Heroes or Villains? The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership and Unethical Pro-organizational Behavior

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 31;17(15):5546. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17155546.


Although prior research has emphasized the disproportional contributions to organizations of charismatic leadership, an emerging line of research has started to examine the potentially negative consequences. In this paper, a theoretical framework was proposed for a study of unethical pro-organization behavior through psychological safety based on social information processing theory, which reveals the detrimental effect that charismatic leadership can have on workplace behavior. To explore this negative possibility, a time-lagged research design was applied for the hypotheses to be verified using 214 pieces of data collected from a service company in China. According to the results, unethical pro-organizational behavior was indirectly influenced by charismatic leadership through psychological safety. Moreover, when employees experienced high performance pressure, charismatic leadership was positively associated with unethical pro-organizational behavior through psychological safety. The implications of these findings were analyzed from the perspectives of charismatic leadership theory and organizational ethical activities to alter the unethical pro-organizational behavior.

Keywords: charismatic leadership; performance pressure; psychological safety; unethical pro-organizational behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Ethics, Professional*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Social Behavior
  • Workplace
  • Young Adult