Embedding ethical leadership within and across organization levels

John M. Schaubroeck, Sean T. Hannah, Bruce J. Avolio, Steve W.J. Kozlowski, Robert G. Lord, Linda K. Treviño, Nikolaos Dimotakis, Ann C. Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

232 Scopus citations


We develop and test a model linking ethical leadership with unit ethical culture, both across and within organizational levels, examining how both leadership and culture relate to ethical cognitions and behaviors of lower-level followers. The data were collected from 2,572 U.S. Army soldiers representing three organizational levels deployed in combat. Findings provide limited support for simple trickle-down mechanisms of ethical leadership but broader support for a multilevel model that takes into account how leaders embed shared understandings through their influence on the ethical culture of units at various levels, which in turn influence followers' ethical cognitions and behavior. The influences of ethical leadership occur not only directly, among immediate followers within a unit, but also indirectly, across hierarchical levels, through the cascading of ethical culture and senior leaders' influences on subordinate leader behavior. We discuss scholarly and practical implications for understanding how leaders transmit ethical influence both down and across large organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1053-1078
Number of pages26
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

Cite this

Schaubroeck, J. M., Hannah, S. T., Avolio, B. J., Kozlowski, S. W. J., Lord, R. G., Treviño, L. K., Dimotakis, N., & Peng, A. C. (2012). Embedding ethical leadership within and across organization levels. Academy of Management Journal, 55(5), 1053-1078. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2011.0064