Unethical leadership can increase the prevalence of corrupt behaviour in organisations and workplaces.
This is according to two Maastricht University studies, carried out by doctoral candidate Untung Manara and associate professor Suzanne van Gils, a lecturer in management communications and ethics, who were particularly interested in whether ethical leaders could help change the behaviour of employees who were prone to unethical practises.
Ethical leadership and corruption
The first study surveyed 321 employees from various job sectors, including construction, health care, and education and measured the relationship between ethical leadership and corruption.
The results showed that greater ethical leadership is related to reduced corrupt behaviours, such as taking money from an organisation for personal benefit.
The second study was an experiment involving 146 participants who were randomly assigned to watch a video of either an ethical leader or unethical leader. After watching the video, participants played a ‘corruption game’: Two players would then bid against each other to win a prize while a third allocated the prize to the highest bidder.
The players had the option to offer a bribe to the allocator to ensure they get the prize regardless of their actual bid. Participants also had their thinking style assessed.
The study ultimately showed that ethical leadership directly relates to reducing corruption, as participants were less likely to bribe if they had watched the ethical leader prior to playing.
The release of the study is timely as the world places its trust in a new Covid-19 vaccine, it is important that corruption does not obstruct the organisation and distribution process, the authors stressed.