How does ethical leadership trickle down? Test of an integrative dual-process model

Zhen Wang, Haoying Xu, Yukun Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Web of Science)


Although the trickle-down effect of ethical leadership has been documented in the literature, its underlying mechanism still remains largely unclear. To address this gap, we develop a cross-level dual-process model to explain how the effect occurs. Drawing on social learning theory, we hypothesize that the ethical leadership of high-level managers could cascade to middle-level supervisors via its impact on middle-level supervisors’ two ethical expectations. Using a sample of 69 middle-level supervisors and 381 subordinates across 69 sub-branches from a large banking firm in China, we found that middle-level supervisors’ ethical efficacy expectation and unethical behavior–punishment expectation (as one form of ethical outcome expectations) accounted for the trickle-down effect. The explanatory role of middle-level supervisors’ ethical behavior–reward expectation (as the other form of ethical outcome expectations), however, was not supported. The theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


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