decisions may suffer, especially if they are not given a minimum level of autonomy. Thus, again, we echo our recommendation that leaders be afforded decision-making autonomy, in order to potentially counteract the negative effects of other (desirable) low-stress situational variables. A greater level of autonomy fosters intrinsic motivation, dedication, and commitment (Gagne and Deci, 2005, Hardre and Reeve, 2009 and Ryan and Deci, 2000), thus encouraging leaders to feel more accountable and responsible to their workgroup personally, for their workgroup's performance, and ultimately, for the decisions that they make. Finally, organizations can address the tendency for leaders to over-rely on rules in making ethical decisions. Although the findings with regard to an over-reliance on the rules in this study were, admittedly, specific in context (e.g. under low performance pressure, with an experienced threat to self-efficacy, and when interacting with a superior with an issue involving following the rules), this has been offered as an important issue (e.g., Brown, 2007, Mumford et al., 2008, Trevino and Brown, 2004 and Webley and Werner, 2008) for organizations to consider. While it is clear that rules and guidelines for organizational behavior and decision-making are important, organizations should also emphasize a thorough analysis of the problem situation in making decisions, especially in decisions of an ethical nature (Mumford et al., 2008). Many leader ethical decision-making scholars agree that rules and codes of conduct are a necessary, but not sufficient, means toward improving ethical decision-making; there are a number of situational variables that must also be considered, in order to make the most effective decision (Brown, 2007, Trevino and Brown, 2004 and Webley and Werner, 2008). Indeed, studies of ethics training programs have shown that programs which emphasize cognitive decision-making strategies, which help the decision-maker to think through the problem situation, are associated with better ethical decision-making than those which focus solely on teaching rules and guidelines (Antes et al., 2009 and Waples et al., 2009). Thus, any organizational interventions designed to improve leader ethical decision-making should have a broader focus, beyond organizational rules and guidelines, instructing participants about the processes involved in ethical decision-making and the important situational variables that need to be taken into account when considering an ethical problem. Despite the value of the findings in this effort, certain limitations of this study should be noted. To begin, it should be recognized that the present study was based on an experimental paradigm. Although the task employed in this study represents a low-fidelity simulation of a real-world problem calling for leader ethical decision-making, the question remains, nonetheless, concerning the generality of our findings to people making real-world ethical decisions. On a related note, the participants were undergraduate students. It is possible that older participants might have different perspectives on ethical behavior, or they may differ in cognitive development or moral development, and as a result may perform differently on the experimental task. Moreover, the participants performing these simulations would not have as much “at stake” as real-world leaders in an organization. It is possible that different results would be obtained in a field study, with an older population. Additional research is necessary to address the generalizability of these results. Additionally, statistically significant manipulation checks were not obtained in this study. There is some evidence, however, that the manipulations did, indeed, impact the participants' ethical decision-making. First, the manipulation checks for autonomy, performance pressure, and interpersonal conflict were in the appropriate direction, although the groups did not significantly differ in the ratings of their experiences of the manipulated variables. It is possible that, due to the length and complexity of the study materials, participants may not have felt the manipulations as strongly by the time they filled out the post-task questionnaire. Previous research, however, has shown that participants do, indeed, pick up on manipulations such as these, embedded within the study material (e.g., Dailey and Mumford, 2004 and Marcy and Mumford, 2007). Second, the manipulation for self-efficacy was a variation on a self-efficacy manipulation that has proven to be effective in previous research studies (Frey and Stahlberg, 1987 and Mumford et al., 1993). Finally, the results of the study indicated differences between the experimental groups. Thus, while it is likely that these manipulations did, indeed, impact participants' ethical decision-making, it remains to be seen exactly how these variables may impact real-world leaders' ethical decision-making on a day-to-day basis. Also, the effect sizes obtained for the significant effects in this study were relatively low. A low effect size could indicate that the effects of the variable have little practical significance. On the other hand, a low effect size could also indicate that the manipulation in the study was not very strong. Indeed, Cohen (2007) suggests that, in order to increase an effect size, a researcher may attempt to increase the strength of the given manipulation. Given the fact that all but one manipulation in this study were embedded into the written study materials, as opposed to being externally imposed on the participants, the low effect sizes may very well be due to relatively weak manipulations. Thus, future studies should attempt to examine these variables in more “real-world” settings, with externally imposed manipulations, and also tasks with more “at stake” for the participants. Another potential limitation relates to the procedure applied for judging the participants' responses. All of the judges were Industrial/Organizational Psychologists. All four judges have been involved, both as students and instructors, in an ethical decision-making training program that has been empirically demonstrated to be successful (Brock et al., 2008, Kligyte et al., 2007 and Mumford et al., 2008). Although these judges were familiar with the general ethical decision-making literature and norms for ethical conduct across a range of professional fields, it is possible that their personal and professional frames of references may differ from practitioners in other fields. Thus, future studies using these procedures might utilize judges in different fields, such as philosophy, to address this issue. Finally, this study looked at only a few situational variables that may impact ethical decision-making: the authority of the person involved in the interaction, the ethical issue involved in the situation, the level of autonomy held by the leader, performance pressure, and interpersonal conflict. It should be recognized, however, that other variables, such as expertise, may also influence ethical decision-making. Future studies should examine expertise, and other variables, that might shape our knowledge of situational influences on leaders' ethical decision-making. Additionally, examining different combinations of variables may be useful in explicating the situational variables that impact leaders' ethical decision-making. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that there are a number of situational variables that impact leaders' ethical decision-making. Indeed, the results of this study demonstrated that situational variables may have a complex effect on ethical decision-making. Not only was a significant main effect observed, but there were a number of complex interactions of variables that impact ethical decision-making in leaders. Situational variables have largely been neglected in the study of leader decision-making, and this study establishes a need for the study of situational variables, in order to better understand the process of leader ethical decision-making.