More than meets the eye: the unintended consequence of leader dominance orientation on subordinate ethicality

Brady, G L and Sivanathan, N (2023) More than meets the eye: the unintended consequence of leader dominance orientation on subordinate ethicality. Organization Science. ISSN 1047-7039 (In Press) OPEN ACCESS


Leaders play a pivotal role in establishing ethical norms and behaviors within organizations. Across seven studies (three in the Supplementary Information), we explore how subordinates infer their leader’s moral character outside the domain of ethical conduct and document this process’s downstream consequences. Specifically, we focus on the dual-strategies theory, which posits that leaders exert influence and obtain deference via two broad orientations of behaviors and cognitions: dominance and prestige. In a field setting of employees and their managers, we find that leader dominance orientation positively relates to subordinate self-reported unethical behavior, whereas leader prestige is negatively related to the same. In a second sample of working adults, we use a time-lagged study design to show that leader dominance (prestige) positively (negatively) relates to subordinate-reported unethical behavior at work partly because of a belief that the leaders engage in more (less) unethical behaviors, which contributes to a belief that norm-violating behaviors are more (less) acceptable within teams under dominance- (prestige-) oriented leaders. Finally, across four experimental studies, we observe that participants assigned to a dominance-oriented (versus prestige-oriented) leader perceived their leader as having lower moral character and expressed a greater likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior. We also document actual unethical behavior for monetary gain. This effect was mediated by the belief that unethical behavior was normative within the team. Our results highlight the importance of moral (mis)perception by demonstrating the consequences of a leader’s hierarchical orientation on subordinate ethical perceptions and behaviors at work.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Organisational Behaviour
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This paper, Garrett L. Brady, Niro Sivanathan (2023) More Than Meets the Eye: The Unintended Consequence of Leader Dominance Orientation on Subordinate Ethicality. Organization Science 0(0), is available at

Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2023 14:52
Date of first compliant deposit: 29 Nov 2023
Subjects: Leadership
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2023 14:52

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