Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 154, Issue 1, pp 181–193 | Cite as

Who Follows the Unethical Leader? The Association Between Followers’ Personal Characteristics and Intentions to Comply in Committing Organizational Fraud

  • Eric N. JohnsonEmail author
  • Linda A. Kidwell
  • D. Jordan Lowe
  • Philip M. J. Reckers
Original Paper


The role of followers in financial statement fraud has not been widely examined, even though these frauds typically involve collusion between followers and destructive leaders. In a study with 140 MBA students in the role of followers, we examined whether two follower personality traits were associated with behavioral intentions to comply with the demands of an unethical chief executive officer (CEO) to be complicit in committing financial statement fraud. These personality traits are (1) self-sacrificing self-enhancement (SSSE), a form of maladaptive narcissism characterized by seemingly altruistic behaviors that are actually intended to boost self-esteem and (2) proactivity, a trait characterized by behaviors reflecting efforts to positively change one’s environment. As predicted, follower SSSE was positively associated with follower behavioral intentions to comply with CEO pressure to commit fraud, while follower proactivity was negatively associated with fraud compliance intentions. Also as predicted, follower SSSE interacted with follower proactivity, such that followers high in SSSE and high (low) in proactivity reported greater intentions to resist (comply with) pressure from the unethical CEO to commit fraud compared to low-SSSE followers. Implications for future research and corporate governance are discussed.


Unethical leaders Susceptible followers Self-sacrificing self-enhancement Proactivity Financial statement fraud 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric N. Johnson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Linda A. Kidwell
    • 2
  • D. Jordan Lowe
    • 3
  • Philip M. J. Reckers
    • 3
  1. 1.University of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA
  3. 3.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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