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Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Environments by Art Padilla

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Corrupt leaders can corrupt followers

As the tenures of leaders increase, some followers are more likely to adopt their behaviors. Imitation from higher status to lower status team members is common. Leader emotions and behaviors, like the flu, are contagious. They affect followers in organizational settings.62 Some work has been done on emotion contagion, though little empirical research has been conducted about behavior contagion in the leadership literature. There are, however, several areas of related work that provide helpful insights: social learning theory, displaced aggression theory, and Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority.63

First, research supports the notion that behavior is contagious.64 When we observe or experience the behavior of others, good or bad, we learn from it.65 Some of us copy it, some of us ignore it, and yet others reject it. New leaders quickly learn that their every move and every word are seemingly dissected. Their explanations about events are repeated at the water cooler, and their clothing habits are noticed and even copied. This theory applies to ethical situations in groups and organizations.66 One study, for example, found that abusive supervision engendered counterproductive behavior by employees in restaurants. Second, displaced aggression studies suggest that followers who are treated poorly by leaders tend to displace their anger on others.67 Unethical or improper behaviors might then be redirected toward more available employees ...

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