Business, College of


Date of this Version

Summer 7-2013


Palmer, N. F. (2013). The effects of leader behavior on follower ethical behavior: Examining the mediating roles of ethical efficacy and moral disengagement. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Business, Under the Supervision of Professor Mary Uhl-Bien. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Noel F. Palmer


Recent ethical scandals in organizations are often cited when pointing to leaders as the culprits who foster corruption in their organization; however, little empirical work examines the individual processes through which leaders may influence follower ethical decision-making and behavior. Drawing from principles of social cognitive theory and self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1986, 1997), moral self-regulatory capacities are presented as a means by which leaders may influence followers. Specifically, I hypothesize that leader influence on follower (un)ethical behavior is mediated through follower ethical efficacy beliefs and moral disengagement processes. I also suggest that ethical efficacy interacts with ethical leadership to influence behavior. Finally, I propose that the mediating influence of moral disengagement is moderated by ethical efficacy beliefs. Using an experimental manipulation and a sample drawn from a military context, this study examines the influence of leaders on follower ethical efficacy, moral disengagement and subsequent behavior. Results indicate that leader behavior influences the ethical efficacy beliefs of followers. Findings also show that moral disengagement mediates the relationship between leader behavior and follower (un)ethical behavior. However, moderated-mediation analyses show that indirect effects of moral disengagement depend upon levels of follower ethical efficacy beliefs. Theoretical and practical implications for ethical leadership and ethical decision-making research are discussed, and directions for future research are recommended.

Advisor: Mary Uhl-Bien