Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/annals.2019.0029

Research to date on leader behaviors such as justice rule adherence, abusive supervision, and ethical leadership has found a clear linkage between such behaviors and employees’ work attitudes and performance. Historically, and surprisingly, understanding of what initiates these impactful leader behaviors is much more limited, and only recently have scholars begun to examine their antecedents. Thus, the goal of our integrative review is to advance cumulative knowledge of why leaders are fair, ethical, and nonabusive—which we refer to collectively as principled leader behaviors. Our review is structured around a framework of four theoretical lenses that elucidate what initiates and perpetuates such behaviors: interpersonal motives, focused on relational explanations; instrumental motives, centered on these behaviors as a means to some end goal; moral motives, which characterize these leader behaviors as an end in themselves; and self-regulation and disposition, focused on leaders’ automatic inclinations and capacity to enact these behaviors. We not only synthesize previously fragmented findings of what shapes principled leader behaviors, but also highlight areas of overlap and distinction across them. Extending our framework, we highlight the interplay of lenses and critical research avenues to better understand why leaders treat followers in beneficial and not harmful ways.

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