IACM 2022 Abstract Book »
Intergenerational Abusive Supervision: How Leader Attributions Perpetuate Abusive Leadership
Abusive supervision is associated with a number of adverse individual and institutional outcomes—for the abuser, the abused, and their organization. Yet, abusive leadership seems to persist from one generation of leaders to another. In this work, we offer an intergenerational account of abusive supervision by proposing that the attributions subordinates make about their leaders’ abusive behaviors—whether they ascribe these behaviors to self- or other-oriented intentions—further perpetuate the cycle of abusive leadership. Across three studies including a multiphase field study (one pre-registered and one in SI), we find that subordinates who perceive the abusive leader’s behavior to genuinely benefit the subordinate (performance promotion) rather than to enact harm (injury initiation) not only morally license their leaders’ abuse, but also endorse similar leadership style for themselves. By reframing actions of abusive leaders as benevolent, our work explains how the cycle of abusive leadership persists.