Trickle-Down Effects of Perceived Leader Integrity on Employee Creativity: A Moderated Mediation Model

He Peng, Feng Wei

Journal of Business Ethics 150(2018)

Recommended reason

This study explores the relationship between the integrity of the supervisor and the manager (i.e., the supervisor’s immediate superior) and the creativity of employees who are below the supervisor. This paper offers an original empirical test of whether higher-level and lower-level leader integrity exerts a positive effect on employee creativity. At the same time, this paper builds a trickle-down model and investigate how leader integrity flows down through an organizational hierarchy from higher-level managers to lower-level managers, and manifests in employee creativity. This paper extends the current leader integrity theories by demonstrating the contingent role of perceived professional ethical standards in the diffusion of leader integrity down the organizational hierarchy.

About the author

Feng Wei: School of Economics and Management, professor. The main research directions are: leadership, organizational behavior and entrepreneurial innovation.


Employee creativity, Leader integrity, Professional ethical standards, Social learning, Trickle-down

Brief introduction

This study investigated how different levels of leader integrity influence employee creativity. We proposed a trickle-down model in which leader integrity flows through multiple levels of management and finally influences employee creativity. Consistent with our hypotheses derived from social learning theory, supervisor integrity partially mediates the relationship between manager integrity and employee creativity. We also found that the supervisors’ perceived professional ethical standards moderate the manager integrity and supervisor integrity link. In addition, we found that supervisors perceived professional ethical standards moderate the indirect effect of manager integrity on employee creativity through supervisor integrity.

This study has quite a few theoretical implications. First, it may contribute to the creativity literature by linking leader integrity and employee creativity directly. Second, the present study may contribute to the leadership literature on the cascading effect of leader behavior in that it demonstrates that leader integrity flows down through an organizational hierarchy from higher-level managers to lower-level managers, and finally manifests in employee creativity. Third, via introducing the moderator of perceived professional ethical standards, the present study contributes to the social learning literature by describing a more fine-grained picture about how followers learn from their leaders’ integrity. Our study showed that if organizations want to shape supervisors’ leader integrity, there are three important factors: managers’ integrity (i.e., values enacted by the leader), professional ethical standards (i.e., values espoused by the profession and community), and the alignment between managers’ integrity and professional ethical standards (i.e., alignment between the values enacted by the leader and the values espoused by the profession and community).

This study has a number of practical implications. First, considering the benefits of leader integrity at different levels in encouraging employee creativity, organizations should try to foster leader integrity throughout the hierarchy. Second, organizations should put more effort into fostering the integrity of higher-level leaders because our results indicate that this plays a more important role in encouraging employee creativity through processes, such as establishing the right climate or modeling. Third, given the influence of professional ethical standards, organizations should strengthen professional ethical education.