Stable versus Shifting Ethical Leadership: The Impact on Follower Positivity and Performance
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Considering the temporal nature of ethical leadership is among the greatest challenges for ethical leadership researchers (Brown & Mitchell, 2010). Rising to that challenge, the central goal of this research is to consider ethical leadership that remains consistent over time (stable) in comparison with ethical leadership that improves or deteriorates over time (shifting). Follower consequences of stable vs. shifting ethical leadership are derived through Social Exchange Theory and Affective Events Theory, leading to hypotheses that stable, downward shifting, and upward shifting ethical leadership differentially influence follower performance through follower positivity. To test the hypotheses, studies were conducted in the US Army (n=107) and a Fortune 500 insurance company (n=387). Polynomial regression and response surface analysis were employed to analyze the effects of stable and shifting ethical leadership. Results consistently show that as long as ethical leadership is stable, its magnitude is positively related to follower positivity and performance. Additionally, downward shifting ethical leadership is consistently and negatively related to positivity. Results were mixed for upward shifting ethical leadership. Discussion focuses on the importance of a more dynamic understanding of ethical leadership and its consequences on followers' emotions, attitudes, and behaviors.