This week’s journal articles focus on transformational leadership and knowledge and knowledge sharing within an organization, please review these concepts and answer the following questions:

  1. How do trustworthy and ethical leaders enhance knowledge sharing in organizations?  How does this impact the rate of information technology implementations?  How does this impact data management within organizations? 
  2. How does servant leadership assist with transferring knowledge in an organization?
  3. When thinking about data analytics, how does transformational leadership assist with building good data structures?

Be sure to use the UC Library for scholarly research. Google Scholar is also a great source for research.  Please be sure that journal articles are peer-reviewed and are published within the last five years.The paper should meet the following requirements:

  • 3-5 pages in length (not including title page or references)
  • APA guidelines must be followed.  The paper must include a cover page, an introduction, a body with fully developed content, and a conclusion.
  • A minimum of five peer-reviewed journal articles.

Organization & Environment
2020, Vol. 33(2) 155 –174

© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1086026618806201


Making It Personal: Developing
Sustainability Leaders in Business

Aoife Brophy Haney1 , Jenny Pope2,3,4,
and Zoë Arden5

Sustainability challenges present organizations in many industries with the need to change.
Leaders are critical to the process of becoming more sustainable, and yet leading change
for sustainability requires new competencies. Learning at an individual level is central
to developing new competencies; however, there has been limited focus to date in the
literature on corporate sustainability on how leaders can learn to respond to sustainability
challenges. In this article, we focus on how managers learn to become sustainability leaders
in their organizations by exploring the phenomenon of experiential learning programmes.
We do this by interviewing participants and organizers of four programmes about what they
learned and how the programmes helped them achieve these learning outcomes. We find
that the programmes supported the development of understanding, personal connection,
and empowerment to act for sustainability. In particular, making sustainability personal for
participants led to deep learning in each of these three areas. We contribute to conversations
in the corporate sustainability literature on the potential for individuals within organizations
to respond to and connect with sustainability issues in different ways. We also contribute to
the literature on education for sustainability and provide practical implications for experiential
learning programmes in business and business education.

corporate sustainability, corporate social responsibility, learning, sustainability leadership,
experiential learning


Corporate sustainability confronts business with the challenge of addressing not just commercial
but also environmental and social goals (Goleman & Lueneburger, 2010). Leaders are crucial to
the process of organizational change that is needed for organizations to become more sustainable

1ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
2Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia
3Integral Sustainability, South Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia
4North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
5University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Cambridge, UK

Corresponding Author:
Aoife Brophy Haney, Group for Sustainability and Technology, ETH Zurich, Weinbergstrasse 56/58, Zurich, 8037,
Email: [email protected]

806201OAEXXX10.1177/1086026618806201Organization & EnvironmentHaney et al.

156 Organization & Environment 33(2)

(Eccles & Perkins, 2012). But there is increasing acknowledgement that addressing complex
sustainability challenges requires the development of new leadership skills and attributes (Barth,
Godemann, Rieckmann, & Stoltenberg, 2007; Osagie, Wesselink, Blok, Lans, & Mulder, 2016;
Ploum, Blok, Lans, & Omta, 2017; Rieckmann, 2012). Although there has been some recent
research on how university programmes can be designed to develop sustainability skills
(Hesselbarth & Schaltegger, 2014), there has been less focus on the attainment of skills for sus-
tainability in business. In this article, we explore the particular phenomenon of experiential learn-
ing programmes (ELPs) designed for sustainability professionals from the business world, to
understand how these programmes support managers to become effective sustainability leaders
in their organizations.

The interdependence of economic, environmental, and social objectives at the heart of corpo-
rate sustainability requires an expansive view of the role of business in society (Bondy, Moon, &
Matten, 2012; Gitsham, 2012; Quinn & Dalton, 2009). According to this view, the financial or
economic imperative of business is intertwined with the interrelated challenges of

(1) long-term viability of natural systems and the services they provide for human existence; (2)
unacceptable social conditions at home and in communities around the world; and (3) the potential
for local and global economies to create a modicum of wealth and prosperity for all inhabitants of the
earth. (Ferdig, 2007, p. 26)

These challenges have significant implications for leaders charged with setting the strategic
direction of their organizations in response (Coleman, 2013). First, combining these different
goals is challenging for leaders in business because there are often many tensions involved. For
example, just as there are tensions between competing goals (Margolis & Walsh, 2003), there are
tensions between the traditional short-term focus of managerial decision making and the long-
term focus that firms are increasingly expected to exhibit in order to respond to big societal chal-
lenges such as climate change (Slawinski & Bansal, 2012; Hahn, Preuss, Pinkse, & Figge, 2014).
Second, sustainability challenges are often categorized as “wicked problems,” that is, they are
complex, are ill-defined, and do not have clear solutions (Lans, Blok, & Wesselink, 2014). Hence,
management approaches grounded in learning from past experiences to predict and control the
future are increasingly found to be inadequate (Ferdig, 2007; Rieckmann, 2012; Sterling, 2011;
Wesselink, Blok, van Leur, Lans, & Dentoni, 2015), because knowledge structures based on past
experience may be too rigid to allow for innovative alternatives to be recognized (Benner &
Tripsas, 2012; Tripsas & Gavetti, 2000). Third, dealing with these challenges requires engage-
ment with multiple stakeholders with different views, values, and perceptions not only of the
problem (Lans et al., 2014), but also of the desirable goals or objectives (Goleman & Lueneburger,

In the face of these challenges, it is increasingly recognized that leadership that engages with
sustainability and seeks to promote sustainability outcomes through business activities, often
referred to as “sustainability leadership” (Visser & Courtice, 2011), is both crucial (Eccles &
Perkins, 2012; Gloet, 2006) and different from traditional business leadership (Gitsham, 2012;
Martin & Ernst, 2005). The role of the individual business leader in sustainability has received
much less focus in the literature than institutional and organizational dimensions (Aguinis &
Glavas, 2012). But there is increasing focus on individual managers and a recognition that it is
important to understand the challenges they face (Allen, Marshall, & Easterby-Smith, 2015), as
well as the potential they represent within their organizations to think and act differently in
response to sustainability (Hahn & Aragón-Correa, 2015). Businesses are also clearly recogniz-
ing the important role that informed, motivated, and empowered business leaders can play in
driving change for sustainability through sponsoring their participation in ELPs. In fact, many
organizations are now turning to intensive, field-based training programmes designed to support

Haney et al. 157

sustainability leadership. These programmes, often described as “‘experiential learning pro-
grammes” (Baden & Parkes, 2013), are based on bringing participants close to sustainability
issues and providing opportunities to engage with a wide range of people with different perspec-
tives (Gitsham, 2012). Most research on field-based learning has focused on contexts such as
schools and universities or professions such as nursing and teaching (Kolb & Kolb, 2005;
Quinn, 2000). Bringing business leaders into the field to develop sustainability leadership has
only recently started to receive attention. There has been little research to date that has sought
to understand how and to what extent ELPs support managers in developing the competencies
needed for sustainability leadership (Gitsham, 2012). Developing a better understanding of
ELPs can also contribute to general conversations in the literature about the potential of indi-
vidual leaders to address sustainability within their organizations and the educational means
through which to support this potential (Hahn & Aragón-Correa, 2015; Sharma & Hart, 2014;
Shrivastava, 2010).

In this article, we analyze the experiences of managers from a range of different organizations
who have participated in ELPs for sustainability leadership, as well as the perspectives of some
of the organizers of these programmes. Our research is based on a series of semi-structured inter-
views to explore, first, what managers learned and, second, how this learning occurred. We ask,
“How do ELPs support the development of sustainability leadership?” In the following section,
we review the key literature on competencies for sustainability leadership, and learning and edu-
cation for sustainability. We draw on this literature to articulate the characteristics of effective
ELPs for sustainability leadership. In the subsequent section, we illustrate how the programmes
selected for this research reflect these characteristics, and we explain our research methodology
in more detail. We then show in the results section, first, the learning outcomes of the pro-
grammes, and, second, how learning occurred, as experienced by participants. Finally, we dis-
cuss our findings in the context of the literature on sustainability leadership and corporate
sustainability more broadly.

Theoretical Background

Competencies for Sustainability Leadership

Much of the literature on the attributes of sustainability leaders is focused on the competencies
such leaders require. The term competency has been used to mean different things in different
contexts (Barth et al., 2007; Wesselink et al., 2015), and several different schools of thought can
be distinguished (Osagie et al., 2016). There is broad agreement, however, that a comprehensive
perspective of competency includes more than just cognitive and functional dimensions such as
skills and knowledge; it also embraces attitudes, motives, values, and ethics (Barth & Michelsen,
2013; Hesselbarth & Schaltegger, 2014; Osagie et al., 2016; Ploum et al., 2017; Rieckmann,
2012; Svanström, Lozano-García, & Rowe, 2008; UNESCO, 2017; Visser & Crane, 2010;
Wesselink et al., 2015). In this article, we follow Wiek, Withycombe, and Redman (2011) to
define competency as “a functionally linked complex of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that
enable successful task performance and problem solving” (p. 204). The purpose of the compe-
tency is then clearly linked to a task or a problem, in our case related to sustainability.

In their discussion of sustainability leadership, Visser and Crane (2010) also emphasize the
importance of personality traits and leadership styles. Arguably, these softer, more intangible
dimensions are particularly important for sustainability leadership since sustainability is essen-
tially a values-driven concept (Barth & Michelsen, 2013; Frisk & Larson, 2011). It is noted that
the development of an ethical imperative, motivation (Sinatra, Kardash, Taasoobshirazi, &
Lombardi, 2012) or “moral emotion” (Ferdig, 2007; Sekerka & Stimel, 2012) to act for sustain-
ability is often associated with a particular value set (Svanström et al., 2008), reflecting “more

158 Organization & Environment 33(2)

ethical and more responsible values” (Linnenluecke & Griffiths, 2010, p. 358). Gaining compe-
tence for sustainability therefore involves both cognitive and practical development in the form
of ability to deal with increasing complexity, and the learning of values and ongoing reflection
on these (Barth & Michelsen, 2013; Savage, Tapics, Evarts, Wilson, & Tirone, 2015).

While there have been numerous studies seeking to identify competencies for sustainability,
Ploum et al. (2017) point out that many of these are conceptual in nature and specifically seek to
inform the higher education sector (Barth et al., 2007; Rieckmann, 2012; Wiek et al., 2011). For
example Wiek et al. (2011) identify five core competencies they believe are required to address
sustainability challenges and to solve complex multidimensional problems, namely, systems
thinking (“the ability to collectively analyze complex systems across different domains . . . and
across different scales,” p. 207), anticipatory (“the ability to collectively analyze, evaluate, and
craft rich ‘pictures’ of the future related to sustainability issues and sustainability problem-solv-
ing frameworks,” pp. 207 and 209), normative (“the ability to collectively map, specify, apply,
reconcile, and negotiate sustainability values, principles, goals, and targets,” p. 209), strategic
(“the ability to collectively design and implement interventions, transitions, and transformative
governance strategies toward sustainability,” p. 210), and interpersonal (“ the ability to motivate,
enable, and facilitate collaborative and participatory sustainability research and problem solv-
ing,” p. 211) competencies. In recent years, a number of studies have been undertaken specifi-
cally within a professional context (Hesselbarth & Schaltegger, 2014; Lans et al., 2014; Osagie
et al., 2016; Wesselink et al., 2015). These studies are reviewed by Ploum et al. (2017) who find
three competencies common to the four studies: strategic (management) competence, systems
thinking competence, and interpersonal competence.

What is notable about these contributions, which have proliferated in recent years, is that the
resulting lists of competencies are remarkably similar regardless of whether they are conceptual
or empirical, or whether focused on the higher education or business sectors. They all tend to
include both core competencies for sustainability and competencies related to management skills,
many of which are similar to the leadership competencies articulated by Martin and Ernst (2005)
for leadership in times of paradox and complexity more generally. Osagie et al. (2016) suggest
that many of the competencies described in the literature are somewhat instrumental and under-
play the importance of ethics. Based on their empirical study of corporate social responsibility
professionals within business, they emphasize the importance of “personal value-driven compe-
tencies” relating to the ability to apply personal ethics to a business situation and to “strike an
appropriate balance between idealism and pragmatism” (p. 243). They also emphasize the impor-
tance of motivation or “the moral transformation from a passive attitude with respect to sustain-
ability issues into an active and engaged attitude” (p. 249). This perspective is strongly aligned
with the views of Ferdig (2007), Sekerka and Stimel (2012), Linnenluecke and Griffiths (2010),
and Sinatra et al. (2012) discussed previously in relation to the importance of motivation, moral
emotion, and ethical imperative in sustainability leadership.

Learning and Education for Sustainability Leaders

Sustainability leadership then requires the development of not only cognitive and functional
competencies but also values-oriented competencies that help leaders engage on sustainability
issues. Accordingly, there have been calls for new kinds of education for sustainability, as evi-
denced by the United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainability (2005-2015), and the
tertiary education sector has been the hub of research in this area (see e.g., Barth et al., 2007;
Sipos, Battisti, & Grimm, 2008; Sterling, 2011; Svanström et al., 2008). The education for sus-
tainability literature reports of various pedagogical approaches designed to develop the knowl-
edge, skills, and values required by sustainability leaders, including active and problem-based
learning (MacVaugh & Norton, 2012); authentic problems, learning cycles, shared inquiry,

Haney et al. 159

transdisciplinarity, exploration, and engagement (Hull, Kimmel, Robertson, & Mortimer, 2016);
and encouraging critical and reflective thinking about sustainability paradigms (Stubbs &
Cocklin, 2008). While these and other similar contributions emphasize the importance of per-
sonal values for sustainability, this approach has also been challenged by those who believe that
universities are not the place for the “moral agenda” (Butcher, 2007). This debate aside, the
consensus in this body of work is that education for sustainability requires less of a transfer of
information from educator to student and more of a process of student-centred personal devel-
opment or transformation based on experiential learning (Savage et al., 2015). The ELPs that
are the subject of our research embody similar pedagogical philosophies but are targeted at
business professionals rather than students. In this section, we briefly review two key bodies of
work in the education for sustainability field: “experiential learning” and “transformative learn-
ing.” While neither of these terms has clear and commonly accepted definitions, we see key
aspects of each reflected in the ELPs that are the focus of our research.

“Experiential learning” is often equated with learning that is learner-centred and based on
real-life experience or practical “learning by doing” (e.g., Barth & Michelsen, 2013; Dieleman &
Huisingh, 2006; Gitsham, 2012). Illeris (2007) provides a useful review of the concept of expe-
riential learning, exploring how it can be distinguished from nonexperiential learning. He notes
that while many discussions on the topic refer back to the work of Kolb (1984) and his experien-
tial learning cycle of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and
active experimentation, in fact Kolb himself concluded that all learning is experiential.

Illeris (2007) posits that three dimensions comprise all forms of learning on a spectrum from
nonexperiential to experiential: “the content dimension of knowledge, understandings, skills,
abilities, attitudes and the like, the incentive dimension of emotion, feelings, motivation and voli-
tion, and the social dimension of interaction, communication and cooperation—all of which are
embedded in a societally situated context” (pp. 87-88), arguing that experiential learning occurs
when the three dimensions are in balance. This conceptualization echoes the literature discussed
in the previous section by emphasizing that incentive is as important as the development of skills
and knowledge in learning. Illeris’s content and incentive also have some resonance with
Dieleman and Huisingh (2006)’s comprehension and apprehension, where the former is cogni-
tive (right brain) and the latter involves “the tangible and felt qualities of the immediate situa-
tion” (p. 838) (left brain).

“Transformation” through “transformative learning” is similarly a common theme in the sus-
tainability education literature, where it is argued that it is essential to shift learners from their
current ways of thinking into a new way of seeing the world (Sipos et al., 2008; Sterling, 2011;
Wals & Corcoran, 2006). As discussed in the previous section, particular values, attitudes, moti-
vations, frames, and ethical positions are often argued to be essential to sustainability leadership.
Learning is thus understood not just as the development of competencies “within existing (men-
tal) frameworks, norms, policies and rules” (Tosey, Visser, & Saunders, 2012, p. 292) but as a
process that challenges and ultimately changes these mental frameworks (or frames to use the
language of the previous section), norms, and policies, in a process that has been called “concep-
tual change” (Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993). For example, Argyris and Schön (1996) refer to
single- and double-learning,1 which is analogous to Glasbergen’s distinction between technical
and conceptual learning (Glasbergen, 1996). Others go beyond this dichotomy to distinguish a
broader range of learning types. For example, Sterling (2011) presents a hierarchy of “levels of
knowing” ranging from actions at the simplest level, through ideas/theories, norms/assumptions,
beliefs/values, paradigm/worldview, to metaphysics/cosmology at the most complex, with the
implication that learning can occur in relation to each of these levels. Illeris (2007) argues that
transformation is more likely when learning is experiential.

The notion of transformative learning is usually attributed to Jack Mezirow (e.g., Mezirow,
1990, 1997) who developed the concept over a period of 30 years or more (see Kitchenham, 2008

160 Organization & Environment 33(2)

for a comprehensive review of Mezirow’s work). While it is not always clear that the term trans-
formative learning is used consistently in the sustainability leadership literature or in line with
Mezirow’s conceptualization, the essential argument is that learning for sustainability needs to be
considerably more profound than the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills, involving
changes to attitudes, values, beliefs, and frames (Wals, 2011), and that such transformation can
be facilitated by experiential learning.

The learning literature suggests that transformation is often catalyzed by some form of uncom-
fortable experience: for example, Laws and Rein (2003) refer to “uncertainty and doubt,” Sinclair
and Diduck (2001) to a “disorienting dilemma,” and van der Knaap (1995) to “cognitive disso-
nance.” All of these allude to a process whereby learners somehow find themselves outside their
comfort zone, in a position where their existing mental frameworks and beliefs cannot help in
making sense of the situation, forcing a change at some level of understanding or value system.
This process is the basis of learning models such as Otto Scharmer’s Theory U (Scharmer &
Senge, 2009), whose relevance to sustainability has been explored (van Lawick van Pabst &
Visser, 2012), and is also sometimes conceptualized as “sensemaking” (Maitlis & Christianson,

This process of learning or conceptual change is not a purely cognitive process: The seminal
work of Pintrich et al. (1993) found an important role for motivation interacting with cognition
in this form of learning in the classroom, which has come to be called the “warming trend” within
educational psychology. Other authors have explored the emotional dimension within transfor-
mative learning (Baden & Parkes, 2013; Coleman, 2013). For example, Gitsham (2012, p. 300)
argues, “While cognitive learning approaches are valuable in raising awareness, emotional
arousal through felt experience is crucial in moving from awareness to commitment to change,”
while Sipos et al. (2008) speak of the need to engage the heart as well as the head and hands.


In summary, if we take as a starting point that sustainability leadership calls for the development
of specific competencies that include not only knowledge and skills (cognitive and functional
competencies) but also attitudes, motives, values, and ethics, then ELPs for business leaders may
be an appropriate way to catalyze such learning and facilitate the development of sustainability
leadership. Following Illeris (2007), ELPs should have the content, incentive, and social dimen-
sions in balance to best achieve this goal. In the following section, we introduce four programmes
that aim to support the development of sustainability leaders and that which demonstrate these
characteristics but do not clearly articulate the learning outcomes in the form of sustainability
leadership competencies. We begin by exploring the learning outcomes of the programmes from
the perspectives of participants and organizers. We then explore how different aspects of the
programmes encourage the development of different learning outcomes.


Context and Data Collection

We use two main sources of data for our analysis. First, we conducted interviews with managers
who participated in ELPs for sustainability leadership as well as with some organizers of these
ELPs. We chose two organizations that specialize in providing such programmes for companies,
Leaders’ Quest (LQ) and the U.K. charity Business in the Community (BITC), as well as two
bespoke programmes designed specifically by training providers for multinational companies.
The programmes run by LQ and BITC are the longest running ELPs in the United Kingdom
focused on senior business leaders across multiple organizations. Including participants from

Haney et al. 161

both NGO-led and bespoke programmes allowed us to interview leaders across a range of differ-
ent industries. It also allowed us to look for replication of our results in programmes with differ-
ent types of organizers or, conversely, to challenge some of our findings by comparing results
across the programmes. We focused on senior managers to reduce the effect that hierarchy might
have on our results.

LQ is a social enterprise committed to helping companies integrate social purpose into com-
pany performance. They do this primarily through the delivery of ELPs and have to date worked
with more than 6,000 business leaders. The quests take place over an average of 2 to 3 days but
can be for as long as a week and take place all over the world. In terms of the aims of the pro-
gramme, the LQ website ( states, “We develop wise, compassion-
ate and adept leaders—people who are capable of leading in fast-changing, disrupted environments
with competing priorities and interconnected challenges.”

BITC have two connected programmes with experiential components. BITC’s Seeing is
Believing (SIB) aims, according to their website, to close the gap between the boardroom and the
community by giving senior business leaders a unique experiential learning opportunity: “The
visits are designed to encourage participants to think strategically about the implications for their
own business and the practical actions that can be taken in response, leading to meaningful and
sustained impact for both business and communities” (
princes-seeing-believing/about-programme#Works). More than 8,000 business leaders have par-
ticipated in SIB. The programme consists of a half-day field trip to locations predominantly in
the United Kingdom—for example, prisons, homeless shelters, and inner-city areas. The visits
are led by a CEO already committed to the issue, supported by the SIB team. BITC’s Business
Connectors programme was referenced several times during interviews with participants from
SIB, leading us to extend interviews to participants of Business Connectors as well. The pro-
gramme is aimed at mid-level managers who work on secondment full time within local com-
munities for 12 to 18 months.

In addition, we conducted a further seven interviews with participants and organizers of two
multinationals who have developed bespoke training programmes with strong experiential ele-
ments. The Consumer Goods multinational uses extensive experiential training as a means of
implementing its sustainability initiatives. The Mining multinational has a programme aimed at
senior managers that aims to improve their competencies in engaging with host communities,
that is, the communities that live close to mining areas where the multinational is active.

For the LQ programme, we interviewed the programme director and manager as well as four
programme participants from different industries. For the BITC programmes, we interviewed the
director of SIB and seven programme participants (both SIB and Business Connectors) from dif-
ferent industries. In total, from all four programmes, we conducted 20 interviews. Table 1 pro-
vides an overview of the interviewees for each programme. All of the interviewees had been on
a programme in the previous 12 months, so the experience was relatively recent. The participants
were chosen through snowball sampling, starting with the programme organizers and then pro-
gramme participants. Some of those interviewed also attended the programmes that one of the
authors participated in, which allowed for a combination of interview data and observations.

The interviews were semi-structured and lasted between 45 and 90 minutes. They were con-
ducted between October 2013 and July 2014. The questions focused on asking the participants to
describe their participation in the experiential learning programme, to reflect on what they
learned, and to talk about how they felt during the programme. For programme organizers, the
questions focused on the programme goals and their assessment of the impacts on leaders’ sus-
tainability leadership competencies.

All of …

German Journal of
Human Resource Management

2016, Vol. 30(3-4) 225 –245
© The Author(s) 2016

Reprints and permissions:

DOI: 10.1177/2397002216649855

Ethical leadership’s
potential and boundaries
in organizational change:
A moderated mediation
model of employee silence

Kai C Bormann
TU Dortmund University, Germany

Jens Rowold
TU Dortmund University, Germany

In this present study, we develop a model in which four forms of employee silence (acquiescent,
quiescent, prosocial and opportunistic silence) mediate the relationship between ethical
leadership and affective commitment to change. We argue that ethical leadership lowers all
four forms which in turn influence employees’ commitment to change initiatives. We also
examine the role of politics perceptions and personal change impact as moderators. The
sample consisted of 263 employees from different organizations and occupations in Germany
all facing organizational changes. Our results indicate that ethical leadership lowers only
acquiescent silence, which in turn predicts affective commitment change. However, the effect
diminished with high levels of politics perceptions and high levels of personal change impact.
We discuss implications for theory, future research and organizational practice.

Affective change commitment, employee silence, ethical leadership, politics


In today’s business world, the ability to adapt to change is becoming increasingly
important. With the advancement of globalization and shortened technology life cycles,

Corresponding author:
Kai C Bormann, TU Dortmund University, Center for Higher Education, Hohe Straße 141, D – 44139
Dortmund, Germany.
Email: [email protected]

649855GJH0010.1177/2397002216649855German Journal of Human Resource ManagementBormann and Rowold


226 German Journal of Human Resource Management 30(3-4)

continually developing environments leave an imprint on most organizational lives. How
organizations’ employees perceive those changes and react to them has been found to be
a crucial determinant of change success (Oreg et al., 2011). Due to their influential posi-
tion, much academic attention has been paid to organizational leaders and how they can
guide followers towards attitudes and behaviours that support change initiatives. Only
recently, the role of leadership ethicality was introduced to the change literature (Burnes
and By, 2012; Sharif and Scandura, 2014). Ethical leadership stresses the normative
appropriateness of leadership conduct and the reinforcement of such behaviours among
followers (Brown et al., 2005). Sharif and Scandura (2014) argued that ethical leadership
is especially important in times of organizational change, as ethical leaders increase
employees’ trust and reduce uncertainty. They also showed that ethical leadership fos-
ters organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), job satisfaction and performance in
times of change. While Sharif and Scandura provided preliminary empirical insights,
several avenues for ethical leadership research during change remain uncharted. Most
notably, change literature stresses the importance of applying change-related criteria as
well as providing support for underlying psychological processes (Meyer and Hamilton,
2013; Oreg et al., 2011). Therefore, the present study further develops the application of
ethical leadership through the use of a more change-related criterion, namely affective
commitment to change (ACC) (Herscovitch and Meyer, 2002). Existing research indi-
cates that ACC is a crucial predictor of change success (Meyer and Hamilton, 2013).

In order to elucidate the process of how ethical leadership furthers employees’ ACC,
we explore the role of the emerging construct of employee silence as a potential media-
tor. Employee silence (Knoll and van Dick, 2013) refers to the organizational phenome-
non of withholding concerns and opinions about work-related issues. Employees do so
because of feelings of resignation (Acquiescent Silence), fear (Quiescent Silence), altru-
istic goals (Prosocial Silence) or self-serving goals (Opportunistic Silence). Past research
has shown the organizational relevance of silence. It is, for example, negatively related
to employee well-being and positively related to perceived strain (Knoll and van Dick,
2013). Silence is also of particular importance for understanding barriers to change as it
reduces the potential range of input and critical feedback necessary for change success
(Morrison and Milliken, 2000). While the leadership–voice relationship has been
addressed repeatedly (Avey et al., 2012; Wegge et al., 2010), the effects of (ethical) lead-
ership on different motives of employee silence add a new, unmapped perspective
(Frömmer et al., 2014). Discretionary behaviours such as voice are drivers for change
success (Meyer and Hamilton, 2013). The primary aim of our study is, therefore, to
examine the effect of ethical leadership on ACC through the mediating effect of reducing
employees’ desire to withhold opinions.

The secondary aim of this article is to explore the potential boundaries of ethical
leadership impact. We expect that the proposed indirect effect varies as a function of
organizational climate and individual change impact. Following this rationale, we
develop a model in which politics perceptions (Ferris and Judge, 1991) and the impact
of change initiatives on an individual’s job (Fedor et al., 2006) attenuate the indirect
effect of ethical leadership on ACC based on the shifted focus and cognitive demands
each factor entails. We argue that these factors diminish the potential for ethical leader-
ship behaviour. Figure 1 shows the proposed research model.

Bormann and Rowold 227

This study contributes to existing literature in several ways. For the first time,
employee silence is introduced as the tying link between ethical leadership and follow-
ers’ ACC. This further develops the application of ethical leadership and employee
silence to organizational change. In doing so, we also provide additional support for the
beneficial impact of both leadership and silence on an organization. Furthermore, by
linking ethical leadership to employee silence, this study is one of the first to examine
antecedents of silence. Lastly, by considering potential moderators we add to the grow-
ing but still small body of research on conditions of ethical leadership impact as well as
silence emergence and impact.

Ethical leadership, employee silence and affective change

Ethical leadership, as defined by Brown et al. (2005: 120), is ‘the demonstration
of normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal rela-
tionships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way commu-
nication, reinforcement, and decision-making’. The normative appropriateness of
personal actions and interpersonal relationships refers to leader attributes such as
dependability, honesty and integrity. Exceeding simple altruistic characteristics, an
ethical leader promotes the ethical conduct of followers by, for instance, rewarding
ethical and disciplining inappropriate behaviour. Past research has shown ethical
leadership to be related to a plethora of organizational outcomes (Bedi et al., in press;
Ng and Feldman, 2015).

According to Brown et al. (2005: 120), one beneficial effect of ethical leadership is
that through conveying high moral standards ethical leaders ‘provide followers with
voice’. They involve followers in transparent decision-making and appreciate their opin-
ions. Consequently, different studies found a positive relationship between ethical lead-
ership and measures of employee voice (Avey et al., 2012; Walumbwa and Schaubroeck,
2009). However, there may be instances where employees observe violations of personal
standards (e.g. inefficacy or harassment), but fail to raise these issues. Withholding opin-
ions and concerns is discussed in the literature under the headings of organizational
(Morrison and Milliken, 2000) and, more recently, employee silence (Brinsfield, 2013;
Knoll and van Dick, 2013). For several reasons, employees decide not to invest their
resources in improving organizational procedures. Following the conception by Knoll

Figure 1. Research model.

228 German Journal of Human Resource Management 30(3-4)

and van Dick (2013), we differentiate between four forms. Silence can result from feel-
ings of resignation that an opinion is neither wanted nor valued by superiors (acquiescent
silence). The second form of silence (quiescent silence) refers to protective motives.
Employees withhold their opinions as they fear that speaking up might lead to unpleasant
consequences. Withholding concerns might also occur as a result of prosocial motives
(prosocial silence). Employees remain silent in order to help and benefit others. Lastly,
silence can stem from egoistic motives (opportunistic silence). Employees withhold
opinions and information to serve their own interests by disguising or misleading others.
Despite the fact that there may be a connection between employee silence and voice,
van Dyne et al. (2003) established that both constructs are not polar opposites but dif-
ferent and unique constructs. More precisely, compared to voice, silence provides fewer
behavioural cues and is more ambiguous to observe, its motives are more likely to be
misattributed, and it has more incongruent outcomes. Based on these findings and a
dearth of related studies, we see an inevitable need to expand research on the ethical
leadership–discretionary support relationship with regard to employee silence.

Linking ethical leadership to different forms of employee silence, we draw on social
learning theory (SLT) (Bandura, 1977, 1991) as a theoretical framework. According to
this theory, employees emulate a leader whose behaviour serves as an attractive role
model. Consequently, with regards to an ethical leader, employees receive just and car-
ing treatment and are urged to display responsible and thoughtful behaviours them-
selves. Employees reporting to an ethical leader should, for example, have less incentive
to withhold opinions and concerns out of a feeling of resignation (acquiescent silence).
They enjoy more work-related latitude compared to employees of less ethical leaders
(Piccolo et al., 2010), which should result in them having a certain amount of influence
on workplace practices themselves. Furthermore, they experience fair decision-making
(Brown and Trevino, 2006), which gives rise to the probability that concerns are raised
with the leader in the belief that they will address these issues properly. Besides silence
out of a feeling of resignation, we expect ethical leadership to reduce silence out of fear
of potential consequences (quiescent silence). On the one hand, ethical leaders instil
trust in their followers by strengthening self-efficacy in challenging situations (Ng and
Feldman, 2015). On the other hand, ethical leaders enhance followers’ perceived sense
of accountability: it is everybody’s duty to speak up when violations of personal stand-
ards are observed (Brown et al., 2005). Similarly, we draw on followers’ enhanced sense
of responsibility to propose a negative relationship between ethical leadership and
prosocial silence. Reporting colleagues’ errors might be perceived negatively as a form
of betrayal or whistleblowing. In contrast, ethical leaders strive to do the right thing,
basing actions on higher moral principles. They urge their followers to do the same.
Therefore, we expect followers to be more open to reporting colleagues’ violations of
work-related standards (Schaubroeck et al., 2012). Ethical leaders lower potential
thresholds for breaking prosocial silence as employees are assured that colleagues
whose errors they reveal will be treated with care and not be exposed to excessive pun-
ishment (Brown et al., 2005). With regard to opportunistic silence, we also expect a
buffering effect of ethical leadership. Ethical leaders promote altruistic values at the
workplace and, according to SLT, these motivational patterns trickle down to employ-
ees who also exhibit more altruistic thinking and actions (Schaubroeck et al., 2012).

Bormann and Rowold 229

Accordingly, employees’ motives for remaining silent due to egoistic motives should be
at least partly reduced.

Morrison and Milliken (2000) argued that silence may lead to less effective organiza-
tional change processes due to a reduced range of input and critical feedback. The
intriguing idea about examining motivated non-behaviour such as different forms of
silence is that it sheds light on what wittingly or unwittingly guides individuals in their
decision making. In other words, individuals may have different work-related targets or
foci they relate to in their attitudes and behaviours. Based on the examination of these
motivational patterns we argue that it is also possible to draw inferences about individu-
als’ propensity to be emotionally tied to change initiatives at work. The latter aspect has
been discussed in the literature as a part of commitment to change (Herscovitch and
Meyer, 2002). Based on the three-component model of organizational commitment
(Allen & Meyer, 1990), Herscovitch and Meyer (2002) illustrated that employees
develop different kinds of bonds with change initiatives (affective, normative and con-
tinuance commitment to change). While all three components have been shown to be
unique and relevant to an organization, affective commitment to change has emerged as
the strongest correlate to important change-related outcomes such as discretionary sup-
port and coping with change, and turnover intentions (Cunningham, 2006; Herscovitch
and Meyer, 2002). Affective commitment to change is defined as ‘a desire to provide
support for the change based on a belief in its inherent benefits’ (Herscovitch and Meyer,
2002: 475). Although the four silence motives capture different aspects and do not neces-
sarily coincide (van Dyne et al., 2003), we expect the ‘bottom-line’ effect regarding
affective attitudes towards change initiatives to stay the same. If employees have reason-
able motivation to withhold their opinions regarding work-related issues, their emotional
bond with change initiatives will be weak.

If employees show acquiescent silence, resignation has spread. This may go as far as
giving up on organizations. Past experiences have led employees to conclude that their
opinion is neither wanted nor valued (Knoll and van Dick, 2013). Accordingly, striving
for self-protection may deter employees from investing any further personal resources
for the sake of the organization (Hanisch and Hulin, 1990). However, additional personal
investment would certainly be necessary to overcome change challenges (Meyer and
Hamilton, 2013). Hence, it is very unlikely that employees exhibiting high levels of
acquiescent silence have the willingness to develop emotional ties to change initiatives.
For the relationship between quiescent silence and affective commitment to change, the
motive for self-protection may play an even larger role. When individuals remain silent
out of fear of the consequences, this presents a high degree of self-protective impetus.
Such individuals have the incentive to avoid situations of uncertainty which challenge
the status quo. Change, however, might cause such uncertainty, which again could bring
negative consequences like change of routines or loss of resources. Accordingly, if
employees exhibit quiescent silence it is highly unlikely for them to embrace change and
develop high levels of affective change commitment. Prosocial silence highlights an
individual’s affiliative or cooperative motivation. When individuals fail to report col-
leagues’ negative behaviour they signal that they value affiliation or the maintenance of
social capital over their contribution to organizational goals (Knoll and van Dick, 2013).
We expect that this cue is also important for understanding the emergence of affective

230 German Journal of Human Resource Management 30(3-4)

change commitment. Consequences of change initiatives (such as altered routines of col-
laborating with colleagues) likely collide with an individual’s interest in maintaining
social capital. Accordingly, prosocial motives for (non-)behaviour deter individuals from
developing high levels of affective change commitment. Lastly, remaining silent due to
opportunistic motives signals that an individual places egoistic goals above organiza-
tional ones. Individuals guided by opportunistic motives tend to develop informal ties to
promote their self-centred, hidden agenda (Ferris and Judge, 1991). This includes, for
instance, forming alliances to influence resource or task allocation. Here, change comes
as a threat as established routines and schemes might be broken up. It appears very
unlikely that individuals guided by opportunistic motives will develop emotional ties to
change initiatives. While a psychological tie to change initiatives seems possible when
that change also serves egoistic goals, we argue that such commitment would be more
calculative than emotional (Herscovitch and Meyer, 2002).

In conclusion, we expect ethical leadership to reduce all four silence motives, which
are all detrimental to employees’ affective commitment towards change initiatives.
Given previous findings supporting other mediators with regard to ethical leadership
impact, such as trust in the leader (Ng and Feldman, 2015), we propose partial mediation
with regard to the present study:

Hypothesis 1: Employee silence (1a: acquiescent silence; 1b:, quiescent silence; 1c: prosocial
silence; 1d: opportunistic silence) partially mediates the relationship between ethical leadership
and affective change commitment.

Moderating influences of politics perceptions and personal
change impact

Organizational research indicates that employee attitudes and behaviours are largely
dependent on the social context in which they are embedded (Kuenzi and Schminke,
2009; Rosen et al., 2009). An important aspect of social context is the climate governing
practices, policies and procedures within an organization. These climates can take differ-
ent shapes and affective tones. One such embodiment is the extent of organizational poli-
tics. According to Ferris and Judge (1991), organizational politics include behaviours by
organizational actors that are intended to promote and protect self-interest. A climate of
politics is characterized by behaviours such as forming informal alliances, using power
to influence decision-making, or fostering a personal agenda at the expense of legitimate
organizational goals (Ferris and Judge, 1991; Hochwarter et al., 2003). Past empirical
research has shown that politics perceptions have detrimental effects on employees’ job
satisfaction, commitment, strain and turnover intention (Chang et al., 2009; Miller et al.,
2008). There are preliminary insights that ethical leadership and politics perceptions are
also related constructs (Kacmar et al., 2011, 2013).

We propose that politics perceptions moderate the relationship between ethical leader-
ship and employee silence so that the buffering effect of ethical leadership is disrupted by
high levels and enhanced by low levels of politics perceptions. Organizations character-
ized by self-serving politicking signal to employees that egoistic behaviours (e.g. with-
holding information to protect their own resources or forming informal coalitions) are

Bormann and Rowold 231

encouraged and required for success at work. In such a context, promoting altruistic
behaviours through ethical leadership appears less promising as a means of making
employees speak up as compared to a context where politics are less apparent. Accordingly,
politicking represents an extraneous cognitive demand that impairs the information-
processing act of perceiving leadership (Maurer and Lord, 1991). An environment with
political activity blurs the perceived performance–reward relationship, effectively ques-
tioning the fairness and appropriateness of decision making, which in turn may signal to
employees that management and ethical leaders in particular are not offering proper
levels of guidance (Hochwarter et al., 1999). Ethical leaders may emerge in such a con-
text. However, their potential to reinforce ethical behaviour of followers is likely to be at
least partly overruled by informal structures favouring self-serving and pondering think-
ing. Alternatively, if a working context is characterized by low levels of politics percep-
tions, the opportunity for ethical leaders to influence followers is much more favourable
and less challenging. In sum, we propose the following moderating hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: The indirect effect of ethical leadership on affective change commitment through
reducing employee silence (2a: acquiescent silence; 2b: quiescent silence; 2c: prosocial silence;
2d: opportunistic silence) is moderated by politics perceptions so that the relationship between
ethical leadership and employee silence is weaker when politics perceptions are high, attenuating
the indirect effect.

In environments with high levels of politics perceptions, ethical leaders are unlikely
to promote employees’ affective change commitment through reducing silence motives,
as followers are less amenable to altruistic leader behaviours. Ethical leadership should
be more promising in situations with low levels of politics. However, we argue that this
effect is also contingent on the impact the change initiative has on the individual. More
precisely, we expect that the impact of the change on the individual’s job (Fedor et al.,
2006; Herold et al., 2008) moderates the second stage of our mediation relationship
between ethical leadership, employee silence and ACC so that the relationship between
silence and ACC is weaker when the impact of change is high. We expect silence to
reduce emotional commitment to change initiatives. When an individual is highly
impacted by change he or she faces major challenges (a) to accept the loss of estab-
lished routines and resources that shaped an individual’s social identity, and (b) to
adjust to a new and uncertain environment. In such instances, an individual is focused
on coping with these challenges (Oreg, 2003) and is less capable and less likely to
assist the change by breaking silence on critical matters. In other words, coping with
high-impact change ties available psychological resources and superimposes other
work-related motivational cues such as self-protective, prosocial or self-serving
motives. In line with this rationale, Fedor et al. (2006) showed that employees were
most committed to high levels of change, which they viewed as valuable, only when
the implications for their own jobs were low. In a similar vein, despite the fact that
alternative leadership styles are concerned, the results from Herold et al. (2008) indi-
cate that the significant positive main effects of transformational and change leader-
ship tend to wane when the level of individual change impact increases. Therefore, we
hypothesize the following:

232 German Journal of Human Resource Management 30(3-4)

Hypothesis 3: The magnitude of the indirect effect of ethical leadership on affective change
commitment through reducing employee silence varies by politics perceptions (stage 1) and
change impact for the individual (stage 2) so that the indirect effect is (a) weaker when politics
perceptions are high regardless of the degree of change impact, (b) weaker when politics
perceptions are low and change impact is high, and (c) stronger when both moderators are low.


Participants and procedure

Data for this study were obtained from employees from different organizations in
Germany. Respondents were contacted via email and informed about the research
project. As it was our goal to investigate the leadership process during organizational
change, a prerequisite for respondents to participate was the occurrence of a change
initiative at the time of the enquiry or shortly beforehand. To reduce common method
bias (Podsakoff et al., 2012), the survey was carried out in two waves. In the first
wave, respondents rated their line manager’s leadership behaviour. About two weeks
after the first survey, participants were again contacted and asked to answer a second
questionnaire. This questionnaire covered questions regarding perception of politics,
silence motives, nature of organizational changes, respondents’ affective commitment
to those initiatives and the control variable of cynicism. Responses to both question-
naires were matched using an individualized coding scheme.

The final sample consisted of 263 respondents. Fifty percent of the respondents were
male and the average age was 32 years (SD = 12). The respondents mainly worked in
profit-orientated (73%) organizations. Out of the rated leaders, 73% were male. Nineteen
percent belonged to lower-level management, 43% to middle-, and 38% to upper-level
management. On average the respondents had worked for their immediate leader for
three years (SD = 2), and the majority of respondents (53.1%) spent less than six hours
per week in direct contact with this leader. Reported changes referred to organizational
restructuring (e.g. new team or organizational structure), work processes (e.g. new rou-
tines or clients) and technological advances (e.g. new software).


Ethical leadership. Ethical leadership was captured using Brown and colleagues’ ethical
leadership scale (ELS) (2005) in its German validated version by Rowold and colleagues
(2009). The scale comprises nine items to be answered on a 5-point Likert-type scale
ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A sample item is ‘The leader I
rate listens to what employees have to say’.

Employee silence. For the assessment of the four different silence motives, we used Knoll
and van Dick’s (2013) measure. Each motive of employee silence was captured using
three items (sample item for acquiescent silence: ‘I remained silent at work because
nothing will change anyway’; quiescent silence: ‘I remained silent at work because of
fear of negative consequences’; prosocial silence: ‘I remained silent at work because I do
not want others to get into trouble’; opportunistic silence: ‘I remained silent at work so

Bormann and Rowold 233

as not to give away my knowledge advantage’). A 7-point Likert-type scale was used
ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Affective change commitment. ACC was measured using six items from Herscovitch
and Meyer (2002) in a German version that had been used in previous studies (e.g.
Abrell-Vogel and Rowold, 2014). Sample items included ‘I believe in the value of the
change’ or ‘This change serves an important purpose’. The questionnaire was answered
on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Perceptions of politics. We assessed politics perceptions using a six-item scale developed
by Hochwarter et al. (2003) in a German translation, which was carried out using the
translation–back-translation procedure (Brislin, 1980). Sample items were ‘There is a lot
of self-serving behaviour going on’ and ‘People are working behind the scenes to ensure
that they get their piece of the pie’. A 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) was applied.

Change impact. We captured the impact of change on the individual with a single item
measure based on work by Herold et al. (2008) and Caldwell et al., (2004). Specifically,
we asked employees how the change initiative influenced their daily working routines.
The answering scheme ranged from 1 (not affected at all) to 5 (very strongly affected).

Controls. We controlled for the effects of transformational and transactional leadership
(measured in wave 1), as well as employee cynicism (measured in wave 2) on all mediat-
ing and dependent variables, to rule out an alternative explanation for the results (Bernerth
and Aguinis, 2016). Past research linking transformational and transactional leadership
to change-related attitudes suggests that heightened levels of ACC might also be due to
leaders inspiring followers through a compelling future vision (Abrell-Vogel and Rowold,
2014) or not relying on a contingent reward approach that cannot be maintained through
change (Conway and Monks, 2008). Additionally, both leadership styles have been noted
to show overlaps with ethical leadership (Brown and Trevino, 2006). We measured these
leadership styles using the 26-item Transformational Leadership Inventory (Podsakoff
et al., 1990) in its German validated version (Heinitz and Rowold, 2007; Krüger et al.,
2011) on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly
agree). In addition, we also controlled for effects of …