Abstract: Mirroring the Boss: Influence of Ethical Leadership on Salesperson Ethical Behavior and Performance

Vishag Badrinarayanan, Indu Ramachandran, Sreedhar Madhavaram

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This paper contributes to the emergent literature on sales managers’ ethical leadership (e.g., DeConinck 2015; Ng and Feldman 2015) by developing a framework of the mechanism by which sales managers’ ethical leadership influences salespeople’s ethical behavior and performance. Ethical leadership is defined as “the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way communication, reinforcement, and decision-making” (Brown et al. 2005, p. 120). This definition embodies two broad aspects of an ethical leader: (a) a moral person dimension, demonstrated through honesty, caring, and fair and balanced decision-making and (b) a moral leader dimension, demonstrated through frequent communication about ethics, setting clear ethical standards and using rewards and punishment to motivate adherence to those standards, and proactively serving as role models for ethical conduct (Brown and Trevino 2006). The framework proposes that sales managers’ ethical leadership nurtures salespeople’s work engagement, which serves as an intrinsic motivational state that leads to productive behaviors (Den Hartog and Belschak 2012). Work engagement is defined as a “positive, fulfilling work related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption” (Schaufeli et al. 2002, p. 74). Through their ethical standards, communication, conduct, and modeling, ethical leaders are likely to make work more meaningful and significant, create a sense of ownership and pride, and enhance commitment and resilience (Den Hartog and Belschak 2012; Menguc et al. 2013). Work engagement, a positive emotional state, becomes a bridge that connects ethical leadership with behavior and performance (Menguc et al. 2013; Rich et al. 2010). The framework examines three moderators—ethical climate, leader charisma, and performance attributions—of the ethical leadership–work engagement relationship. In organizations where ethical conduct is supported and encouraged, the relationship between sales manager’s ethical leadership and salespeople’s work engagement is expected to be strengthened. Further, charismatic ethical leaders are expected to more effective than others in fostering work engagement as they are demonstrably adept in expressing an attractive vision, energizing followers, engendering commitment, infusing self-belief and a sense of purpose, and facilitating subordinates’ positive emotions (De Hoogh and Den Hartog 2009). Finally, following attribution theory, when salespeople attribute improved personal and organizational performance to their managers’ ethical leadership, they are more likely to become engaged at work. In summary, the framework contends that salespeople are more likely to “mirror the boss” in terms of ethical behavior and performance when sales managers are ethical, charismatic, and competent; this emulation is supported by the organization’s ethical climate and channeled through work engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDevelopments in Marketing Science
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameDevelopments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
ISSN (Print)2363-6165
ISSN (Electronic)2363-6173


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