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Becoming morally disengaged: how long does it take?

Teresa Almeida (Business Research Unit, ISCTE-Instituto Universitario de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal)
Francisca Abreu (Centre for Social Research and Intervention, ISCTE-Instituto Universitario de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal)
Nelson C. Ramalho (Business Research Unit, ISCTE-Instituto Universitario de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 5 March 2021

Issue publication date: 2 June 2021




Leadership is a time-dependent process and a recent leadership research trend posits a central role of time-based variables. The dyadic tenure plays a keystone role in understanding leader–follower dynamics, especially as regards leader ethics. In line with this, from a social learning theory perspective, the authors propose a model that explains how and when ethical leaders' behaviors influence subordinates' moral disengagement.


With a sample of 220 employees, the present study tests the conditional indirect effect of ethical leadership on followers' moral disengagement via instrumental ethical climate (IEC), using dyadic tenure as the moderator variable. The analyses were conducted with Hayes PROCESS macro.


Results suggested that IEC fully mediates the relationship between ethical leadership and moral disengagement. Thus, when followers perceive low levels of ethical leadership, they notice higher levels of IEC, which is positively related to moral disengagement. However, IEC perception only influences moral disengagement when dyadic tenure approaches the third year.


This paper answers calls to include time-based variables in leadership studies. Hence, using dyadic tenure, this study gives support to previous propositions that were still awaiting empirical test.



Funding: This work was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, grant UIDB/00315/2020.


Almeida, T., Abreu, F. and Ramalho, N.C. (2021), "Becoming morally disengaged: how long does it take?", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 548-563.



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