Department of Management


Date of this Version



Published in Organizational Dynamics 36:2 (2007; Special Issue on Ethics and Organizations), pp. 187–201. Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission. doi 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2007.03.006


A missing element in discussions of ethical leadership is: What happens to enforcement of ethics if it is the managers who are behaving unethically? In this article we address this question by describing a framework of upward ethical leadership. This framework expands conceptualizations of leadership beyond top-down models to a view that considers employees to be active participants in the leadership process. Upward ethical leadership is defined as leadership behavior displayed by individuals who take action to maintain ethical standards in the face of questionable moral behaviors by higher-ups. It is fostered when employees are encouraged to establish personal power bases and develop upward leadership skills that help reduce their sense of powerlessness when faced with choosing how to respond to ethical misconduct by managers. By developing employees who are more willing and capable to take a stand in the face of ethical violations, we hope to broaden the resource base for ethical leadership in organizations and bring much needed attention to the role of employees in maintaining ethical climates.