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Intergenerational Hypocrisy: When an Organization’s Past Erodes Legitimacy
Keywords: hypocrisy, word-deed misalignment, legitimacy, social judgment
Abstract: Leaders whose stated and enacted values do not align (i.e., word-deed misalignment) face condemnation as hypocrites. Yet it is unclear whether organizations should strive to align their words and deeds across time. Unlike individuals, organizations often endure across multiple generations. Does intergenerational word-deed misalignment constitute hypocrisy in the public’s eye? Across two studies we find evidence for an intergenerational hypocrisy effect. Organizations are perceived as hypocritical when their current and former leadership exhibit word-deed misalignment. These hypocrisy judgments are consequential for organization-level and leader-level outcomes. Intergenerational word-deed misalignment predicted perceived hypocrisy in both studies, which, in turn, predicted judgments of lower organizational legitimacy and increased protest intentions (Study 1) and lower leader moral character and higher leader punishment intentions (Study 2). These studies expand the theoretical scope of hypocrisy and have important implications for how leaders and organizations manage their reputations.