Breaking the Cycle: The Effects of Role Model Performance and Ideal Leadership Self-Concepts on Abusive Supervision Spillover

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Building on identity theories and social learning theory, we test the notion that new leaders will model the abusive behaviors of their superiors only under certain conditions. Specifically, we hypothesize that new leaders will model abusive supervisory behaviors when (a) abusive superiors are perceived to be competent, based on the performance of their teams and (b) new leaders’ ideal leadership self-concepts are high on tyranny or low on sensitivity. Results of an experiment in which we manipulated abusive supervisory behaviors using a professional actor, and created a role change where 93 individuals moved from team member to team leader role, generally support our hypotheses. We found the strongest association between abuse exposure and new leader abuse under conditions where the abusive superior’s team performed well and the new team leaders’ self-concepts showed low concern for others.

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