Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Ethical Leadership and Whistleblowing: Collective Moral Potency and Personal Identification as Mediators

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Ethical Leadership and Whistleblowing: Collective Moral Potency and Personal Identification as Mediators

Article excerpt

Given the prevalence and concealment of misconduct in the workplace, whistleblowing is a valuable organizational behavior (Nayir & Herzig, 2012). Encouraging employees to report unethical conduct internally (i.e., whistleblowing) has become an important organizational control mechanism (Miller & Thomas, 2005). However, employee observers of organizational wrongdoing tend to keep silent because of the risk of retaliation by wrongdoers (Zhang, Chiu, & Wei, 2009). An exploration of the factors that promote whistleblowing in an organization may contribute to preventing unethical conduct.

Putting a whistleblowing policy in place will be effective only if organizational leaders provide conditions in which ethical behavior is encouraged and reinforced (Lewis, 2011). Previous researchers have found that ethical leadership is positively related to internal whistleblowing by subordinates (Bhal & Dadhich, 2011; Mayer, Nurmohamed, Treviño, Shapiro, & Schminke, 2013). However, little is known about the process by which ethical leadership promotes whistleblowing by subordinates. Many scholars have examined how leaders can influence employees' ethical behavior by shaping an ethical climate (Treviño, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006), which may provide employees with a foundation for reasoning effectively about the right thing to do (Arnaud & Schminke, 2012). Nevertheless, whistleblowing may also depend on the existence of an ethical context in which unit members collectively assume responsibility (moral ownership), share the belief that they have the ability to perform ethical tasks (moral efficacy), and have the fortitude to face risk and overcome fears (moral courage). These three dimensions constitute collective moral potency, which may provide employees with the psychological resources to act morally (Hannah & Avolio, 2010). In addition, leaders influence follower behavior by shaping follower identities (Ashforth, Harrison, & Corley, 2008). When followers identify with an ethical leader, they should want to meet the leader's ethical expectations.

In this study, we integrated social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) and social identification theory (van Knippenberg, van Knippenberg, De Cremer, & Hogg, 2004) to conduct a multilevel exploration of how ethical leadership influences followers' internal whistleblowing. Specifically, at the group level, ethical leaders may create an ethical context of collective moral potency among followers, providing them with the moral capacity for whistleblowing, and at the individual level, ethical leaders may promote followers' personal identification with them. This could enhance followers' intrinsic motivation to report wrongdoing.

Literature Review and Hypotheses Development

Ethical Leadership and Internal Whistleblowing

Ethical leaders are described as moral people and moral managers (Trevino, Hartman, & Brown, 2000). Followers see ethical leaders as a role model and emulate their attitudes, values, and behaviors (Brown & Treviño, 2006). When their leader is ethical, employees are more likely to overcome the high risk of whistleblowing because they perceive their leader as being credible and trustworthy (Bhal & Dadhich, 2011). Furthermore, ethical leaders are not only ethical themselves, but also enhance their ethical management practices by setting ethical standards, frequently communicating with followers about ethics, and using rewards and punishments to support followers' ethical behavior (Brown, Treviño, & Harrison, 2005). Employees can learn vicariously that whistleblowing is acceptable by observing how coworkers are treated by an ethical leader, and they will then attempt to meet that leader's expectation of unethical conduct being reported (Mayer et al., 2013). Thus, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Ethical leadership will be positively related to internal whistleblowing by subordinates.

The Mediating Role of Collective Moral Potency

Moral potency is defined as "a psychological state marked by an experienced sense of ownership over the moral aspects of one's environment, reinforced by efficacy beliefs in the capabilities to act to achieve moral purpose in that domain, and the courage to perform ethically in the face of adversity and persevere through challenges" (Hannah & Avolio, 2010, pp. …

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