The Duty to Improve Oneself: How Duty Orientation Mediates the Relationship Between Ethical Leadership and Followers’ Feedback-Seeking and Feedback-Avoiding Behavior

  • Sherry E. Moss
  • Meng SongEmail author
  • Sean T. Hannah
  • Zhen Wang
  • John J. Sumanth
Original Paper


We sought to expand on the concept of the moral self to include not just the duty to develop the moral self but the moral duty to develop the self in both moral and non-moral ways. To do this, we focused on how leaders can promote a climate in which individuals feel a sense of duty to develop themselves for the betterment of the team and organization. In our theoretical model, duty orientation plays a key role in determining whether followers will seek performance feedback to develop their work selves. We hypothesized that followers with ethical leaders would experience a greater sense of duty to improve themselves and would therefore be more likely to seek and less likely to avoid leader feedback. Drawing on social learning theory, we hypothesized that (a) duty orientation would mediate the relationship between ethical leadership and feedback-seeking/feedback-avoiding behavior, (b) expert power would moderate the relationship between ethical leadership and duty orientation such that duty orientation would be higher when followers perceived their leader to be both highly ethical and competent, and (c) expert power would moderate the indirect effect of ethical leadership on feedback-seeking/feedback-avoiding behavior through duty orientation. We tested our hypotheses using a sample of 249 followers across two waves of data collection. Results suggest that ethical leadership and leader competence interact to drive followers’ duty orientation, thereby reducing followers’ feedback-avoiding behaviors. Further, ethical leadership had a direct positive relationship with followers’ feedback-seeking behaviors.


Duty orientation Ethical leadership Feedback avoiding Feedback seeking Expert power Social learning theory Deontic motivation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Sherry E. Moss declares that she has no conflict of interest. Meng Song received research Grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71802013) and The Ministry of Education of Humanities and Social Science Project (Grant No. 17YJC630125). Sean T. Hannah declares that he has no conflict of interest. Zhen Wang declares that he has no conflict of interest. John J. Sumanth declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

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 Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sherry E. Moss
    • 1
  • Meng Song
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sean T. Hannah
    • 1
  • Zhen Wang
    • 3
  • John J. Sumanth
    • 1
  1. 1.Wake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  2. 2.College of Economics and ManagementBeijing University of TechnologyBeijingChina
  3. 3.Business SchoolCentral University of Finance and EconomicsBeijingChina

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