Title: Followers' role in the emergence and maintenance of self-serving leadership
Authors: Decoster, Stijn
Issue Date: 21-Mar-2014
Abstract: Traditionally, leadership research focused on effective and successful leadership. In this view, leaders are expected to be fair and responsible. However, organizational scandals showed that such expectations are overly optimistic and that leaders do not always act for the best of the collective interest. Indeed, leaders sometimes act self-servingly, for example, by misusing company resources for personal gain. Despite the serious consequences of self-serving leadership, this kind of behavior has not received much attention in the management and psychological literature. Therefore, in this dissertation, I will focus on self-serving leadership which is defined as followers’ perceptions of the extent to which leaders place their own well-being and interests above both their followers’ needs and the goals of the organization. Generally, followers react in a negative way to self-serving leadership. For example, self-serving forms of leadership have been found to be negatively related to followers’ trust and affective commitment towards their leader, followers’ organizational citizenship behavior, and their job performance. Self-serving forms of leadership are also linked to a range of negative consequences, such as followers’ desire for retaliation and their supervisor-directed deviance. However, recent research also shows that followers do not necessarily react negative to leaders who behave self-servingly. In this dissertation, I argue that followers play a crucial role in the emergence and maintenance of self-serving leadership. More specifically, when followers react less severely to leaders’ self-serving behavior, this might lead to the continued existence of this behavior. Moreover, I will argue that – despite the devastating consequences for the organization (e.g., Tyco’s former CEO Dennis Kozlowski) – followers’ reactions depend on the specific context in which the self-serving behavior takes place. Therefore, the first three empirical chapters of this dissertation aim to address boundary conditions for followers’ reactions to self-serving leaders at the individual, work group, and organizational level. More specifically, I will focus on followers’ perceptions of distributive justice at the individual level, on budget policies at the organizational level, and on the ethical climate at the work group level. Chapter 2 starts with a validation of a scale designed to measure followers’ perceptions of self-serving leadership. Next, I explore whether followers’ perceptions of distributive fairness will protect followers with regard to their feelings of harm and their negative emotions when they are confronted with a self-serving leader. I also examine the process underlying these relationships as I propose that self-serving leadership will increase the extent to which followers experience uncertainty. In Chapter 3, I focus on the organization’s budget policy. Commonly, organizations apply one of two types of budget policies: carry-forward vs. use-it-or-lose-it policies, which differ with regard to whether allocations not spent by the end of the fiscal year flow back to the company or not. I argue that use-it-or-lose-it policies set a norm to spend the available resources, and therefore followers will react less negatively to self-serving leaders in such a policy than in a carry-forward policy. In Chapter 4, I hypothesize that the ethical climate influences followers’ reactions to self-serving leaders. I argue that in a high ethical climate, a self-serving leader’s behavior violates the norms of the organization, and thereby violates followers’ trust, resulting in negative follower reactions such as desire for retaliation and supervisor-directed deviance. In Chapter 5, I aim to show that followers play a crucial role in the emergence of self-serving leadership. More specifically, I hypothesize that followers’ lack of organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) towards their fellow colleagues will result in more self-serving leadership. I also propose that when followers refrain from OCB, this will elevate the leader’s hindrance stress, and that hindrance stress explains the relation between employees' OCB and leaders’ self-serving behavior.In sum, this dissertation contributes to the leadership literature as it extends the existing knowledge on self-serving behavior. Moreover, this dissertation provides a novel perspective by highlighting the influence followers have in both the emergence and maintenance of their leader’s self-serving behavior.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Work, Organisational and Personnel Psychology
Occupational & Organisational Psychology and Professional Learning - miscellaneous

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