Supporting Creativity or Creative Unethicality? Empowering Leadership and the Role of Performance Pressure

Ke Michael Mai, David T. Welsh, Fuxi Wang, John Bush, Kaifeng Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Organizational leaders are eager to unlock the creative potential of followers. Yet, there is growing evidence that creativity can also have a dark side within organizations. Building on research linking creativity and unethical behavior, we develop the construct of creative unethicality—behavior that is both unethical and novel. We draw on social exchange theory to develop a model that identifies both why and when creative unethicality emerges within organizations. Specifically, we investigate the exchange dynamics through which creative support provided by empowering leaders facilitates creative unethicality under conditions of high performance pressure. Across two multi-wave, multi-source field studies with employee-coworker and leader-subordinate dyads and an experimental study with a novel unethicality measure in a business simulation, we find convergent support for our theoretical model. These findings have important theoretical and practical implications for fostering creativity in organizations without simultaneously facilitating creative unethicality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-131
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Behavioral ethics
  • Creative unethicality
  • Creativity
  • Empowering leadership
  • Performance pressure
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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