Are Authentic Leaders Always Moral? The Role of Machiavellianism in the Relationship Between Authentic Leadership and Morality

Abstract Drawing on cognitive moral development and
moral identity theories, this study empirically examines the
moral antecedents and consequences of authentic leadership.
Machiavellianism, an individual difference variable
relating to the use of the ‘end justifies the means’ principle,
is predicted to affect the link between morality and leadership.
Analyses of multi-source, multi-method data comprised
case studies, simulations, role-playing exercises, and
survey questionnaires were completed by 70 managers in a
large public agency, and provide support for our hypotheses.
Our findings reveal that Machiavellianism offsets the
positive relationship between moral reasoning and
authentic leadership. Specifically, we show that when
Machiavellianism is high, both the positive relationship
between moral reasoning and authentic leadership, and the
positive relationship between authentic leadership and
moral actions, are reversed. This study offers new insights
on the underlying processes contributing to the emergence
of leaders’ authentic behavior and moral action. Implications
for the moral development of leaders, and directions
for improved leadership training are provided.

Introduction
The past decade has seen numerous high-profile scandals in
both the private and public sectors (Detert et al. 2008).
These scandals have prompted observers and analysts to
focus on the characteristics of contemporary business
leaders. The evidence accumulating in relation to these
scandals paints a picture of business and government
leaders who, motivated by self-interest and distrust of
others, display a willingness to employ any means that are
necessary to achieve their self-defined ends (i.e., Machiavellian
behavior). Alongside these accusations, it is commonly
observed that trust and confidence in the ethics of
leaders has declined considerably over recent decades, and
may even be at an all-time low (McKiernan 2012; Mendes
and Wilke 2013). These troubling trends in leadership have
prompted urgent calls from many areas of society for a
‘new’ form of leadership: one that demonstrates consistency
between moral reasoning and moral action.
In this study, we develop and test a framework derived
from Behavioral Ethics Theory (Blasi 1980; Simons 2002) to
understand when moral reasoning processes translate into
moral actions. In doing so, we define moral reasoning as
those individual cognitive processes involved in determining
what is right or wrong in a given situation. This is distinct
from moral action, which can be understood as the behavioral
response arising from rational moral functioning (Blasi 1980). Drawing from Behavioral Integrity Theory (Simons
2002), we propose that leader’s perception of their own
authentic leadership plays an important role in mediating the
moral reasoning and moral action processes. Authentic
leadership fosters a sense of self-awareness, an internalized
moral perspective, balanced processing of information, and
relational transparency (Luthans and Avolio 2003; Walumbwa
et al. 2008). We propose that authentic leadership
behavior mediates the link between moral reasoning and
moral action, as authentic leaders display a close alignment
between their words and deeds. In making such predictions,
however, behavioral integrity is not concerned with the
morality of principles per se, rather it focuses on the perceived
patterns of fit between the espoused principle, priorities,
promises, or values and actual actions (Simons 2002).
Thus, we anticipate identifying and describing an oftenoverlooked
important element pertaining to leaders’ values
and held assumptions about how the world operates.
Given Blasi’s (1980) theorizing that consistency
between moral judgment and behavior could also depend
upon the relative strength of several simultaneous and
conflicting behavioral tendencies such as competition, selfprotection,
and self-promotion, we include Machiavellianism
as a moderator of the relationship of authentic leadership
with moral reasoning and moral action.
Machiavellianism is a view of the world where individuals
may not necessarily be trusted, hence a Machiavellian,
employing ‘ends justifies the means’ beliefs, seek control
over others and status for themselves (Dahling et al. 2009).
As such, Machiavellianism stems from internal beliefs,
values and motivations. Highly Machiavellian individuals
will pursue instrumental goals of power and wealth, and are
inclined to pursue all necessary means to reach their
desired outcomes. Key to the integration of this construct is
the assumption that individuals operate with multiple and
competing goals (Kuhl 1985), which interact with both
one’s reasoning, and one’s willingness to display such
thinking in behaviors.
The purpose of this study, therefore, is to examine the
interacting effects of authentic leadership and Machiavellianism
on the relationship between moral reasoning and
moral action. Specifically, we postulate that moral reasoning
directs individuals’ authentic leadership behavior,
which in turn promotes moral action. We further predict
that the strength of these relationships will be less positive
as individuals’ levels of Machiavellianism increases. By
integrating the aforementioned constructs into an overarching
framework, our study makes three key contributions.
First, leveraging behavioral integrity theory, this
study sheds light on the underlying process by which moral
reasoning leads to moral action. It does so by examining
the role of mediators or moderators in explaining this
relationship. Given the inconclusive link between moral

reasoning and moral action, Blasi (1980, p. 40) called for
further studies focusing on the ‘‘types of motivational
forces [that] lead individuals from judgments to action’’.
Our study addresses this call.
Second, we integrate different streams of research
involving morality, authentic leadership, and Machiavellianism
to understand the intricate links between leadership
and morality. Previous studies have consistently shown
positive effects of authenticity on a number of organizational
and individual outcomes (e.g., Gardner et al. 2011).
However, the notion that authentic leadership will always
lead to morally justifiable actions remains an untested
assumption. Given the presence of competing goals and
interests (Kuhl 1985), testing the interaction of Machiavellianism
and authentic leadership allows us to examine
the previously assumed moral component of authentic
leadership.
Third, this research provides evidence that Machiavellianism
can both cultivate and impede the emergence of
leaders’ authentic behavior and moral action. Few systematic
studies have examined the negative impacts of Machiavellianism
on leadership in organizations, despite its
pertinence to the organizational ethics literature. Many
scholars (e.g., Thomas et al. 2004; Trevinˇo and Brown 2004)
have asserted that ethical management is a key dimension of
effective organizations, and urged future research to consider
factors that affect leaders’ ability to evaluate their
moral judgment and foster moral action. Our research,
extending that of Den Hartog and Belschak’s (2012) on
ethical leaders, provides a more nuanced view of why
authentic leaders may not always display moral actions.We
test this framework using a multi-method sample comprising
a combination of sources and data collection techniques
including cognitive reasoning tests, self-report questionnaires,
and observation (Please see Fig. 1 below).
Construct Definition
Drawing on behavioral integrity theory (Simons 2002), we
propose that authentic leadership behavior mediates the
link between moral reasoning and moral action as authentic
leaders are assumed to be moral, and moral leaders are
assumed to be authentic. Behavioral integrity stresses the
importance of maintaining an alignment between a leader’s
words and deeds, between the espoused principles or values
and actual actions (Simons 2002). On this basis, we
hypothesize that authentic leaders would display an alignment
between their moral reasoning and moral action.
While authentic leadership and behavioral integrity have
been examined within the same broad category of positive
organizational behavior and found to predict similar measures
of follower performance, the two constructs are

distinct (Leroy et al. 2012). First, authentic leadership is by and large an inward-focused perception that one remains true to oneself whereas behavioral integrity is outwardfocused as it is largely dependent on others’ perceptions of one’s word-deed consistency (Leroy et al. 2012). More relevant to our discussion, behavioral integrity is an amoral construct, whereas authentic leadership is a moral construct (Avolio and Gardner 2005). In this study, we employ behavioral integrity as a theoretical explanation of the role of authentic leadership in linking moral reasoning and moral action. To that end, we contend that the following three constructs in our study (i.e., moral reasoning, internalized moral perspective, and moral action) are independent and distinct from one another. Moral reasoning refers to the implicit rationale used to justify one’s decisions or actions if in a moral dilemma (Kohlberg 1984). It shows the real subtext beneath one’s chosen course of action (e.g., I help my colleague because I might need their help in the future, rather than because it is a social norm or it is right to do so). Moral action is a behavioral manifestation, verbal or non-verbal, that one undertakes on the basis of moral deliberation. The difference between moral reasoning and moral action is analogous to the difference between implicit theory and theoryin- use. Internalized moral perspective, a component of authentic leadership, signifies a self-perception of the extent to which one’s decisions and actions are aligned with one’s core values and ethical standards (e.g., whether or not one makes decisions based on one’s core beliefs) (Walumbwa et al. 2008). Dahling et al. (2009) describe Machiavellianism, which we include in our model as a moderator, as stemming from internal beliefs, values and motivations. While it includes an observable dimension (i.e., amoral manipulation), those who are highly Machiavellians do not constantly and actively engage in amoral manipulation. They tend to be very adaptive, and if they perceive that doing so will accelerate their goals and interests, may engage in proorganizational behaviors in a friendly and cooperative manner. As such, Machiavellianism speaks to the means one chooses to achieve something. Therefore, consistent with prior research (Dahling et al. 2009) we conceptualize Machiavellianism as an individual difference variable that functions as an instrumental value: that the end justifies the means. Authentic leadership, on the other hand, is examined as a self-perception of leadership behavior that fosters a sense of self-concordance centered on internally authentic choices, rather than externally imposed standards or duties. Authentic leaders are motivated by an internal commitment to an overarching self-concept. As such, citing an item from the internal moral perspective dimension of authentic leadership, someone who makes a decision that is inconsistent with their beliefs is inauthentic, but may not necessarily be Machiavellian. On the other hand, to cite an item from the amoral dimension of Machiavellianism, someone who believes that the only good reason to talk to others is to get information that they can use to their benefit is Machiavellian, but not necessarily inauthentic. This difference can be observed in the following illustration. Authentic virtue encompassed by an internal moral perspective may manifest in a commitment to the growth and development of children through sport or education. Someone high in Machiavellianism who seeks control and displays amoral motivation may be willing to go to great lengths to achieve this end. As a consequence they would not hesitate to support endeavors that may be seen as questionable by others (e.g., allowing fast-food companies or ‘fizzy’ drink manufacturers to sponsor sporting events, despite the negative effects these products have on child obesity and health) in order to achieve their ultimate goal of promoting children’s sport. Cases such as this represent a widespread social issue underpinned by authentic drives (e.g., sport and education as a means of child development), which may be challenged or re-configured by the instrumental values of administrators (in this example, Machiavellian values). As morality is embedded in the theoretical construct of authentic leadership, in this study we neither perceive nor treat authentic leadership as an impression management tactic. Rather, we focus on the subtle role of Machiavellianism in altering the propensity of authentic leaders to be influenced by moral reasoning and, in turn, to influence moral action. While we acknowledge that it is seemingly impossible to be Machiavellian and authentic at the same time, Machiavellianism and Authentic Leadership are not polarities of one continuum varying from immoral to moral. Instead, we contend that they are independent constructs, each varying from low to high. We elaborate on this position in the hypotheses development sections below. Moral Reasoning, Machiavellianism, and Authentic Leadership Moral reasoning relates to the way individuals perceive what is right or wrong in a specific situation. Thus, moral reasoning empowers individuals to make sense of and integrate moral values, thereby improving their capacity to undertake moral decisions and actions (Kohlberg 1969; Piaget and Gabain 1966). Since authentic leaders are aware of their own thoughts and actions, are adept at judging ethically ambiguous issues from multiple angles, and are consistent in their disclosure and enactment of personal values, motives, and sentiments (Walumbwa et al. 2008), it is logical to expect a positive relationship between authentic leadership and moral reasoning. Kohlberg’s (1981, 1984) moral reasoning theory offers three levels of cognitive moral development (Rest 1994): pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Individuals operating within the pre-conventional level are characterized by reward-seeking and the avoidance of punishment, which accentuate an egoistic orientation. Those operating within the conventional level use social expectations, norms, and rules as guidance to determine whether behavior is right or wrong. Finally, individuals operating within the post-conventional level emphasize the common good and refer to internalized universal values to guide their actions. Post-conventional moral individuals may criticize and behave against rules or laws that do not serve a universal principle such as human dignity or justice. The key point of Kohlberg’s (1969) theories is that one’s moral decisions and actions are determined by one’s level of moral reasoning. Turner et al. (2002) argue that leaders with more sophisticated moral reasoning (i.e., post-conventional reasoning) are likely to consider moral judgment in their behavior. Moral identity theorists (Aquino and Reed 2002; Lapsey and Lasky 2001) maintain that being responsive to the needs and interests of others is a key motivator for individuals whose moral identity is important to them. We subscribe to this perspective, and contend that moral reasoning gives leaders an internal moral awareness with which they can evaluate the impact of their decisions. This enables them to process these decisions more thoroughly and transparently by taking the concerns and interests of others into consideration. For these reasons, we anticipate that moral reasoning will be an important antecedent of authentic leadership behavior. While individuals with a stronger moral identity tend to display normative behavior (c.f., Eisenberg 2000; Gilligan 1982), we surmise that moral reasoning can be tempered by the extent to which one subscribes to Machiavellian values and dispositions. Prior research suggests that as a personality trait, Machiavellianism is likely to play a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s point of view and behavior (Belschak et al. 2013). Granted, it may sound oxymoronic to have sophisticated moral reasoning processes yet simultaneously hold Machiavellian dispositions. However, we contend that such a pattern is possible because there is a fundamental difference between the two, and individuals can and do possess competing action tendencies. Moral reasoning is a cognitive capacity to guide one’s chosen course of action (Kohlberg 1981, 1984). It does not gauge the strength of one’s actual moral position, rather the level at which one is capable of cognitively reasoning while maintaining a moral point of view. The Parable of the Sadhu data, from which we obtained participants’ score on moral reasoning in this study, indicates the reasoning behind their decision to save or not to leave the Sadhu. Specifically, if a participant is on the highest stage of moral reasoning (i.e., Stage 6), they may choose to save the Sadhu because it is their personal conviction that the principle of the sanctity of life demands they save the Sadhu regardless of the consequences. However, the same participant may choose to leave the Sadhu because their personal conviction upholds the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, which prevents them from risking their group members’ life or even their own to save one unknown and so potentially untrustworthy person. The probability of acting on one’s moral reasoning capacity, we suggest, can easily be affected by a Machiavellian value orientation. For example, the principle of the sanctity of life could run counter to the tendency to distrust others. The participant may be driven by a moral obligation to save the Sadhu, knowing that the Sadhu’s life is precious like every other life, but the fear of being manipulated by the Sadhu whom they thought might have manufactured the entire situation could temper their self-perception of authentic leadership behavior. Given the simultaneous presence of conflicting behavioral tendencies such as competitive pressure and self- 128 S. Sendjaya et al. 123 protection, even a leader with sophisticated moral reasoning may also have self-serving tendencies (e.g., ‘I need to look out for me, otherwise who will?’, ‘I wonder whether the Sadhu really is who he purports to be and whether I should risk mine or the groups’ lives for someone who is potentially untrustworthy’) (Blasi 1980). However, we believe the extent to which contextual variables, such as scarcity of resources and competitive pressures, will affect leaders with higher-level moral reasoning, in effect influencing their moral beliefs which hinge upon their Machiavellian tendencies. Contextual variables in and of themselves are unlikely to engender such effects in the absence of Machiavellianism. A person scoring low on Machiavellianism, on the other hand, emphasizes fairness, honesty, and compassion as visible demonstrations of their concern for the basic rights of others. Given that Machiavellianism can over-ride individuals’ moral commitment, we hypothesize that leaders characterized by higher levels of moral reasoning and lower levels of Machiavellianism are more likely to display authentic leadership behavior than leaders scoring high on Machiavellianism. We therefore posit the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 1 Leader moral reasoning will be positively associated with authentic leadership, and this relationship will be more positive for leaders lower in Machiavellianism than leaders higher in Machiavellianism. Authentic Leadership, Machiavellianism, and Moral Action The moral potential of authentic leadership has long captured the interests of scholars (Bass and Steidmeier 1999; Howell and Avolio 1992; Kanungo and Mendonc¸a 1998). As authentic leaders have a clear, internalized moral perspective and engage in balanced decision making, they clearly possess the capacity to take moral-driven action. Their focus on transparency means they are likely to openly communicate their moral values to followers, which in combination with their persistence in displaying high moral standards, would result in accountably-sound moral conduct (Walumbwa et al. 2008). Thus we anticipate authentic leadership will be related to higher moral action. However, leaders’ instrumental motivation plays an important role in determining the extent to which leadership intentions eventuate into action. Specifically, Machiavellianism as an instrumental value might temper such a relationship primarily because individuals have multiple, and often competing, motivational goals (i.e., Competing Action Tendencies Theory) (Kuhl 1985). As such, there will inherently be a tension between Machiavellian or selfserving drives and authentic aims to implement one’s moral values. In order to get their job and keep it, executives need to be seen as trustworthy, moral and honest, while on the other hand, many would not be executives if they did not also protect their own interests. Although executives’ dominant motivational tendency may be authentic leadership, they may resort to their Machiavellianism to preserve their status and acquire additional powers. A more poignant example can be seen in the story of a Somaly Mam, a courageous campaigner against sex trafficking who raised millions and became one of the most influential exponents and effective organisers in her cause. Yet, evidence is emerging of her willingness to use questionable means to achieve these ends, including fabricating her own and other victims’ stories. This example evidences the tension between being authentic to a cause one values, and weighing up different approaches where, given the inaction of the developed world, even amoral methods appear necessary. The key assumption here is that people do not have a single motivational tendency or goal—they have a multitude. A Machiavellian motivation would undermine the otherwise positive link between authentic leadership and moral action. We therefore predict that authentic leadership and Machiavellianism will interact to affect leaders’ moral action, forming the basis for the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2 Authentic leadership behavior will be positively associated with moral action, and this relationship will be more positive for leaders lower in Machiavellianism than leaders higher in Machiavellianism. The Interacting Effect of Authentic Leadership and Machiavellianism So far, we have argued that leaders’ moral reasoning could impede authentic leadership, particularly when Machiavellianism is high (Hypothesis 1), and that authentic leadership will not enhance moral action when Machiavellianism is high (Hypothesis 2). To complete our study, we examine authentic leadership behavior as a mechanism through which leaders’ moral reasoning produces moral action and the potential moderating effect of Machiavellianism. In so doing, we extend previous research examining the degree to which higher levels of moral reasoning influence ethical behavior (e.g., Ponemon 1992; Ponemon and Gabhart 1990) and moral action (Blasi 1980). As previously highlighted, authentic leaders stay true to themselves, adhering to an internal set of principles they possess and profess. On the basis of behavioral integrity theory (Simons 2002), authentic leaders are likely to follow through their commitment to cognitive moral reasoning, thereby mediating the gap between word (moral reasoning) Are Authentic Leaders Always Moral? protection, even a leader with sophisticated moral reasoning may also have self-serving tendencies (e.g., ‘I need to look out for me, otherwise who will?’, ‘I wonder whether the Sadhu really is who he purports to be and whether I should risk mine or the groups’ lives for someone who is potentially untrustworthy’) (Blasi 1980). However, we believe the extent to which contextual variables, such as scarcity of resources and competitive pressures, will affect leaders with higher-level moral reasoning, in effect influencing their moral beliefs which hinge upon their Machiavellian tendencies. Contextual variables in and of themselves are unlikely to engender such effects in the absence of Machiavellianism. A person scoring low on Machiavellianism, on the other hand, emphasizes fairness, honesty, and compassion as visible demonstrations of their concern for the basic rights of others. Given that Machiavellianism can over-ride individuals’ moral commitment, we hypothesize that leaders characterized by higher levels of moral reasoning and lower levels of Machiavellianism are more likely to display authentic leadership behavior than leaders scoring high on Machiavellianism. We therefore posit the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 1 Leader moral reasoning will be positively associated with authentic leadership, and this relationship will be more positive for leaders lower in Machiavellianism than leaders higher in Machiavellianism. Authentic Leadership, Machiavellianism, and Moral Action The moral potential of authentic leadership has long captured the interests of scholars (Bass and Steidmeier 1999; Howell and Avolio 1992; Kanungo and Mendonc¸a 1998). As authentic leaders have a clear, internalized moral perspective and engage in balanced decision making, they clearly possess the capacity to take moral-driven action. Their focus on transparency means they are likely to openly communicate their moral values to followers, which in combination with their persistence in displaying high moral standards, would result in accountably-sound moral conduct (Walumbwa et al. 2008). Thus we anticipate authentic leadership will be related to higher moral action. However, leaders’ instrumental motivation plays an important role in determining the extent to which leadership intentions eventuate into action. Specifically, Machiavellianism as an instrumental value might temper such a relationship primarily because individuals have multiple, and often competing, motivational goals (i.e., Competing Action Tendencies Theory) (Kuhl 1985). As such, there will inherently be a tension between Machiavellian or selfserving drives and authentic aims to implement one’s moral values. In order to get their job and keep it, executives need to be seen as trustworthy, moral and honest, while on the other hand, many would not be executives if they did not also protect their own interests. Although executives’ dominant motivational tendency may be authentic leadership, they may resort to their Machiavellianism to preserve their status and acquire additional powers. A more poignant example can be seen in the story of a Somaly Mam, a courageous campaigner against sex trafficking who raised millions and became one of the most influential exponents and effective organisers in her cause. Yet, evidence is emerging of her willingness to use questionable means to achieve these ends, including fabricating her own and other victims’ stories. This example evidences the tension between being authentic to a cause one values, and weighing up different approaches where, given the inaction of the developed world, even amoral methods appear necessary. The key assumption here is that people do not have a single motivational tendency or goal—they have a multitude. A Machiavellian motivation would undermine the otherwise positive link between authentic leadership and moral action. We therefore predict that authentic leadership and Machiavellianism will interact to affect leaders’ moral action, forming the basis for the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2 Authentic leadership behavior will be positively associated with moral action, and this relationship will be more positive for leaders lower in Machiavellianism than leaders higher in Machiavellianism. The Interacting Effect of Authentic Leadership and Machiavellianism So far, we have argued that leaders’ moral reasoning could impede authentic leadership, particularly when Machiavellianism is high (Hypothesis 1), and that authentic leadership will not enhance moral action when Machiavellianism is high (Hypothesis 2). To complete our study, we examine authentic leadership behavior as a mechanism through which leaders’ moral reasoning produces moral action and the potential moderating effect of Machiavellianism. In so doing, we extend previous research examining the degree to which higher levels of moral reasoning influence ethical behavior (e.g., Ponemon 1992; Ponemon and Gabhart 1990) and moral action (Blasi 1980). As previously highlighted, authentic leaders stay true to themselves, adhering to an internal set of principles they possess and profess. On the basis of behavioral integrity theory (Simons 2002), authentic leaders are likely to follow through their commitment to cognitive moral reasoning, thereby mediating the gap between word (moral reasoning) and deed (moral action). However, it is possible to have a perception that one is authentic while subscribing to an instrumental value that is Machiavellian. This is primarily true because authenticity is in the eye of the beholder; it is possible for a leader to think they are authentic, while others think otherwise (as reflected in the self-report data of authentic leadership in our study). Similarly, Den Hartog and Belschak (2012) conclude that Machiavellianism is a set of privately-held norms and values that cannot be easily gauged by others. Thus, one who chooses to engage others only if this engagement would benefit them could make this choice while being consistent with their belief that it is morally justifiable to do so. In this scenario, the individual’s means to maximize their profit does not violate their internal commitment to stay true to their self-concept. Den Hartog and Belschak’s (2012) work found that when leaders are high as opposed to low on Machiavellianism, the positive effects of ethical leadership behavior on work engagement are suppressed. Applying a similar logic, we could argue that Machiavellians are also able to act out authentic behaviors to profit from the motivational effects of such leadership. In summary, given the difference between Machiavellianism as a value-laden belief and Authentic Leadership as a perception of leadership behavior, it is therefore possible for someone to score highly on both authentic leadership and Machiavellianism. We thus propose the final hypothesis: Hypothesis 3 The relationship between leader’s moral reasoning and moral action is mediated by leader authentic leadership behavior, and this indirect relationship is stronger for lower levels of Machiavellianism than for higher levels of Machiavellianism. Method Sample and Procedure The sample comprised 70 managers (28 females and 42 males) of a large public organization in Australia, representative of the full range of divisions and skill sets within the organization. Participants took part in a research-based leadership assessment and development program delivered in collaboration with the organization. The aim of the program was twofold: (a) to identify those with high leadership potential and ethical standards, and (b) to equip selected participants with the leadership competencies pertinent to authentic leadership. Thus, the program provided a unique opportunity to obtain far more intensive multi-source, multi-method data from each of the participating leaders than prior research in this domain (Tonkin 2013; Wong and Cummings 2004). After gaining permission from senior management, the research team delivered multiple in-house training workshops. Data were gathered during the training program via surveys and case studies with the participants’ consent, and participants were assured of anonymity and confidentiality. Data were collected from two different sources. Participants’ moral reasoning and values were gathered with selfreport measures of moral reasoning, Machiavellianism, and authentic leadership. Control variables (i.e., self-monitoring, social desirability, and demographics data) were also measured in this way. Participants’ moral action was evaluated comprehensively, using multiple approaches via a focus group discussion, a simulation, and a role-playing exercise. In addition to participants’ written and oral responses, observations were undertaken by two welltrained assessors (from the research team and the organization’s HR department). This design minimizes the biases that commonly occur in single data source designs. The majority of participants were aged 31–40 years old (52.90 %) and 41–50 (28.60 %). Around 50 % reported that they had completed a postgraduate degree and 40 % had at least a bachelor degree. The average participants’ work tenure was just over 2 years. Measures In order to evaluate and assure the clarity of study measures and the effectiveness of our study design, prior to the training program a pilot test was conducted on three staff from the organization’s HR department and two doctoral students (excluded from the final analyses). As a result, minor changes to the experimentation protocol were made, primarily in the instructions on the survey, to reduce potential misinterpretation and response bias. Moral Reasoning We used the classic ‘The Parable of the Sadhu’ case study (McCoy 1997) for evaluating individual moral reasoning. The case is a robust tool to evaluate moral reasoning since it incorporates multiple variables in the reasoning and decision processes, such as individual and group goals, and idealism–relativism dimensions. This case study is frequently used in academic settings for discussions on the value of moral reasoning and has been used in other published research (e.g., McCracken et al. 1998). The case study tells the story of Bowen McCoy (a managing director of Morgan Stanley Company at that time) and his colleagues who went to Nepal for a mountain climbing expedition to the Himalayan Mountains. They came across a dying Sadhu, (i.e., holy man in Nepal) lying on the road to the summit. They decided to give little assistance to the Sadhu, left him where he was, and then continued the expedition. In hindsight, McCoy ponders the dilemma that he and other climbers had at that time i.e., whether morally they should have done more for the Sadhu, such as carrying him down to a place where he could receive proper treatment even if it meant canceling the expedition. Participants were given 20 min to read the case and were then asked to respond to the following question, ‘‘If you were McCoy, should you leave the Sadhu where he was? Why or why not?’’ Participants’ written responses (qualitative data) were categorized into one of the six stages of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development (Kohlberg 1984). Individuals’ level of moral of reasoning was rated using a six-point scale ranging from 1 (low in moral reasoning) to 6 (high in moral reasoning) where an ‘Obedience and punishment’ orientation scored 1 and a ‘Universal ethical principles’ orientation scored 6. To minimize bias in judgment, two doctoral candidates, without prior knowledge of the hypotheses, were trained on the coding scheme and techniques to ensure a high level of inter-rater agreement. Machiavellianism This study also employed 16 items from the Machiavellianism Personality Scale (MPS) developed by Dahling et al. (2009) to evaluate the participants’ level of Machiavellianism. Participants rated items on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree). The items covered four dimensions: (a) amorality e.g., I am willing to be unethical if I believe it will help me succeed; (b) desire for status e.g., Accumulating wealth is an important goal for me; (c) desire for control e.g., I enjoy having control over other people; and (d) distrust of others e.g., Other people are always planning ways to take advantage of the situation at my expense. We averaged participants’ ratings on these four dimensions to create a Machiavellianism score. The scale’s reliability was .82. Authentic Leadership Sixteen items of the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ; Walumbwa et al. 2008) were adapted to assess authentic leadership behavior on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). A number of studies found high levels of validity for this scale (e.g., Walumbwa et al. 2010). The items cover four aspects: (a) self-awareness e.g., I understand how specific actions impact others; (b) transparency e.g., I tell others the hard truth; (c) ethical/moral e.g., I make difficult decisions based on high standards of ethical conduct; and (d) balanced processing e.g., I listen carefully to different points of view before coming to conclusions. Following earlier studies (Walumbwa et al. 2010), participants’ responses were averaged into an authentic leadership score. The scale’s reliability was .82. Moral Action A focus group discussion, a simulation, and a role-playing exercise were conducted as part of the leadership training program and were collectively used to assess the overall moral action potential. Our main focus was to observe participants’ arguments, reasons, and non-verbal behaviors (e.g., the tone of voice, facial expressions, body gestures, and emotional expressions) as they were confronted with a moral dilemma in a number of team contexts and scenarios. Their verbal and non-verbal reactions in each of the three exercises, described below, were recorded and scored to obtain individual scores of moral action. We developed a three-point scale ranging from 1 (below average), 2 (average), and 3 (above average). A rating of below average indicates a relatively low level of moral action, thus individuals in this category need further development; while a rating of above average indicates relatively high moral action, with little need of further development of this attribute. Focus Group Discussion A focus group discussion (FGD) was conducted and facilitated by one of the research team members. Building on ‘The Parable of the Sadhu’ case study (McCoy 1997), participants were asked to individually respond to the following question. Research indicates that in the absence of clearly articulated organizational ethical values, individual ethical values play a prominent role in guiding us through ethical dilemmas. Often we feel that our individual values are in conflict with the ambiguous ethical values that the organization espouses. In such a scenario, it is best for us not to compromise our sense of personal values. Granted we cannot quit our jobs over every ethical dilemma, but if we knowingly violate our core values persistently, we would in the end wonder who is the person we are becoming. As such, rather than acting for the best interest of the organization in which we work, we should always be thinking more thoroughly and carefully about the situation at hand to reach the maximum benefit for the majority of the stakeholders involved, even if it means going against organizational values. Please explain the extent to which you agree or disagree with this statement, and outline the reasons behind your response. In this activity, we were interested in how participants (i.e., managers) choose and justify their actions if placed in this particular moral dilemma. During the FGD, the facilitator interjected with probing comments and questions to clarify and challenge each participant’s moral position. As participants took moral stands and defended their views against one another, the facilitator personalized the situation by citing an example of an ethical dilemma that participants found themselves in (i.e., telling half-truths, offering bribes, etc.). The FDG thus became a debate with some participants expressing very strong views to justify their positions. At least two assessors observed each participant’s behaviors during the FDG, noting their nonverbal cues and oral comments, including: the reasoning behind their moral position, the manner with which they asserted their view, the way they treated those who were opposing them, and so on. Simulation The Harvard Business School’s leadership and team simulation called Everest V2 was used to assess participants’ moral action. The activity simulates a climbing expedition of a five-member team who set out to scale the summit of Mount Everest. During the expedition a series of problem-solving and decision-making challenges confront the five team members who were each assigned a different role (i.e., as a leader, a physician, a marathoner, an environmentalist, and a photographer). In the simulation, each participant was given resources, information (e.g., health, weather, food supplies) and instructions that his or her team must process effectively for each critical decision surrounding the timing and execution of hiking to successive camps in their ascent to the summit. In each of the six time-limited scenarios, participants could assess their information, and if willing, share and process it with their team members. Unbeknownst to the team, however, each member was assigned a personal agenda that appeared in their monitor screen early in the simulation, thereby pitting the team’s goal against their personal goal. For example, deciding whether to conceal important information that could (a) jeopardize other participants’ capacity to survive; or (b) advance one’s personal interests. Seven observers, who were fully briefed on the different information and opposing interests of team members, noted participants’ tactics, reasoning, and non-verbal behaviors as they made decisions and solved problems in a team context. Two assessors observed each participant’s behaviors during the simulation. Role-Playing Exercise Drawing from university experts in government and based on political and psychological analysis of various government crises locally and internationally, the research team constructed a role-playing exercise to examine participants’ responses to such crises. To simulate a real-world work situation, we conducted a role-playing exercise in which a researcher with a prior senior government appointment and political experience took the role of their agency’s Minister. The Minister addressed the participants in a direct, patronizing, and antagonistic manner regarding a negative newspaper headline detailing the extensive bullying occurring in the leaders’ department. The minister demanded staff members, in groups of ten, devise emergency action plans to address both the public relations crisis and the bullying within the organization within 15 min. The level of stress felt among the staff members was quite visible as they worked under time pressure. Each group subsequently presented their action plan to the minister. During the presentations, the minister cross-examined each group with direct questions in an abrasive tone and encouraged other groups to critique the plan. The entire role-play allowed observers to catch a glimpse of the participants’ actual selves as they would be in a similarly stressful real-life work setting. At least two assessors observed each participant’s behaviors during the role-play exercise, noting facial expressions, voice characteristics, gestures, and body movements. Self-monitoring Lennox and Wolfe’s (1984) 13 items of self-monitoring were used in this study as one of the control variables. This scale uses a 6-point Likert scale (1 = certainly always false, 6 = certainly always true). The items cover two dimensions: (a) self-presentation (e.g., Once I know what the situation calls for, it’s easy for me to regulate my actions accordingly); and (b) sensitivity (e.g., If someone is lying to me, I usually know it at once from the person’s manner of expression). The average score was used to create the measure of individual self-monitoring. The internal consistency of this scale was .71. Social Desirability Bias The ten items of Crowne and Marlowe’s (1960) shortversion scale were included in our surveys. This 5-point Likert scale social desirability (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) served as a control variable. The items comprise two main dimensions: (a) self-deception (e.g., When I don’t know something, I don’t at all mind admitting it); and (b) impression management (e.g., I sometimes try to get even, rather than to forgive and forget (reversescored item)). The internal consistency of this scale was .65. Demographic Data Earlier research indicates gender (e.g., Gilligan 1982), age (Rest 1994), and education level (Trevin˜o 1986) affect moral reasoning, although some studies reject these claims

Table 1 Means, standard deviations, and correlations among study variables
Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

  1. Gender 0.61 0.49 –
  2. Age 2.40 0.76 .15 –
  3. Education 1.39 0.67 -.02 .13 –
  4. Working experience (in month) 61.52 52.90 .19 .29* -.08 –
  5. Tenure (in month) 25.01 23.80 .02 .28* .02 .35** –
  6. Social desirability 3.49 0.51 .04 .01 -.01 .18 .12 (.65)
  7. Self-monitoring 4.48 0.47 -.16 -.26* .01 -.33** .01 .09 (.71)
  8. Moral reasoning 4.03 1.36 -.04 -.10 .08 -.09 -.16 .14 .05 –
  9. Authentic leadership 4.22 0.32 .02 .06 .07 .04 -.07 .31* .36** .13 (.82)
  10. Machiavellianism 2.57 0.65 .22 .01 -.14 .11 .02 -.36** -.05 -.21 -.17 (.82)
  11. Moral action 1.81 0.68 .10 -.09 -.10 -.24* -.05 .04 -.02 .04 .07 -.08 –
    N = 70 managerial-level employees. Reliability coefficients are reported along the diagonal
     p.10; * p.05; ** p.01

(e.g., Jaffee and Hyde 2000). Following prior leadership
studies (e.g., Schaubroeck et al. 2011), we included
working experience and organizational tenure in our control
variables. Demographic variables were categorically
coded (1 for ‘male’ and 0 for ‘female’; 30 years of age or
under, 31–40, 41–50, 51–60 years, and over 60 years of
age).
Results
Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, reliability
coefficients, and zero order correlations among all measures.
Because leader moral reasoning and leader Machiavellianism
were correlated, we used variance inflation
factor (VIF) to test for potential multicollinearity. As the
VIF as 1.05 and thus did not exceed the 10.00 cut-off value
suggested by Stevens (1992), multicollinearity was deemed
not to be a serious concern for the analyses.
To test the main and interaction effects postulated in our
hypotheses, we employed ordinary least square (OLS)
regression including simple slope and slope differences for
significance tests. We followed Aiken and West’s (1991)
suggestions to identify conditional effects, represented by
the mean, one standard deviation above the mean (highlevel),
and one below the mean (low-level). Two-way
interactions were plotted for clearer interpretation. Social
desirability, self-monitoring, and demographic data were
used as control variables.
Table 2 presents the results of the regression analysis
examining the hypothesized relationship between moral
reasoning and authentic leadership and the moderating role
of Machiavellianism (Hypothesis 1). The expected relationship
between leader moral reasoning and authentic
leadership only appears when the leader’s Machiavellianism

Table 2 Regressions results for moral reasoning x Machiavellianism
Variable Dependent variable: authentic leadership
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
B SE B SE B SE
Controls
Gender -.04 .08 -.04 .08 -.04 .08
Age .09 .05 .09 .06 .10 .05
Education .04 .06 .03 .06 .04 .06
Working experience .00* .00 .00* .00 .00* .00
Tenure .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
Self-monitoring .34** .09 .34** .09 .39** .09
Social desirability .16* .07 .15 .09 .13 .08
Main effects
Moral reasoning (a) .02 .04 .02 .04
Machiavellianism (b) .00 .04 .01 .04
Two way interaction
a 9 b -.09* .05
Adjusted R2 .24 .21 .26
DR2 .34** .00 .06*
DF 3.45 .07

N = 70 managerial-level employees
 p.10; * p.05; ** p.01

score is taken into account. Further examination of the plots
of a two-way graphical interaction (see Fig. 2) reveals the
reason; the relationship switches from positive when
Machiavellianism is low, to negative when Machiavellianism
is high. To verify this interaction, we performed tests of
simple slope and the slope differences for significance
(Aiken and West 1991), which picked points of high- (i.e.,
one standard deviation above the mean) and low-levels (i.e.,
one standard deviation below the mean) of Machiavellianism.
Results indicated that the influence of moral reasoning

Fig. 2 Interaction plot moral reasoning 9 Machiavellianism
Fig. 3 Interaction plot authentic leadership 9 Machiavellianism

Table 3 Regressions results for authentic leadership 9
Machiavellianism
Variable Dependent variable: moral action
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
B SE B SE B SE
Controls
Gender .16 .19 .16 .20 .23 .20
Age -.01 .12 -.01 .13 -.03 .13
Education -.14 .14 -.14 .14 -.10 .14
Working experience .00 .00 .00 .00 .00 .00
Tenure -.01** .00 -.01** .00 -.01** .00
Social desirability .16 .18 .16 .21 .21 .21
Main effects
Authentic leadership
(a)
.00 .10 -.01 .10
Machiavellianism
(b)
-.01 .10 .03 .10
Two way interaction
a 9 b -.16 .09
Adjusted R2 .04 .01 .05
DR2 .15 .00 .05
DF 1.45 .00 3.10
N = 70 managerial -level employees
p.10; * p.05; ** p.01

on authentic leadership in low Machiavellianism was significant
and positive (t = 1.70, p.10), whereas in high
Machiavellianism the influence was significant and negative
(t = 1.66, p.10). Analyses showed that as predicted in
Hypothesis 1, moral reasoning interacts with Machiavellianism
to influence authentic leadership, accounting for an
additional 6 % of the variance (p.05).

Table 3 presents the results of the regression analysis,
allowing examination of the hypothesized relationship
between authentic leadership and moral action, and the
moderating role of Machiavellianism (Hypothesis 2). The
expected relationship between authentic leadership and
moral action only appears when the leader’s Machiavellianism
score is taken into account. Examination of the
plots of a two-way graphical interaction (see Fig. 3) reveals
that the relationship between authentic leadership and
moral action switches from positive when Machiavellianism
is low to negative when Machiavellianism is high. To
verify this interaction, we performed tests again using
Aiken and West’s (1991) high- and low-level cutoffs
(Aiken and West 1991). Results indicated that, when
Machiavellianism was low, the influence of authentic
leadership on moral action was significant and positive,
(t = 2.34, p.05) and when Machiavellianism was high,
it was significant and negative (t = 4.12, p.01). Analyses
showed that as predicted in Hypothesis 2, authentic
leadership interacts with Machiavellianism to influence
moral action, accounting for an additional 5 % of the
variance (p.10).
The slopes in the moderation model indicate the moderating
effect of Machiavellianism (Mach) on the relationship
between moral reasoning and authentic leadership
(i.e., Hypothesis 1; Fig. 2) rather than the main effect
influence of Mach. Similarly, in Hypothesis 2 (Fig. 3) the
slopes in the model show the moderating effect of Mach on
the relationship between authentic leadership and moral
action rather than the main effect influence of Mach.
Notwithstanding the moderation plot, the direction of
interactions between (a) moral reasoning and Machiavellianism
on authentic leadership; and (b) authentic leadership
and Machiavellianism on moral actions, both clearly

Table 4 Conditional indirect effect of moral reasoning on moral
action through authentic leadership behavior at different levels of
Machiavellianism
Conditions Indirect effect
estimate
Boot SE BC 95 % CI
Boot LLCI Boot ULCI
Low .06 .08 -.04 .10
Mean .01 .02 -.03 .05
High .01 .04 -.05 .03
N = 70 managerial -level employees. Controlling for gender, age,
education, working experience, tenure, and self-monitoring, and
social desirability. 5,000 Bootstrapping resamples
SE standard error, Low one standard deviation below the mean value
of Machiavellianism, Mean mean value of Machiavellianism, and
High one standard deviation above the mean value of
Machiavellianism

decreased when leaders demonstrated high Machiavellianism
rather than when they did low Machiavellianism.
To complete our investigation, we also explored the
possibility of conditional indirect effects, following the
procedure outlined by Preacher et al. (2007). Hypothesis 3
predicted a moderated mediation effect such that the
indirect relationship between moral reasoning and moral
action through authentic leadership will be influenced by
and individual’s level of Machiavellianism. Results of the
conditional indirect effects test are depicted in Table 4. As
shown, the results indicate that the conditional indirect
effects of moral reasoning on moral action (through
authentic leadership) did not reach statistical significance at
either the low or high levels of Machiavellianism. Considering
the effects of Machiavellianism, the conditional
indirect relationship was not significant at one standard
deviation below the mean (Indirect effect = .06, Boot
SE = .08) or at one standard deviation above the mean
value of Machiavellianism (Indirect effect = .01, Boot
SE = .04). Furthermore, conditional indirect effects analysis
at low and high Machiavellianism (Boot Lower limit:
-.04, Boot Upper limit: .10 and Boot Lower limit: -.05,
Boot Upper limit: .03, respectively) were not significant,
indicated by the 95 % confidence limit containing zero.
The results therefore failed to support Hypothesis 3.
Discussion
This study examines the interacting influence of authentic
leadership and Machiavellianism on the relationship
between moral reasoning and moral action. Using selfrated,
observational, and cognitive reasoning data, we
modeled the effects of Machiavellianism and found that it
reverses the positive effects of both moral reasoning on

authentic leadership and authentic leadership on moral
actions. While our analyses yielded some unexpected
findings, namely the absence of a direct relationship
between moral reasoning and authentic leadership, and an
absence of a direct relationship between authentic leadership
and moral action, the significant results of our moderated
regressions (Hypotheses 1 and 2) demonstrate that
Machiavellianism is a moderating variable, which influencing
the strength and direction of the aforementioned
relationships. Several theoretical contributions and managerial
implications outlined below are therefore warranted.
The absence of a direct relationship between moral
reasoning and moral action through leaders’ authentic
behavior might explain why some leaders who are generally
well adept at moral reasoning still engage in counterproductive
or unethical behavior (e.g., bullying, lying)
irrespective of how authentic they perceive themselves to
be or other people think they are. This is concerning,
because it is the gap between leaders’ moral reasoning and
moral action which has led to numerous corporate scandals,
and it remains unaddressed. Prior research showed that
higher levels of moral motivation are positively related to
higher levels of perceived performance (Christie et al.
2003). Such level of performance, however, will eventually
be unsustainable or even toxic in the absence of a safeguard
to ensure that moral motivation or reasoning leads to moral
action. Another possible reason for the unexpected nonmediated
relationship is the way moral action is measured
in the study. While both our data collection and analyses
were drawn from focus group discussions, simulations, and
role-playing exercises, and are rigorous and cutting-edge,
we surmise that the study might yield a different result if a
survey questionnaire to measure moral action were
employed. Therefore, further studies are warranted to shed
more light on this moral reasoning-action discrepancy.
The main contribution of our study lies in the role of
Machiavellianism. Given the scarcity of empirical research
on authentic leadership and morality, our findings suggest
that Machiavellianism is germane to understanding ratings
of authentic leadership and moral action. We found that the
level of Machiavellianism has a significant reversing effect
on the relationship between moral reasoning and authentic
leadership, such that it becomes negative when Machiavellianism
is high. This finding suggests that someone with
high moral efficacy and courage will turn into an authentic
leader only if they are low on Machiavellianism. This
boundary condition also makes sense in within-person
analysis. If we consider that everyone has the potential to
be self-serving, that impulse tends to dominate us in the
presence of external stimuli (e.g., moral courage might
jeopardize our career). As such, someone who scores high
on Machiavellianism would tend to be pragmatic in compromising
or jettisoning their ethical beliefs and principles

It is important to note that the dissonance lies in the leader,
rather than in the followers.
Similarly we found the Machiavellian effect had the
same inversion pattern on the link between authentic
leadership and moral action, corroborating prior study
which reported that high Machiavellianism would lead to
both unethical intentions and acts (Tang and Liu 2012).
That is to say, just because a leader is perceived to be
authentic, it does not necessarily mean that they will
engage in moral action—at least not consistently. While it
is claimed that authentic leaders will rely more on internal
cues rather than external pressure because of their secure
sense of self (Gardner et al. 2005), our research finding
confirms that no leader can totally rid the tendency to
employ every means necessary in preserving their interest
in certain extraordinary circumstances, where the conflicting
demands of teams, their organization, and society
clash with the leader’s core beliefs and values. We are not
alone in making this claim. Den Hartog and Belschak’s
(2012) work in the Journal of Business Ethics found that
the positive effects of ethical leadership behavior on work
engagement are suppressed when leaders are comparatively
high on Machiavellianism. More importantly, this
study in combination with our own illustrates that individuals’
competing tendencies to advance moral and ethical
leadership theories afford a more nuanced and accurate
view of how these behaviors play out in the world.
In summary, building on the aforementioned distinction
among moral reasoning, internalized moral perspective,
and moral action, our finding confirmed our theory that, in
the presence of the right stimuli, imposed or otherwise, one
could score high on both authenticity and Machiavellianism.
As an illustrative purpose, Mother Teresa who won
Nobel Peace Prize for her authentic moral courage and
tenacity to live and work among the poorest of the poor
received cash donations of more than $1.25 million and
frequent access to a private jet from a convicted embezzler,
Charles Keating, in the 1908s (Padilla et al. 2007). Following
Keating’s conviction of his role in the Savings and
Loan multi-million dollar scandal, she refused to return the
money and wrote a letter on behalf of Keating to the judge
pleading for leniency. While we can only speculate whether
or not the money has been spent on charity or other
related expenses, at the point when Mother Teresa used
morally ambiguous means to justify the noble cause of
helping the less fortunate (i.e., behaving in a Machiavellian
manner) she exemplified authentic yet Machiavellian
behavior. We do not imply that she invoked the same
value-orientation to describe both authentic leadership
(other-serving) and Machiavellian (self-serving) behavior,
however it seems more likely that when it comes to charity
for the poor, she deeply believed the source of money was,
at this time, subservient to her cause. Thus, she acted in

accordance to her core belief (which made her authentic)
despite employing a morally ambiguous means to achieve
that end (which made her Machiavellian). It should be
noted that, while receiving funds from tainted sources
might constitute an anomalous action for Mother Teresa,
one would be hard pressed to say the same for those in the
corporate settings who claim or are perceived to be
authentic leaders.
Our findings also contribute to a recent discourse on
leadership integrity. Bauman (2013) argues that integrity
can be understood in terms of identity-conferring commitments
to moral, immoral, or personal values. Leaders
with identify-conferring commitments to personal values
might elevate their personal value to the status of a moral
value, and engage in morally dubious actions. On the basis
of this distinction, we deduce that Machiavellianism would
turn authentic leaders with personal leadership integrity to
shift their moral commitment. This is at least theoretically
possible, since authentic leadership, and in particular its
internalized moral perspective dimension, is based on the
understanding that it reflects leaders’ internal moral standards
and values, rather than external pressures from within
and outside the organizations (Hannah et al. 2011). Taken
at face value, this theorizing of internalized moral perspective
may not necessarily fit the substantive leadership
integrity that Bauman (2013) developed. Our finding
implies that the presence of Machiavellianism may trigger
a strong impulse in authentic leaders to adhere to their
personal values, which they now treat as their moral conscience,
such that it results in morally ambiguous actions.
As such, this finding corroborates Leroy et al.’s (2012)
study that authentic leadership is theoretically relevant but
distinct from behavioral integrity. Future studies should
further examine these two constructs to ascertain their
discriminant validity, and test contextual factors that would
help or hinder authentic leaders to show behavioral
integrity.
In a broader context, our findings add substance to the
renewed understanding that leadership is not always a force
for good. Research on destructive leadership highlights the
importance of considering three of its interrelating components,
namely leaders, followers, and context (Padilla
et al. 2007). Our study suggests the Machiavellian tendency
within authentic leaders might be triggered and
perpetuated by susceptible followers, a corrupt context or
both. This dynamic is worth studying further to better
understand the moral derailment of authentic leaders.
Alternatively, perhaps by corroborating Shaw et al.’s
(2011) study, the Machiavellian tendency might be part of
the negative social, psychological, and psychosomatic
effects that turn authentic leaders into morally dysfunctional
ones. This is also an area of ripe for further investigation,
particularly since little is known about when and

how Machiavellianism impacts performance at the organizational,
team, and individual levels (Schyns and Schilling
2012).
In addition, our focus on managerial leadership is particularly
significant as it addresses an important gap.
Although corporate governance specialists have sought to
tackle competing financial and social demands at the board
level (e.g., as evidenced by corporate social responsibility
frameworks), scant attention has been paid to these issues
at the executive level. This is a concern, as ethical and
unethical practices have been found to pervade all organizational
levels (Detert et al. 2008). Managers play a focal
role enacting the values and strategic directives of management,
and so create a unique shared experience of
organizational policies that are interpreted by employees as
‘‘the way things operate’’ in an organization (Seibert et al.
2004).
Needless to say, our findings suggest that organizations
should actively recruit and select leaders who possess low
Machiavellianism. The exercises employed in this study
can be adapted for recruitment or assessment purposes to
gauge not only the moral values or stages of the moral
development of the leaders, but more importantly the
likelihood their morality will withstand external pressures.
Organizations would benefit from leadership training programs
that focus on raising awareness of and build moral
efficacy and courage, as the exercise of authority and
power always entails ethical challenges (Hollander 1995).
The more exposed a leader is to various ethical challenges,
the smaller the gap between moral reasoning and moral
action would potentially be. As such, the occurrence of
destructive leadership in organizations is minimized. Such
a program would not concern itself primarily with eliminating
risk factors for destructive leaders, as it would with
the development of holistically healthy leaders encompassing
the rational, emotional, ethical, spiritual elements
of the leader (Quick et al. 2007).
Although study participants came from diverse divisions
and departments, and a single organization offers the
advantage of controlling for differences in organizational
culture, we highlight that our results were drawn from a
relatively small sample of 70 managers. In doing so, we
also recognize the strong and significant support for two
out of our three hypotheses. More importantly, the use of
multiple methods and intensive and in-depth data collection
techniques provides a template for future research.
Such a multi-method approach provides a much more
powerful way than survey methods alone, allows greater
confidence in researching complex ethical and moral
decisions, which can only be partially gleaned by standardized
questionnaires. We highlight the need for studies
to combine tasks that allow observations of participants in

real-life settings that contain relevant and mixed-motive
challenges, as well as an assessment of the sophistication
participant’s interpretation of these events. Doing more
comprehensive research provides a critical addition and
rigor to processes in a growing industry of development
tools, which are espoused and implemented by management
consultancy firms globally. Moreover, future
research, comprising a larger sample size, multiple organizations,
and a balanced gender proportion would further
support the generalizability of these findings. Although this
study revealed the significant effect of Machiavellianism, it
has not captured other factors which may explain why
authentic leaders are not always moral. Future research
should include additional variables that are both external
and group-level that may have an adverse effect on individual
moral beliefs (e.g., limitation of resources and
competitive pressure).
Since the present study relies mainly on cross-sectional
surveys in its design, any causal relationships may not be
definitive or inferred. While self-reported data could
provide credibility to participants who may have a better
understanding about themselves, and thus provide more
accurate evaluations, results could still be biased. Individuals
may have a propensity to view themselves as
moral, and thus be likely to inflate their self-ratings of
moral reasoning and authentic leadership behavior. While
we acknowledge a priori the plausible presence of social
desirability effects associated with the self-report data
obtained from the authentic leadership measure, gathering
self-report data allows us to study whether leaders see
themselves as authentic and if they are being influenced
by Machiavellian self-serving values. Such leaders would
be aware of and transparent about their own leadership
drives, and even enjoy using their skills to weigh up
complex decisions yet may ultimately be self-serving in
their motivations, all the while striving to gain control
over others and working ruthlessly to achieve their own
goals of wealth and status. To minimize this potential
bias, we controlled for participants’ social desirability and
self-monitoring in the analysis. More importantly, the
outcome variable (i.e., leaders’ moral action) was assessed
from a three distinct data sources (i.e., a case study,
business simulation, and a role-play) and by others (i.e.,
behavioral assessors). This design ensured we gained
more comprehensive and comparatively unbiased information
regarding participants’ tendency for moral action.
In other words, the results of Hypothesis 2 in particular
are not affected by common rater bias because the raters
who assessed authentic leadership and Machiavellianism
are different from those who assessed moral action. This
strengthens the conclusions that can be derived from the
results.

how Machiavellianism impacts performance at the organizational,
team, and individual levels (Schyns and Schilling
2012).
In addition, our focus on managerial leadership is particularly
significant as it addresses an important gap.
Although corporate governance specialists have sought to
tackle competing financial and social demands at the board
level (e.g., as evidenced by corporate social responsibility
frameworks), scant attention has been paid to these issues
at the executive level. This is a concern, as ethical and
unethical practices have been found to pervade all organizational
levels (Detert et al. 2008). Managers play a focal
role enacting the values and strategic directives of management,
and so create a unique shared experience of
organizational policies that are interpreted by employees as
‘‘the way things operate’’ in an organization (Seibert et al.
2004).
Needless to say, our findings suggest that organizations
should actively recruit and select leaders who possess low
Machiavellianism. The exercises employed in this study
can be adapted for recruitment or assessment purposes to
gauge not only the moral values or stages of the moral
development of the leaders, but more importantly the
likelihood their morality will withstand external pressures.
Organizations would benefit from leadership training programs
that focus on raising awareness of and build moral
efficacy and courage, as the exercise of authority and
power always entails ethical challenges (Hollander 1995).
The more exposed a leader is to various ethical challenges,
the smaller the gap between moral reasoning and moral
action would potentially be. As such, the occurrence of
destructive leadership in organizations is minimized. Such
a program would not concern itself primarily with eliminating
risk factors for destructive leaders, as it would with
the development of holistically healthy leaders encompassing
the rational, emotional, ethical, spiritual elements
of the leader (Quick et al. 2007).
Although study participants came from diverse divisions
and departments, and a single organization offers the
advantage of controlling for differences in organizational
culture, we highlight that our results were drawn from a
relatively small sample of 70 managers. In doing so, we
also recognize the strong and significant support for two
out of our three hypotheses. More importantly, the use of
multiple methods and intensive and in-depth data collection
techniques provides a template for future research.
Such a multi-method approach provides a much more
powerful way than survey methods alone, allows greater
confidence in researching complex ethical and moral
decisions, which can only be partially gleaned by standardized
questionnaires. We highlight the need for studies
to combine tasks that allow observations of participants in

real-life settings that contain relevant and mixed-motive
challenges, as well as an assessment of the sophistication
participant’s interpretation of these events. Doing more
comprehensive research provides a critical addition and
rigor to processes in a growing industry of development
tools, which are espoused and implemented by management
consultancy firms globally. Moreover, future
research, comprising a larger sample size, multiple organizations,
and a balanced gender proportion would further
support the generalizability of these findings. Although this
study revealed the significant effect of Machiavellianism, it
has not captured other factors which may explain why
authentic leaders are not always moral. Future research
should include additional variables that are both external
and group-level that may have an adverse effect on individual
moral beliefs (e.g., limitation of resources and
competitive pressure).
Since the present study relies mainly on cross-sectional
surveys in its design, any causal relationships may not be
definitive or inferred. While self-reported data could
provide credibility to participants who may have a better
understanding about themselves, and thus provide more
accurate evaluations, results could still be biased. Individuals
may have a propensity to view themselves as
moral, and thus be likely to inflate their self-ratings of
moral reasoning and authentic leadership behavior. While
we acknowledge a priori the plausible presence of social
desirability effects associated with the self-report data
obtained from the authentic leadership measure, gathering
self-report data allows us to study whether leaders see
themselves as authentic and if they are being influenced
by Machiavellian self-serving values. Such leaders would
be aware of and transparent about their own leadership
drives, and even enjoy using their skills to weigh up
complex decisions yet may ultimately be self-serving in
their motivations, all the while striving to gain control
over others and working ruthlessly to achieve their own
goals of wealth and status. To minimize this potential
bias, we controlled for participants’ social desirability and
self-monitoring in the analysis. More importantly, the
outcome variable (i.e., leaders’ moral action) was assessed
from a three distinct data sources (i.e., a case study,
business simulation, and a role-play) and by others (i.e.,
behavioral assessors). This design ensured we gained
more comprehensive and comparatively unbiased information
regarding participants’ tendency for moral action.
In other words, the results of Hypothesis 2 in particular
are not affected by common rater bias because the raters
who assessed authentic leadership and Machiavellianism
are different from those who assessed moral action. This
strengthens the conclusions that can be derived from the
results.

Conclusions
The theory and evidence presented in this study expands
previous efforts to show the significance of authentic
leadership as conceptualized by Walumbwa et al. (2008)
through examining its moral antecedents (i.e., moral reasoning),
outcomes (i.e., moral action), and its interaction
with Machiavellianism. Our findings suggest that moral
reasoning does not independently predict the extent to
which leaders view themselves as authentic leaders.
Rather, moral reasoning interacts with low Machiavellianism
to produce higher authentic leadership behavior.
Our findings also suggest that authentic leadership appears
to promote leaders’ moral action when it is influenced by
the characteristics associated with lower Machiavellianism
(i.e., higher orientation toward others’ needs and interests).
Further, our findings indicate Machiavellianism plays a
critical role in the type of leadership behavior likely to
emerge from moral reasoning, as well as the likelihood of
moral action flowing from authentic leadership. As such, it
warrants attention in future ethical and authentic leadership
studies. Finally, this research underscores the need for
leadership development programs to target moral capacity
and courage in the midst of the Machiavellian tendency to
advance oneself.

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