(Un)ethical Leadership

“Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.”
James MacGregor Burns

What is the meaning of ethical and moral principles for leadership? In many cases, morals and values guide leadership behavior. They influence the means and goals of leadership – for better or worse. Therefore, it is important to understand how ethical principles affect the leadership process.

Against this background, our research in this field is concerned with the determinants, mechanisms, and effects of ethical and unethical (or destructive) leadership. What concrete behaviours do (un)ethical leaders show? What individual and situational conditions shape these behaviours? How and why come followers to perceive their leaders as (un)ethical and what does this mean with regard to ethical leadership development? How does (un)ethical leadership affect followers with regard to their values, behaviours, wellbeing, and performance? 

Projects and Research Groups
In a DFG-funded research project entitled „Does the place make the people? The role of leadership and work climate for moral and prosocial socialization in the workplace“, we are investigating how facets of (un)ethical leadership interact with the work climate in teams and organisations. The main objective is to examine these two areas in terms of their socialisation potential for the moral and prosocial development of employees. A longitudinal study with newcomers over three years will allow the identification of potential socialisation effects over time, including effects on wellbeing and performance.

Together with the Wertekommission Initiative Werte Bewusste Führung e.V. we conduct a yearly manger survey in Germany focusing on the six core values identified by the Wertekomission: Responsibility, respect, trust, integrity, courage, and sustainability. Beyond the relevance of these values for managers in Germany, a recent focus of the survey was the digital transformation of the German economy and society. The survey results are summarized in a free accessible report and discussed at forums held by the Wertekommission e.V.

Project Team
Dr. Armin Pircher Verdorfer
Dr. Martin Fladerer
Clarissa Zwarg

Partners & Third Party Funding
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Key Publications
Braun, S., & Peus, C. (2018). Crossover of Work–Life Balance Perceptions: Does Authentic Leadership Matter? Journal of Business Ethics, 149(4), 875-893.

Braun, S. & Peus C. (2014). Wertschöpfung durch Werte? Vom Nutzen ethikorientierter Führung. PERSONALquarterly, 1/2014, 28-33.

Egorov, M., Kalshoven, K., Pircher Verdorfer, A., & Peus, C. (2019). It's a Match: Moralization and the Effects of Moral Foundations Congruence on Ethical and Unethical Leadership. Journal of Business Ethics. Advance online publication.

Egorov, M., Pircher Verdorfer, A., & Peus, C. (2018). Taming the Emotional Dog: Moral Intuition and Ethically-Oriented Leader Development. Journal of Business Ethics. Advance online publication.

Pircher Verdorfer, A. (2016). Examining mindfulness and its relations to humility, motivation to lead, and actual servant leadership behaviors. Mindfulness, 7(4), 950-961.

Pircher Verdorfer, A., & Peus, C. (in press). Leading by Example: Testing a Moderated Mediation Model of Ethical Leadership, Value Congruence, and Followers’ Openness to Ethical Influence. Business Ethics: A European Review.

Peus, C. (2011). Money over man versus caring and compassion? Challenges for today's organizations and their leaders. Journal of Organizational Behavior 32(7), S. 955-960

Schmid*, E., Pircher Verdorfer*, A., & Peus, C. (2019). Shedding light on leaders' self-interest: Theory and measurement of exploitative leadership. Journal of Management [*equal contribution]. 45(4), 1401-1433