Who Follows the Unethical Leader? The Association Between Followers’ Personal Characteristics and Intentions to Comply in Committing Organizational Fraud

Journal of Business Ethics 154 (1):181-193 (2019)
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Abstract

The role of followers in financial statement fraud has not been widely examined, even though these frauds typically involve collusion between followers and destructive leaders. In a study with 140 MBA students in the role of followers, we examined whether two follower personality traits were associated with behavioral intentions to comply with the demands of an unethical chief executive officer to be complicit in committing financial statement fraud. These personality traits are self-sacrificing self-enhancement, a form of maladaptive narcissism characterized by seemingly altruistic behaviors that are actually intended to boost self-esteem and proactivity, a trait characterized by behaviors reflecting efforts to positively change one’s environment. As predicted, follower SSSE was positively associated with follower behavioral intentions to comply with CEO pressure to commit fraud, while follower proactivity was negatively associated with fraud compliance intentions. Also as predicted, follower SSSE interacted with follower proactivity, such that followers high in SSSE and high in proactivity reported greater intentions to resist pressure from the unethical CEO to commit fraud compared to low-SSSE followers. Implications for future research and corporate governance are discussed.

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