Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Self-Sacrificial Leadership and Employees' Unethical Pro-Organizational Behavior: Roles of Identification with Leaders and Collectivism

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Self-Sacrificial Leadership and Employees' Unethical Pro-Organizational Behavior: Roles of Identification with Leaders and Collectivism

Article excerpt

Employee unethical behavior has long been the focus of research (Lawrence & Kacmar, 2017; Ni & Li, 2017). In relevant studies, researchers have reported that employee unethical behaviors are triggered by the desire to take revenge on colleagues (e.g., Thau, Aquino, & Poortvliet, 2007), or the organization (e.g., Skarlicki & Folger, 1997), as well as by the intention to obtain private benefits (e.g., Greenberg, 2002; Terpstra, Rozell, & Robinson, 1993). However, Umphress and her colleagues (Umphress & Bingham, 2011; Umphress, Bingham, & Mitchell, 2010) proposed that employee unethical behaviors may be performed in order to maintain the benefits of the organization or other members, such as exaggerating the level of performance of the company to obtain more investment, or concealing shortage of products to reduce the loss of the company.

The behaviors described above are conceptualized as unethical pro-organizational behaviors, which are defined as actions that are intended to promote the effective functioning of the organization or its members, but which violate core societal values, mores, laws, or accepted standards of conduct" (Umphress & Bingham, 2011, p. 622). It has been found that different leadership styles could be crucial precursors of employee unethical pro-organizational behavior, such as transactional leadership (Graham, Ziegert, & Capitano, 2015), transformational leadership (Effelsberg & Solga, 2015; Effelsberg, Solga, & Gurt, 2014), ethical leadership (Kalshoven, van Dijk, & Boon, 2016; Miao, Newman, Yu, & Xu, 2013), and responsible leadership (Cheng, Wei, & Lin, 2019). The logic underlying those relationships is that if employees identify closely with the organization or leader, they may engage in unethical pro-organizational behavior as an act of reciprocity.

Self-sacrificial leadership is theorized as the style of behavior whereby the leader is willing to assume risks, abandon privileges, and take no account of his or her own rewards for the sake of collective welfare, characterized by foregoing private benefits of leaders in order to achieve benefits for the whole organization (De Cremer & van Knippenberg, 2005). Findings in research have confirmed that self-sacrificial leadership positively influences employee prosocial behavior, including citizenship behavior (De Cremer, Mayer, van Dijke, Schouten, & Bardes, 2009; He, Zhou, Long, Huang, & Hao, 2018), taking charge (Li, Zhang, & Tian, 2016), and followers' self-sacrificial behavior (Zhou, Long, & Hao, 2016). However, in extant research it has not been established if self-sacrificial leadership can promote followers' unethical behavior that is pro-organizational in essence.

Identification with leaders is the extent to which employees identify themselves with their leader according to their relationship with that leader (Mael & Ashforth, 1992), and the extent to which they conceive overlap between them and their leader in cognition, attitude, and behavior (Sluss, Ployhart, Cobb, & Ashforth, 2012). In comparison with studies on organizational identification, identification with the leader has not been sufficiently studied in terms of social identity theory (Tajfel, 1974). Scholars have also called for enhancing of the research on the antecedents and results of employees' identification with leader (Sluss et al., 2012). In the current study, we examined the mediating role of identification with leader in the relationship between self-sacrificial leadership and employee unethical pro-organizational behavior.

Additionally, in an examination of the effect of leadership in China, the influence of the country's traditional culture should not be neglected. Collectivism refers to the extent to which individuals construe the self as intertwined with others rather than as independent, and emphasizes collective interest over self-interest (Triandis, 1996); it is one of the most important cultural values in China. …

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