Assignment: Differentiating Perceptions Of Supervisor

Measuring and Differentiating Perceptions of Supervisor and Top Leader Ethics
Janet L. Kottke • Kathie L. Pelletier
Received: 4 October 2011 / Accepted: 26 March 2012 / Published online: 7 April 2012
? Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
Abstract We report the results of two studies that eval-
uated the perceptions of supervisor and top leader ethics. In
our first study, we re-analyzed data from Pelletier and
Bligh (J Bus Ethics 67:359–374, 2006) and found that the
Perceptions of Ethical Leadership Scale from that study
could be used to differentiate perceptions of supervisor and
top leader ethics. In a second study with a different sample,
we examined the relationships between (1) individual
employees’ perceptions of top managers’ and immediate
supervisors’ ethical tendencies, and (2) organizational cli-
mate, confidence in top leadership direction, commitment,
and citizenship behavior. Results indicated that employee
perceptions of top managers’ and supervisors’ ethics were
significantly related to climate, top leadership direction,
organizational commitment and the OCB dimension, civic
Keywords Immediate supervisor ethics ? Top leader ethics ? Organizational culture ? Ethics measurement
The corporate scandals of Enron, Tyco, Bank of America,
WorldCom, and Merck during the past decade have led to
an outpouring of popular press articles elaborating on the
lack of regulatory oversight, complex and deceptive
accounting schemes, and greed of these organizations’ top
leaders (McLean and Elkind 2004; Patsuris 2002; Revell
and Burke 2003; Toffler and Reingold 2003). Under-
standing these scandals requires scrutinizing organizational
leaders, their ethical sensibilities and the climates they
fostered; in fact, the predominant focus of academic liter-
ature has been on top leaders’ characters, behaviors, and
formative experiences (e.g., Brown and Trevin?o 2006).
Without a doubt, top leaders are important for setting the
moral tone for an organization (cf., Sims and Brinkmann
2002; Viswesvaran et al. 1998; Zahra et al. 2007). As
media reports indicate (e.g., Revell and Burke 2003),
unethical top leaders can have tremendous impact on the
survival of a company, but small, seemingly insignificant
acts of dishonesty performed by immediate supervisors
may convey an even more insidious message to the orga-
nization’s employees. Supervisors who engage in dirty
practices confirm local norms encouraging unethical
behavior among immediate reports and most likely for
other supervisors of the same rank. Yet, little research has
assessed the possibility of differing effects of ethical
behavior displayed at top levels of an organization versus
that displayed by an immediate supervisor (Davis and
Rothstein 2006; Mize et al. 2000; Wiley 1998). We surmise
that ethical models at the lower ranks could be as important
as those of the top leadership. Indeed, the effects of
immediate supervisors on employees may very well be
more pronounced than top leadership behavior, as imme-
diate supervisors typically control an employee’s perfor-
mance evaluations, promotions, and pay. If that direct
supervisor is seen as ethical, we would anticipate favorable
employee attitudes toward that supervisor (Dirks and Ferrin
2002) and a greater likelihood that the supervisor could
influence the direct report’s ethical behavior.
J. L. Kottke (&) Department of Psychology, California State University, San
Bernardino, 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, CA
92407, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
K. L. Pelletier
Department of Management, California State University, San
Bernardino, 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, CA
92407, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
J Bus Ethics (2013) 113:415–428
DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1312-8
Why Differentiate Top Leadership from Immediate

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