A fine line or a world of difference?
Abusive Supervision and Exploitative Leadership in Light of Justice Perceptions and Trust
Author: Anouk Pascale Bonke
Student number: 13283383
Date of submission: 25-06-2021
University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics and Business
MSc Business Administration – Leadership and Management
EBEC approval number: EC 20210606100638
Supervisor: Dr. Armin Pircher Verdorfer
Statement of originality
This document is written by Anouk Pascale Bonke who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document.
I declare that the text and the work presented in this document is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
The Faculty of Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
Table of contents
Statement of Originality ... 1
Abstract ... 6
1. Introduction ... 7
2. Theoretical framework ... 11
2.1 Destructive leadership: abusive supervision and exploitative leadership ... 11
2.2 Trust ... 12
2.3 Destructive leadership and trust ... 13
2.3.1 Abusive supervision ... 13
2.3.2 Exploitative leadership ... 14
2.4 The mediation role of different justice perceptions ... 17
2.4.1 Procedural justice ... 18
2.4.2 Distributive justice ... 18
2.4.3 Interactional justice ... 19
3. Method ... 22
3.1 Sample ... 22
3.2 Data collection ... 23
3.3 Measures ... 23
3.4 Analytical strategy ... 26
4. Results ... 27
4.1 Correlation matrix ... 27
4.2 Direct effects ... 30
4.3 Mediating effects ... 31
4.3.1 Abusive supervision and interactional justice ... 31
4.3.2 Exploitative leadership and distributive justice ... 34
4.3.3 Differential analysis ... 37
5. Discussion ... 39
5.1 Abusive supervision and trust ... 39
5.2 Exploitative leadership and trust ... 40
5.3 Abusive supervision and exploitative leadership ... 42
5.3.1 Differential effects ... 42
5.4 Practical implications ... 43
5.5 Implications for future research ... 44
5.6 Limitations ... 45
6. Conclusion ... 47
References ... 49
List of tables
Table 1. Cronbach’s Alpha ... 26
Table 2. Overall means, standard deviations, and correlations ... 29
Table 3. Hierarchical regression analysis of trust ... 31
Table 4. Mediation analysis: ABS, IJ & Trust ... 33
Table 5. Effects mediation analysis ABS, IJ & Trust ... 33
Table 6. Mediation analysis: EXP, DJ & Trust ... 36
Table 7. Effects mediation analysis EXP, DJ & Trust ... 36
List of figures
Figure 1. Research model ... 21 Figure 2. Path model ABS, IJ & Trust ... 34 Figure 3. Path model EXP, DJ & Trust ... 37
While destructive leadership has been well developed over the past decade, there are still some newer concepts in need of further development. One of these is exploitative leadership. This research aims to investigate its underlying mechanisms in comparison with one of the most
established concepts in the field: abusive supervision. Their effects were analysed in relation to trust followers have in their leader, with justice perceptions as a framework. Specifically, the mediating effects of distributive justice and interactional justice were investigated within the relationship between abusive supervision and trust, as well as between exploitative leadership and trust. The research was conducted using quantitative methods by distributing a survey among 100 Dutch participants who were working for a supervisor at the time the research was conducted. The findings showed a negative relationship between exploitative leadership and trust, as well as a mediation effect of both distributive justice and interactional justice. The relationship between abusive supervision and trust was not significant except for when it was mediated by interactional justice. The mediating effects of distributive justice were small but significant for exploitative leadership, and the effects of interactional justice were stronger for abusive supervision than for exploitative leadership. These results show that both abusive supervision and exploitative leadership are harmful for trust, as well as the fact that perceptions of justice predict their relationship. While the effects were smaller for exploitative leadership, they were more often significant than for abusive supervision, which suggests exploitative leadership may have a wider scope of harmful effects within organisations. The
implications of the results and the directions for future research are discussed.
Key words: abusive supervision, exploitative leadership, justice perceptions, trust.
The concept of destructive leadership is not new in organisational research, and has gained much popularity over the years (Tepper et al., 2017). It is safe to say that its most agreed-upon definitions, which are based on thorough research since the emergence of the concept of abusive supervision (see Tepper, 2000), state that it has detrimental effects on the followers (Schmid et al., 2018) and also the organisation (Krasikova et al., 2013; Thoroughgood et al., 2012). The most
researched form of destructive leadership is most likely abusive supervision, which is characterised by evident displays of verbal and/or non-verbal hostility by the leader directed towards followers
(Tepper, 2000). A newer concept to the field of destructive leadership is exploitative leadership, which is not always perceived as openly hostile as abusive supervision (Schmid et al., 2018). It refers to the self-interested behaviour of a leader, who will exploit his or her followers to benefit him or herself (Schmid et al., 2019). Destructive leadership in general has been found to be a common problem in many organisations (Aasland et al., 2010; Erickson et al., 2015). The fact that destructive leadership behaviour appears to increase over time is reason for concern (Erickson et al., 2015).
Because of this, research on its underlying mechanisms has been of great importance to detect and prevent any leaders from having detrimental effects on their followers or the organisation they work for (Tepper et al., 2017).
Should any form of destructive leadership be neglected in an organisation, this can have serious consequences for a series of aspects. For example, it could potentially harm the organisational culture because leaders set an example to their followers with their detrimental behaviour (Schyns &
Schilling, 2013). Social learning theory posits those followers may acquire certain behaviours through such examples (Bandura, 1973), thereby creating a culture in which destructive leadership behaviours are encouraged. It also harms the development of other employees within the organisation (Tepper, 2007). Abusive supervisors, for example, may do so by belittling subordinates or ridiculing them instead of constructively addressing how they can improve their work (Tepper, 2000). Exploitative leaders, on the other hand, may manipulate a situation or a subordinate in order to benefit themselves, which may come at the cost of that subordinate’s development or career (Eby et al., 2006), sometimes
8 because those leaders feel threatened by the idea that their position might be taken over by their followers sooner or later (Williams, 2014).
In any case, abusive supervision and exploitative leadership are two concepts very similar to each other. Previous research shows that they are highly correlated (Schmid et al., 2018; Schmid et al., 2019). Because of this, it is important to uncover if and where the differences in each concept lie in order to determine whether they are relevant for managing that leader’s productivity (Tepper et al., 2017). Especially since exploitative leadership is still in the early stages of theoretical development, it becomes relevant to further investigate its underlying mechanisms and outcomes in order to be able to compare them with those of abusive supervision.
An important and elemental outcome not only in leadership behaviours, but in social relationships in general, is trust (Golembiewski & McConkie, 1975). Trust is about the positive expectations of someone’s behaviour or outcomes (Hosmer, 1995), which is why it is closely connected to the relationship between leader and follower and how their relationship is established.
Duffy and Ferrier (2003) found empirical evidence for the negative relationship between abusive supervision and the trust followers had in their leader. In turn, an important measure of trust for followers is the perceived level of justice displayed by the leader (Fortin, 2008). Schyns and Schilling (2013) also suggest that perceived injustice by followers may serve as an explanation for the
emergence of destructive leadership. This is because followers use justice perceptions to make assumptions about the trustworthiness of their leaders (Tepper et al., 2007). So while abusive supervision and trust are well established concepts within academic research, it is still relevant to continue the investigation of unique mechanisms that have a significant impact on leader morality, which in turn influence their effectiveness (Lemoine et al., 2019).
Justice in an organisational context can be subdivided into distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice (Camps et al., 2012). These three concepts can be interpreted from the perspective of the organisation or the supervisor (Park et al., 2019). However, justice perceptions usually emerge from how a supervisor is perceived (Mackey et al., 2019), which is why the supervisory perspective is more relevant for uncovering the underlying mechanisms of abusive
9 supervision and exploitative leadership. The theoretical framework will delve deeper into the
necessity for these distinctions, and more importantly how they relate to abusive supervision and exploitative leadership in this research.
Schmid et al. (2019) have argued that research should focus more on the follower perspective when it comes to destructive leadership. Therefore, this research sampled the necessary data from the population of individuals who are, at the time of this research, working for a supervisor.
In light of the need for more research on destructive leadership in organisations, this research aims to uncover the importance of distinguishing between abusive supervision and exploitative leadership. Supervisory justice will serve as a framework to analyse the possible differences between the two types of leadership, which will explain whether there is a need for distinction between the two concepts. Justice perceptions serves as an adequate framework as it is a core element in the
development of destructive leader behaviour (Tepper, 2000) that can provide helpful distinctions between different destructive leadership constructs. Such a distinction can be crucial for organisations in order to determine whether the differences prove to be useful in dealing with abusive supervisors and exploitative leaders, or whether they are simply redundant. The research argues that the effects of abusive supervision on trust are mediated by perceptions of interactional injustice, in which these may influence the negative relationship between the independent and the dependent variables.
By comparing the two constructs of destructive leadership, this research aims to investigate the differential effects of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership and address the following question: “What are the effects of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership on followers’ trust in the leader, and are these relationships mediated by procedural justice and interactional justice?”.
First of all, an overview of the most relevant literature on abusive supervision and exploitative leadership will be provided in the context of organisational justice and trust. In this review, the hypotheses and the research model that will be analysed in this thesis are developed. Second, the methodology for gathering data and analysing it will be presented. Third, the results of the proposed analysis will provide a better insight into the complexity of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership, and hopefully create more understanding in the differences between the two concepts in
10 light of organisational justice. Fourth, the results will be discussed, after which the practical
implications will be delineated as well as recommendations for future research. Lastly, the conclusions of this research will be summarised briefly.
2. Theoretical framework
2.1 Destructive leadership: abusive supervision and exploitative leadership
Destructive leadership serves as an umbrella term, as research often focuses on the different types of destructive leadership that can occur in organisations (Krasikova et al., 2013; Majeed & Fatima, 2020). One of the most researched types is called abusive supervision, which has been covered extensively over the years since the introduction of the concept (see Tepper, 2000; Tepper et al., 2017). Exploitative leadership is another type of destructive leadership which has appeared more recently in academic research; however, it remains a subject in need of more thorough investigation (Schmid et al., 2019). According to Schmid et al., (2018), the most important difference between abusive supervision and exploitative leadership is mainly found in the level of hostility. Abusive leaders engage in a higher level of hostile behaviour by, for example, yelling at subordinates, belittling, or ridiculing them (Schyns & Schilling, 2013). Exploitative leaders, on the other hand, are less hostile in the sense that they behave in a self-interested way, e.g., by manipulating others for personal gain or by taking credit for others’ achievements (Schmid et al., 2019). As such, it could be possible that they may not be immediately perceived as being destructive towards their followers.
This is because the way followers perceive their leader’s behaviour also depends on their personal characteristics (Tepper, 2007). Nevertheless, exploitative leadership is possibly just as harmful as abusive supervision because destructive forms of leadership are usually more impactful than supportive types of leadership (Baumeister et al., 2001).
As of yet it still remains unclear if and to what extent exploitative leadership is more, or less, harmful than abusive supervision (Schmid et al., 2019). Within the overarching theme of destructive leadership, it is important to distinguish between different destructive behaviours so that their
antecedents and consequences can be identified. By knowing more about the underlying mechanisms of destructive leadership behaviours it is possible to detect and prevent them. Schmid et al. (2019) propose that research should delve deeper into how different types of justice perceptions affect exploitative leadership. This thesis will therefore delve deeper into both abusive supervision and exploitative leadership, using supervisory justice theory as a framework. Justice theory plays a role in
12 uncovering what employees may perceive as right or wrong, thereby giving more understanding about which supervisory behaviours they accept, and which they do not. Justice is therefore inextricably related to the actions, processes, outcomes and relationships that occur in the context of an
organisation (Rupp, 2011), and could provide valuable information in understanding both exploitative leadership and abusive supervision. The goal is to better understand the potentially unique key underlying mechanisms and outcomes to uncover whether there is a necessity for distinction between these destructive leader behaviours.
Before delving into the role justice perceptions may play in the different types of destructive leadership that will be addressed in this research, it is important to define the concept of leader trustworthiness and how it relates to destructive leadership more clearly. Rousseau et al. (1998) defined it as “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behaviours of another.” (p. 395). People therefore use the –
sometimes limited – information available to them about others to evaluate their trustworthiness. This information is usually gained through experience, as trust is something that can be built up over time through the experiences that a leader and a follower share with each other (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2000).
One of the most important antecedents of trust is leader benevolence, in other words, whether the leader’s intentions are perceived as well-intended by their followers (Burke et al., 2007). Benevolence is one of the three factors that constitute trust, the other two being ability and integrity (Mayer et al., 1995). Ability refers to the skills and knowledge of a person. The higher a person’s ability in a certain area, the more others will trust that person to be able to perform their job adequately in said area (Mayer et al., 1995). Integrity means that a person follows a set of principles and strictly adheres to them. When a follower perceives their leader to have a higher level of integrity, he or she will consider that leader to be more trustworthy (Mayer et al., 1995).
13 It is important to consider that trust is not a personality trait, but a relationship characteristic (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2000; Schoorman et al., 2007). There is an undeniable interactional aspect to trust in the sense that both parties in a relationship should be able to accept a certain level of
vulnerability, thereby expecting positive outcomes from the other party (Klaussner, 2012). As such, it is only logical that trust is an outcome of interactional justice and, as will be explained further on, a key element in abusive supervision.
2.3 Destructive leadership and trust 2.3.1 Abusive supervision
Within the literature covering destructive leadership, abusive supervision is one of the most researched topics (Schmid et al., 2018; Schyns & Schilling, 2013; Tepper et al., 2017). It is characterised by hostile behaviour shown by the leader, both verbally and non-verbally (Tepper, 2000). There may be several reasons why leaders engage in abusive behaviour. One of them is that they follow the example of other leaders (Tepper et al., 2017). This explanation is based on social learning theory, in which it is not the internal drive of a person that leads him or her to show such behaviour, but the social context in which they learned that to be the appropriate behaviour in certain situations (Bandura, 1973). Therefore, if another person is seen as a role model, others are likely to adopt their behaviour.
Another possible explanation could be that someone’s identity is being threatened (Tepper et al., 2017). If someone’s position or social identity is being questioned, they are more likely to retaliate in the form of abusive supervision in order to maintain their position. Possible reasons for feeling threatened are because the leader is insecure about his or her capabilities as a leader, or if he or she perceives a subordinate to be intent on taking over their position. Leaders who feel entitled to their position are therefore also prone to engaging in abusive behaviour (Whitman et al., 2013).
Lastly, Tepper et al. (2017) propose self-regulation as a potential explanation for abusive supervision. A person draws from their own psychological resources in order to cope with any stressors they might be faced with (Hobfoll, 2002). Self-regulation is one of the things that requires
14 mental energy, as people may set certain performance standards for themselves which they monitor for any deviations. If a task is complex or a leader faces a difficult situation, this might cause him or her to use up a great deal of their psychological resources (Baumeister et al., 1998). At a certain point, a person becomes too exhausted to self-regulate his or her behaviour, which in the case of leaders can be the cause for engaging in abusive behaviour (Tepper et a., 2017).
Abusive supervision is commonly related to negative outcomes (Krasikova et al., 2013), such as lower job satisfaction, more work/family conflict, or more turnover intentions (Tepper, 2000). As such, it also causes followers to have a low level of trust in their leader (Bies et al., 1996; Duffy &
Ferrier, 2003). However, when the variables of trust and abusive supervision are inversed, the level of trust a follower has in his or her leader is able to reduce the effects of abusive supervision (Samian et al., 2020). It must be said, however, that affective trust has a greater effect than cognitive trust in mitigating the negative consequences of abusive supervision. Cognitive trust is based on the
competences of the leader, while affective trust refers to the emotionality towards the leader (Webber, 2008). This is consistent with the findings of Einarsen et al. (2007) who concluded that abusive supervision is very context dependent, and with those of Fors Brandebo (2020) who argues that the contextual situation under which leaders and followers operate is the reason why destructive leadership is tolerated by followers. In her research, the situation she refers to is a crisis situation.
When followers have a high level of trust in their leader, they are more likely to attribute destructive behaviour to the unusual circumstances rather than the inherent traits of the leader. Nevertheless, the general consensus is that abusive supervision has detrimental effects on trust, therefore:
H1: Abusive supervision has a negative relationship with trust.
2.3.2 Exploitative leadership
While abusive supervision is a well-covered topic, exploitative leadership is still a subject in need of more research (Majeed & Fatima, 2020; Schmid et al., 2018; Schmid et al., 2019). Literature on both the antecedents and consequences of exploitative leadership is still scarce, which is why there is
15 a need for more in-detail research into what causes a leader to exploit others, which consequences this entails, and which factors can influence the effects of exploitative leadership.
At the core of exploitative leadership lies the self-interest of the leader (Schmid et al., 2019).
As explained with abusive supervision, one of the most important reasons why self-interested leaders engage in destructive behaviour is because they feel their position is being threatened (Williams, 2014). It makes them more willing to take any necessary steps to maintain that position of power.
Related to this insecurity, is illegitimacy. It is often a reason for feeling insecure because leaders do not feel like they earned their position, or because followers perceived that to be the case (e.g., obtaining a position through luck or seniority). Leaders are then more likely to take resources for themselves in order to avoid losing their position (De Cremer & van Dijk, 2008).
Nevertheless, when insecurity about a leaders’ power position is not an issue, there is a different antecedent that might explain why such supervisors engage in exploitative behaviour. Taking more resources for oneself is not always a consequence of feeling insecure. Instead, leaders who are more self-interested may feel entitled to a larger share of the provided resources than what their followers get (Stouten et al., 2005; Williams, 2014). As a result, an exploitative leader will attempt to obtain more benefits or resources from their followers (Schmid et al., 2019). Stouten and Tripp (2009) found that followers accepted such behaviour because a person with the role of a leader had to provide an “extra” input in terms of supervision. This implies that any transgressions by leaders are more likely to be condoned than if a follower were to engage in such behaviour, simply because it seems fairer to them that leaders obtain more resources than followers. Nevertheless, it must be said this acceptance was subject to the frequency of the unequal treatment. However, this is not the only reason why exploitative, or even destructive leaders in general, are tolerated by their followers. Another explanation is that followers are dependent on their leaders, meaning they have no choice but to do as they are told and agree to the decisions of their leader (Forst, 2018). For a follower, the negative repercussions of not obeying that leader thus outweigh the effects of the destructive behaviour of the self-serving leader.
16 The two characteristics that are considered antecedents of exploitative leadership are
narcissism and Machiavellianism due to the self-interested nature such leaders tend to have
(Krasikova et al., 2013; Schmid et al., 2019). Narcissists leave a good first impression (Braun, 2017), but this worsens over time as their exploitative behaviour becomes more evident (Schmid et al., 2018). Machiavellian leaders manipulate their followers with the goal of benefitting themselves (Dahling et al., 2009). In both cases the leaders are not visibly bad leaders. Exploitative leadership may therefore be a leadership style that is not perceived as being destructive, at least not right away.
Trust plays a very important role when it comes to exploitative leadership. In fact, trust and self-interest are two concepts which are opposites (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2000). As explained before, trust is a relationship characteristic (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2000; Schoorman et al., 2007), meaning it implicates two or more people and the interaction between them. Self-interest, on the other hand, evidently focuses in the individual and his or her own personal goals, which is why it is seen as incompatible with trust. In order for a leader to become trustworthy in the eyes of a follower, he or she must show humility and the intention to reach the organisation’s goals and not their own interests (Downes, 1998). If the leader does not do so and feels entitled to more resources than others, he or she may even end up violating any rules or regulations within the company they work for (Stouten &
Essentially, followers feel betrayed by their leader once they discover that they have been taken advantage of (Schmid et al., 2019). This implies that the followers trusted the leader in the first place, and were thus misinformed about the intentions of their leader (Vohs et al., 2007). Information asymmetry may therefore play a crucial role in enabling the possibility of exploitative leadership.
Exploitative leaders may treat their followers favourably as a means to an end (Schmid et al., 2019).
This might be a possible explanation for the presence of information asymmetry, as the lack of information can keep an employee in the dark about the true intentions of the leader. On the other hand, Schoorman et al. (2007) expect followers to trust their leader to a lesser degree when there is information asymmetry. If the leader is able to gather more information – especially regarding ability, benevolence and integrity – about the subordinate, and not vice-versa, the leader is more likely to trust
17 the subordinate than the other way around. Nevertheless, information can in this case be seen as a resource which is allocated in an unfair way, and may therefore cause feelings of injustice among followers. Considering the above reasoning, the following hypothesis has been formulated:
H2: Exploitative leadership has a negative relationship with trust.
2.4 The mediation role of different justice perceptions
Justice in an organisational context is defined as the level of fairness perceived by employees (Rupp, 2011). Fairness entails that people are held accountable for their actions. Therefore, if a person is considered a menace to another person’s physical or psychological wellbeing, they will be blamed for what they did (Folger & Cropanzano, 2001). Followers make fairness judgements based on cognitive comparisons (Mackey et al., 2017) which are purely subjective (Van den Bos, 2003), and these tend to be based on the leader’s behaviour (Klaussner, 2014). The most important takeaway is that the subjectivity of fairness judgements is a plausible explanation for the differences in how hostile leaders are perceived (Padilla et al., 2007; Tepper, 2007).
Some sources distinguish between supervisory justice and organisational justice, in which the focus lies on the source of perceived justice: either the supervisor or the organisation (Park et al., 2019). The starting point for justice perceptions, however, lies in perceived supervisory injustice (Mackey et al., 2019), meaning that the source of injustice can be found in the leader, and may later spread
throughout the organisation. The present research focuses on abusive and exploitative leaders, which is why it is particularly interesting to zoom in on supervisory justice.
In order to better understand the workings of organisational justice, research has subdivided the concept into three different types: procedural justice, i.e., the fairness of the processes that lead to said outcomes, distributive justice, i.e., the outcomes produced by a leader or employee, and interactional justice, i.e., how others are treated (Camps et al., 2012). Below, these three types of justice
perceptions will be explained in more detail.
18 2.4.1 Procedural justice
As Colquitt (2001) explains, the concept of procedural justice is indicative for the fairness perceived during organisational processes. An employee who experiences such an organisational process can expect certain rules and regulations that are usually applied to these processes. They should lead to a desired outcome in a way that meets the expectations of the employee. When these are met, the process will be perceived as fair and proportionate to the expectations and the goals he or she wanted to achieve. If not, a violation of the norms of a procedure will lead to perceptions of injustice (Lind & Tyler, 1988).
2.4.2 Distributive justice
While procedural justice focuses on the way outcomes are reached, distributive justice refers to the fairness of the allocation of those outcomes in order to reach a certain goal (Colquitt, 2001). In organisational science, the most common desired outcome is productivity, therefore resources and rewards are perceived to be fairly allocated if they contribute to reaching that goal (Leventhal, 1980).
The key in this relation lies in equity theory, in which outcomes are in proportion with the inputs needed to reach them (Deutsch, 1975).
As was mentioned earlier, followers perceive the unequal distribution of resources among leaders and followers as being just due to the perceived extra effort leaders have to put into their jobs as opposed to followers (Stouten & Tripp, 2009). Perceived justice is therefore the variable that makes the difference between accepting inequality between leaders and followers. However, when it comes to exploitative leadership, this inequality could reach a level that is not acceptable to followers anymore. More specifically, exploitative leadership is therefore likely to be related to distributive injustice (Schmid et al., 2018). The reason for this is that exploitative leaders tend to allocate
resources to their own benefit (De Cremer & van Dijk, 2005), which may cause people who work for them to perceive such a distribution as unfair.
Camps et al. (2012) researched the reasons behind followers perceiving self-serving leaders as fair. Their findings showed that distributive justice was able to counter the effects of self-serving
19 behaviour. As explained before, self-serving behaviour forms the basis for exploitative leadership, which is why in the context of justice perceptions, distributive justice is most likely to predict the effects of exploitative leadership. Therefore, the following hypothesis will be tested:
H3: The relationship between exploitative leadership and trust is mediated by distributive justice.
Abusive supervision, on the other hand, is much more focused on the harmful interaction between individuals. The detrimental behaviour of a leader towards his or her followers is essentially the definition of abusive supervision, which is why it is only logical to investigate it in relation to interactional justice (Tepper, 2000). However, different forms of justice can predict leadership behaviours differently (Tepper, 2000), which is why it is relevant to research whether the relationship between abusive supervision and distributive justice differs from that of exploitative leadership and distributive justice. Therefore:
H4: The relationship between abusive supervision and trust is mediated by distributive justice.
Nevertheless, considering the above arguments it appears likely that exploitative leadership is more strongly related to distributive justice than abusive supervision, which is why:
H5: Exploitative leadership has a stronger effect on distributive justice compared to abusive supervision.
2.4.3 Interactional justice
The third type of justice perception is not so much based on procedures and outcomes, but rather on the relationship between individuals in an organisation. Bies (2001) explains that “people possess a view of the self as “sacred,” and a violation of that sacred self arouses the sense of injustice” (p. 90).
In this case, people expect to be treated adequately by others. Colquitt (2001) therefore based his measurement of the construct on several criteria, among which justification (i.e., the reasons behind taking a certain decision), truthfulness (i.e., not betraying or deceiving an individual), respect (i.e., being polite towards someone), and propriety (i.e., behaving properly and without prejudice towards
20 others) were included. These are the main aspects that are taken into account when making an
inference about the perceived justice regarding the interaction between two people.
As was mentioned earlier, followers accept abusive supervision because of the affective trust they have in their leader. Because of this, it seems that interpersonal interaction between leader and follower is essential for creating a stronger bond and generating a greater level of trust in the leader, more so than the behavioural outcomes of the leader would (Yang & Mossholder, 2010). Interaction between leader and follower is therefore a relevant concept when it comes to abusive supervision. In terms of supervisory justice, interactional justice appears to be particularly important in defining abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000).
Tepper et al. (2007) suggested that people use justice perceptions to make inferences about their superiors’ trustworthiness. When a follower perceives a leader as behaving in an unjust way, they are more likely to experience negative emotions or wish to retaliate (Stouten & Tripp, 2009). It is therefore not surprising that employees who are victims of abusive supervision perceive the
destructive behaviour towards them as unjust, thus lowering the level of trust in their supervisor (Schyns & Schilling, 2013). Nevertheless, there is no empirical research that supports this notion.
Likewise, there is no research that analyses the effects of abusive supervisors showing just behaviour on the level of trust followers have in their leader. This research therefore proposes that:
H6: The relationship between abusive supervision and trust is mediated by interactional justice.
As explained before, the main goal of exploitative leaders is to benefit themselves (Schmid et al., 2019). Behaving in a hostile way may therefore not always benefit them, which is why they might attempt to hide their true intentions by manipulating others in a non-hostile way (Schmid et al., 2019).
If followers do not perceive their leader acting in a self-interested way, the leader might even increase their exploitative behaviour because of the positive feedback followers might give (Oc et al., 2015).
For this reason, this research proposes:
21 H7: The relationship between exploitative leadership and trust is mediated by interactional justice.
Nevertheless, the relationship between an exploitative leader and his or her follower is mostly determined through a fair allocation of resources (De Cremer & van Dijk, 2005). Should this become unfair, the relationship between leader and follower might worsen, but the cause would be the unjust allocation of resources in the first place. For this reason:
H8: Abusive supervision has a stronger effect on interactional justice compared to exploitative leadership.
Figure 1: Research model
The population that this research focuses on consists of Dutch employees who were, at the time they participated in this research, working for a supervisor. The sample was drawn using non- probability convenience sampling, as participants were contacted personally through the network of a group of 4 Master’s students. Additionally, snowball sampling was used as a second sampling method. The downside of these sampling methods is that some level of bias is likely to occur (Acharya et al., 2013). Nevertheless, this method was chosen due to the time constraints for conducting this research. The goal was to collect as many responses as possible. However, due to limited time and resources, a minimum of 100 dyads was set to ensure an acceptable level of confidence. A 90% response rate was expected because each participant would be contacted personally and therefore give consent to participating in the research beforehand. Additionally, the participants mainly pertained to the personal network of the researchers because of the likeliness that the response rate would increase (Baruch & Holtom, 2008). As such, participants were recruited by first sending out a request for participation. Once they consented, the survey was sent to them by email which contained a link they could use to fill in their response digitally. A total of 128 people were approached with a request to participate, of which 108 actually filled in the survey. The response rate was therefore 84.37%. However, because some responses were incomplete and could therefore not be used in this research, 8 responses had to be removed, which finally led to a total response rate of 78.12%, which was lower than the expected 90%.
The sample from which information was drawn in the following sections consists of a total of 100 responses, after removing those with missing data. While missing data was not always reason for removing responses, those that were removed lacked important information needed in order to be able to conduct this research. All the participants were employed in the Netherlands at the time they took the survey. In the sample there was a slight majority of females (female 60%, male 40%). The age of the total sample ranged from 18 to 67 years old (M = 32.46, SD = 12.93). The participants had
23 worked for the supervisor under which they were employed at the time they took the survey between 1 month and 33 years (M = 40.03, SD = 67.34).
3.2 Data collection
The necessary data was collected through a cross-sectional survey design. The survey, available both in Dutch and in English, consisted of a number of questions and statements that participants could respond to. Each construct used in this research (i.e., abusive supervision, interactional justice, exploitative leadership, distributive justice, and trust) was measured using validated Likert scales varying between 5 and 7 points at interval level. Because the responses of this survey would also be used for the research purposes of other students, more questions and statements were included to measure constructs that were not specifically used in the present research. Aside from the leadership constructs that were included in the survey, a number of questions regarding the demographics of the respondents were included by the end. Again, not all information was deemed necessary for this research.
Abusive supervision. Abusive supervision was measured with 5 items on a 5-point frequency
scale by Mitchell and Ambrose (2007) which measures how a follower perceives abusive behaviour demonstrated by his or her leader. The items included statements (e.g., “Puts me down in front of others”) that respondents could rate ranging from 1 = I cannot remember him/her ever using this behaviour to 5 = all the time. The scale was found to be reliable and therefore the answers could be averaged into one score (α = .835).
Exploitative leadership. Exploitative leadership was measured using 15 items on a 5-point
frequency scale (1 = to a very small extent, 5 = to a very large extent) by Schmid et al. (2019).
Similarly to that of abusive supervision, the scale evaluated the extent to which followers perceived their leader to show exploitative behaviour, e.g., by using statements such as “Uses my work to get him/herself noticed” or “Gives me tedious tasks, if he/she can benefit from it”. The scale was recently developed by Schmid et al. (2019) and is the most reliable up to date. It sets out to measure the five
24 dimensions that define exploitative leadership, which include genuine egoistic behaviours, taking credit, exerting pressure, underchallenging followers, and manipulating followers. The alpha of this scale was very high (α = .917) which is why it could be averaged into one score.
Interactional justice. Drawing from the work of Colquitt and Rodell (2015), interactional
justice was measured using 4 items on a 5-point scale measuring the extent to which each question is true for the respondent (1 = to a very small extent, 5 = to a very large extent). The questions aimed to measure the extent to which followers’ interactions with their leader were conducted with “[...]
respect, propriety, truthfulness and justification [...]” (Colquitt & Rodell, 2015, p. 190). Examples of the questions included in this scale are “Does he/she treat you with respect?” and “Does he/she refrain from making improper remarks or comments?”. Again, this scale showed sufficient reliability in order for it to be averaged into a single score (α = .822).
Distributive justice. Distributive justice was measured using 4 items on a 5-point scale
measuring the extent to which each question is true for the respondent (1 = to a very small extent, 5 = to a very large extent). Its focus lies on the outcomes the employee receives from his/her supervisor
(e.g., “Do those outcomes reflect what you have contributed to your work?” or “Are those outcomes justified, given your performance?”). More specifically, it measures to what extent the allocation of outcomes matches with the specific needs to reach a certain goal in order to maximize productivity (Colquitt, 2001). The measures derive from a validated measurement scale by Colquitt (2001), and in this research it also proved to have a very high reliability (α = .966). Therefore, the items were averaged into one score.
Trust. Trust in leader was measured using Legood et al.’s (2016) 2-item trust scale rated by 5
points (1 = do not trust/will not rely on, 5 = do trust/will rely on) and includes the questions “How much trust do you place in your immediate manager?” and “How willing are you to rely on your immediate manager?”. It straightforwardly sets out to evaluate the level of trust a follower has in his or her leader. Again, the alpha was very high (α = .913) and could be averaged across the two items.
25 Control variables. At the end of the survey, respondents were asked about their
demographical data, including age (ratio variable), gender (nominal variable), and tenure (ratio variable). These three control variables were added to see if they had a significant effect on the model.
Age, gender and tenure were added in order to detect any biases that may occur because of this. In leadership research, gender constitutes an important variable because of the gender stereotypes that may occur (Ayman & Korabik, 2010; Embry et al., 2008; Ridgeway, 2001). Therefore, the differences between males and females could play a role in how they perceive their leader. Age and tenure were added because it could give more insight into the role experience plays in the relationship between a leader and a follower. Age could play a role in the extent to which life experience influences someone’s perception of leadership (Barbuto et al., 2007). However, previous studies found little evidence for the effects of age on leadership. The only aspect of leadership on which age had a noticeable effect was that older leaders tended to delegate better (Gilbert et al., 1990; Oshagbemi, 2008), while younger ones seemed to be able to pay more attention to their followers (Gilbert et al., 1990). For this reason, age might have a more significant influence on exploitative leadership and interactional justice, since the effect is more likely to occur when leaders and followers interact with each other. Nevertheless, it is very much possible that age has no influence whatsoever on the
constructs in this study (Gilbert et al., 1990). Tenure, on the other hand, was found to explain a certain level of variance on transformational leadership (Moore & Rudd, 2006). Korac-Kakabadse et al.
(1998) also found that tenure has a positive effect on people’s performance, with more senior employees having a greater long-term perspective that allows them to see the bigger picture and thus accept less than ideal situations. It is therefore plausible that tenure is also related to destructive leadership to a certain degree, in which the older an employee is, the more tolerant he or she will be of a destructive leader.
While there have been multiple accounts of these three control variables being used in research on leadership over the years, there are not many studies that use them in the context of destructive leadership, let alone in abusive supervision and exploitative leadership. For this reason, it could be interesting to see if they have any significant influence on the model tested in this research.
26 3.4 Analytical strategy
First of all, the responses were checked for missing data using a frequency test on all
variables which showed it was < 10%. Additionally, the variable of gender was recoded into Male (1) and Female (2).
Next, reliability tests were run for all the variables in the model in order to test if all the items in the measurement scales were consistent. Table 1 shows the Cronbach’s Alpha of the scale means of abusive supervision, distributive justice, exploitative leadership, interactional justice and trust.
Table 1: Cronbach’s Alpha
Abusive supervision 0.835
Exploitative leadership 0.917
Distributive justice 0.966
Interactional justice 0.822
The last step before starting the analysis included computing new variables from the means of the items in abusive supervision, exploitative leadership, distributive justice, interactional justice and trust. Since the mean of the items in each construct was found to be significant (Table 1), they were all averaged into single scores which will be used in the analysis of the results from now on. Their means and standard deviations can be found in table 2.
This chapter will explain the results of the analyses that were performed in order to test the hypotheses proposed in this research. The results will be presented in chronological order: First of all, the correlation matrix will be discussed, after which the results of the regression analysis will be presented. Finally, the results of the mediation model designed for this research will be discussed in terms of the interaction effects between the proposed variables.
4.1 Correlation matrix
Table 2 shows the correlations between the variables analysed in the model. Regarding the direct relationship between the dependent and the independent variables in this model, abusive supervision and trust showed a significant negative correlation (r = -.335, p < .001), as was expected.
Exploitative leadership and trust, however, showed a much stronger correlation (r = -.499, p < .001), which might indicate the effects of exploitative leadership are more harmful than those of abusive supervision. This is unsurprising considering the findings of Schmid et al. (2019) in which
exploitative leadership was deemed a better predictor of harmful outcomes to followers than abusive supervision. Also in line with expectations, abusive supervision and interactional justice show a strong negative correlation (r = -.499, p = .001). Exploitative leadership and distributive justice did as well, only this time the effect was slightly weaker than with the other two variables (r = -.383, p = .001). Additionally, interactional justice and trust (r = .550, p = .001) as well as distributive justice and trust (r = .426, p = .001) showed significant positive correlations, which is also in line with the expectations that these two variables will mediate the relationship between the two different forms of destructive leadership and trust. Furthermore, age, gender and tenure were added as control variables but showed no significant correlations with any of the dependent or independent variables, which is why they were not included in the mediation analyses. The only exception was for exploitative leadership and age (r = .276, p > .05). This is in line with previous expectations, as older leaders tend to delegate their followers better (Gilbert et al., 1990; Oshagbemi, 2004). The quality of the
interactions they have with their followers therefore seems to be affected by the age of the leader,
28 since the two variables are positively related. Nevertheless, the significance is slightly lower than the other variables, yet still statistically significant. Furthermore, the fact that there was no significant relationship with the rest of the dependent and independent variables is also in line with previous research (Gilbert et al., 1990). Interestingly enough, when it came to tenure and distributive justice (r
= -.377, p < .01), and tenure and trust (r = -.263, p < .01), there were significant negative correlations.
This suggests that the longer a person works for a certain leader, the less they perceive distributive justice and the less they trust that leader. This is contrary to previous expectations, in which more experienced workers seemed to accept more negative situations at work up to a certain degree (Korac- Kakabadse et al., 1998). However, since this topic is not well-researched, it comes as no surprise that these findings are different from what was previously expected.
29 Table 2: Overall means, standard deviations, and correlations
M SD 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
1. Age 32.46 12.93 -
2. Gender 1.60 0.43 -.099 -
3. Tenure 40.03 67.34 .505*** -.069 -
4. Abusive supervision 1.21 0.52 .131 -.018 .046 -
5. Exploitative leadership 2.58 1.01 .276* .012 .186 .522*** -
6. Interactional justice 4.31 0.68 -.093 -.017 -.130 -.499** -.510*** -
7. Distributive justice 3.55 0.93 -.139 .028 -.377** -.207* -.383*** .341*** -
8. Trust 3.96 0.90 -.082 -.059 -.263** -.335*** -.499*** .550*** .426*** -
Note. N=100 for Abusive supervision, Interactional justice, Exploitative leadership, Distributive justice, Trust, Age and Gender. N=98 for Tenure. ***p<.001,
30 4.2 Direct effects
To test hypotheses H1 and H2, a hierarchical regression analysis was performed to analyse the direct effects of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership on predicting trust, after controlling for age, gender, and tenure (Table 3).
Step 1 of the multiple regression shows three predictors: age, gender and tenure which were not statistically significant F (3, 94) = 2.62; p = 0.055 and explained 6.15% of variance in trust. In step 2, abusive supervision and exploitative leadership were added as independent variables to these control variables which made the model statistically significant F (5, 92) = 8.55; p < .001. They explained 25.26% of variance in trust, which was entered as the dependent variable. This means the introduction of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership explained an additional 19.11% of variance in trust after controlling for age, gender, and tenure (R2 Change = .240; F (2, 92) = 16.16; p <
.001). In the final model, two out of five predictors were statistically significant. Tenure was the least statistically significant (β = -.275; p < .01), and exploitative leadership the most (β = -.435; p < .001).
This indicates that if tenure should increase for one, trust would decrease by 0.275, and if exploitative leadership increases by one, trust decreases by 0.435. These results indicate that H2 is supported, meaning that there is a negative relationship between exploitative leadership and trust. H1, however, is not supported because abusive supervision was not statistically significant.
31 Table 3: Hierarchical regression analysis of Trust
R R2 R2 Change B SE β t
Step 1 .278 .077
Age .004 .008 .057 .493
Gender -.130 .183 -.071 -.710
Tenure -.004 .002 -.297* -2.585
Step 2 .563*** .317*** .240***
Age .013 .007 .186 1.812
Gender -.097 .159 -.053 -.609
Tenure -.004 .001 -.275** -2.741
Abusive supervision -.214 .177 -.123 -1.209
Exploitative leadership -.386 .093 -.435*** -4.140
Note. N=100 for Abusive supervision, Exploitative leadership, Trust, Age and Gender. N=98 for Tenure. ***p<.001, **p<.01, *p<.05
4.3 Mediating effects
4.3.1 Abusive supervision and interactional justice
As seen in tables 4 and 5, in order to test H1, the mediating effect of interactional justice between abusive supervision and trust was tested using the PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2012). To measure this, Model 4 was used with abusive supervision as the independent variable (X),
interactional justice as the mediating variable (M), and trust as the dependent variable (Y). The results can be seen in Figure 2.
The effect of abusive supervision on interactional justice a1 = -.66 means that two people who differ by one unit on abusive supervision are estimated to differ by - 0.66 on interactional justice.
Since the sign is negative, those who are relatively higher in abusive supervision will generally score
32 lower on interactional justice. This effect is statistically different from zero, t = -5.705, p = .000 with a 95% confidence interval from -.884 to -.428.
The effect b1 = .68 indicates that two employees who experience the same level of abusive supervision but that differ by one unit in interactional justice are estimated to differ by 0.68 units on trust. This means that those who are higher in interactional justice are also higher in trust. This effect is statistically different from zero, t = 4.523, p = .000 with a 95% confidence interval from .420 to .934.
The indirect effect of -.44 means that two people who differ by one unit in abusive supervision are estimated to differ by - 0.44 units in trusting their leader as a result of those who perceive more abusive supervision to experience less interactional justice, which in turn leads to a lower level of trust. This indirect effect is statistically different from zero with as confirmed by a 95%
BC bootstrap confidence interval that is entirely below zero (-.78 to -.22). This means that H6 can be confirmed.
The direct effect of abusive supervision, c1’ = -.14, is the estimated difference in trust between two workers experiencing the same level of interactional justice, but who differ by one unit in their reported abusive supervision. This means that someone who experiences more abusive supervision but the same level of interactional justice as somebody else is estimated to be 0.14 units lower in their feelings of trust towards their leader. This direct effect included zero, t = -.825, p = .411 with a 95% confidence interval from -.478 to .197, which is in line with the results of the regression analysis and further indicates that abusive supervision does not have an effect on trust, which is why their direct relationship cannot be confirmed and H1 is rejected.
The total effect of abusive supervision on trust is c1 = -.58, meaning two workers who differ by one unit in abusive supervision are estimated to differ by -0.58 units in their feelings of trust towards their leader. The effect is statistically different from zero, t = -3.520, p = .000 with a 95%
confidence interval from -.914 to -.255.
33 Table 4: Mediation analysis: ABS, IJ & Trust
Interactional justice (M) Trust (Y)
Antecedent Coeff. SE p Coeff. SE p
Abusive supervision (X) a1 -.66 .11 <.000 c1’ -.14 .170 .411
Interactional justice (M) - - - b1 .68 .129 <.000
constant i1 5.10 .15 <.000 i2 1.22 .688 .080
R2 = .25 R2 = .31
F(1, 98) = 32.55, p<.000 F(2, 97) = 21.54, p<.000
Table 5: Effects mediation analysis ABS, IJ & Trust
Effect SE p LLCI ULCI
Direct effect c1’ -.14 .17 .411 -.48 .20 Total effect c1 -.58 .17 <.000 -.91 -.25
Boot SE Boot LLCI Boot ULCI
Indirect effect a1 b1 -.44 .14 -.78 -.22
34 Figure 2: Path model ABS, IJ & Trust
Note: N=100. R2 Interactional justice = .25. R2 Trust = .31. Coefficients are presented. ***p<.001,
4.3.2 Exploitative leadership and distributive justice
Tables 6 and 7 show the mediating effect of distributive justice between exploitative leadership and trust. Again, Model 4 was used in PROCESS (Hayes, 2012) with exploitative
leadership as the independent variable (X), distributive justice as the mediating variable (M), and trust as the dependent variable (Y). The results can be seen in Figure 3.
The effect of exploitative leadership on distributive justice a2 = -.35 means that two people who differ by one unit on exploitative leadership are estimated to differ by - 0.35 on distributive justice. Since the sign is negative, those who are relatively higher in exploitative leadership will generally score lower on distributive justice. This effect is statistically different from zero, t = -4.104, p = .000 with a 95% confidence interval from -.522 to -.182.
The effect b2 = .27 indicates that two employees who experience the same level of
exploitative leadership but that differ by one unit in distributive justice are estimated to differ by 0.27 units on trust. This means that those who are higher in distributive justice are also higher in trust. This effect is statistically different from zero, t = 3.023, p = .003 with a 95% confidence interval from .091 to .441.
The indirect effect of -.09 means that two people who differ by one unit in exploitative leadership are estimated to differ by - 0.09 units in trusting their leader as a result of those who perceive more exploitative leadership to experience less distributive justice, which in turn leads to a
35 lower level of trust. This indirect effect is statistically different from zero with 95% BC bootstrap confidence interval from -.193 to -.015. For this reason, H3 is confirmed, meaning distributive justice predicts the level of trust a follower has in an exploitative leader.
The direct effect of exploitative leadership, c2’ = -.35, is the estimated difference in trust between two workers experiencing the same level of distributive justice, but who differ by one unit in their reported exploitative leadership. This means that someone who experiences more exploitative leadership but the same level of distributive justice as somebody else is estimated to be 0.35 units lower in their feelings of trust towards their leader. This direct effect is statistically different from zero, t = -4.326, p = .000 with a 95% confidence interval from -.510 to -.189. This means that, as can be seen in the regression analysis, there is a significant negative relationship between exploitative leadership and trust, and therefore H2 can be confirmed.
The total effect of exploitative leadership on trust is c2 = -.44, meaning two workers who differ by one unit in exploitative leadership are estimated to differ by -0.44 units in their feelings of trust towards their leader. The effect is statistically different from zero, t = -5.704, p = .000 with a 95% confidence interval from -.598 to -.289.
36 Table 6: Mediation analysis: EXP, DJ & Trust
Distributive justice (M) Trust (Y)
Antecedent Coeff. SE p Coeff. SE p
Exploitative leadership (X) a2 -.35 .24 <.000 c2’ -.35 .08 <.000
Distributive justice (M) - - - b2 .27 .09 <.05
constant i3 4.46 .24 <.000 i4 3.92 .44 <.000
R2 = .15 R2 = .31
F(1, 98) = 16.84, p<.000 F(2, 97) = 22.19, p<.000
Table 7: Effects mediation analysis EXP, DJ & Trust
Effect SE p LLCI ULCI
Direct effect c2’ -.35 .08 <.000 -.51 -.19
Total effect c2 -.44 .08 <.000 -.60 -.29
Boot SE Boot LLCI Boot ULCI
Indirect effect a2 b2 -.09 .05 -.19 -.01
37 Figure 3: Path model EXP, DJ & Trust
Note: N=100. R2 Distributive justice = .15. R2 Trust = .31. Coefficients are presented. ***p<.001,
4.3.3 Differential analysis
Lastly, the differential effect size of abusive supervision and exploitative leadership on trust when mediated by both interpersonal justice and distributive justice was analysed. In order to test this, Model 4 in PROCESS (Hayes, 2012) was used with abusive supervision (X1) and exploitative leadership (X2) as the independent variables, trust as the dependent variable (Y), and distributive justice (M1) and interactional justice (M2) as mediators.
The direct effect of abusive supervision on distributive justice is negative, but not significant (a1 = -.018, SE = .198, p = .927). On the other hand, the direct effect of abusive supervision on interactional justice is negative and significant (a2 = -.421, SE = .128, p = .001).
The direct effect of exploitative leadership on distributive justice is negative and significant (a1 = -.3472, SE = .260, p = .000), as well as the direct effect of exploitative leadership on interactional justice (a2 = -.229, SE = .065, p = .000).
The above findings indicate that, when both abusive supervision and exploitative leadership predict trust through distributive justice, exploitative leadership has the strongest effect. Thus, H5 is supported. Additionally, when abusive supervision and exploitative leadership both predict trust through interactional justice, abusive supervision has a stronger effect, which supports H8.
38 The direct effect of distributive justice on trust is positive and significant (b1 = .206, SE = .084, p
= .016), as well as the direct effect of interactional justice on trust (b2 = .481, SE = .131, p = .000).
However, the direct effect of abusive supervision on trust is positive, but not significant (c1’ = .028, SE = .171, p = .870). The direct effect of exploitative leadership on trust is negative and significant (c1’ = .214, SE = .091, p = .020). This means that when both abusive supervision and exploitative leadership are present, only exploitative leadership is a predictor of trust.
The indirect effect of abusive supervision through distributive justice on trust is negative but not significant (a1b1 = -.004, 95% CI = -.130, .005). Therefore, H4 is not supported. The indirect effect of exploitative leadership through interactional justice on trust, on the other hand, is negative and significant (a2b2 = -.124, 95% CI = -.249, -.043), supporting H7.
The literature on destructive leadership has become quite complex over time, with many new concepts being defined and developed now that research on the darker side of leadership is gaining in popularity. As such, one of the relatively new concepts that has emerged is exploitative leadership, which is why it is important to gain a better understanding of the concept and what it entails for managers. It is therefore interesting to compare it with one of the most (if not the most) researched topic in the field of destructive leadership: abusive supervision. In the following section, the results from the conducted analyses on these concepts and their relationship with trust will be discussed, along with both the theoretical and practical implications this has for researchers and managers.
Finally, recommendations for future research will be given as well as the limitations of this research.
5.1 Abusive supervision and trust
First of all, while the variables of abusive supervision and trust were significantly correlated with each other, it was surprising to find that the direct relationship between them was not significant.
Previous research on this topic explains that abusive supervision tends to be related to negative outcomes (Krasikova et al., 2013), which is why it was expected that abusive supervision would have a negative relationship with trust. Furthermore, Bies et al. (1996), and Duffy and Ferrier (2003) actually found that followers trusted abusive leaders less. Therefore, it remains unclear why such a relationship was not found in this research, yet it means H1 had to be rejected.
However, once this relationship was mediated by interactional justice, the results became significant and showed that interactional justice actually positively predicts trust in an abusive leader.
This means that if people perceive a higher level of interactional injustice from an abusive supervisor, their trust in that leader will decrease, which is completely in line with previous research regarding abusive supervision and trust (Schyns & Schilling, 2013; Stouten & Tripp, 2009; Tepper et al., 2007).
This would suggest that the relationship between abusive supervision and trust is fully mediated by interactional justice. However, according to Hayes (2017), complete (and partial) mediation are too simplistic concepts that are too dependent on sample size. Because the sample size in this research is
40 relatively small, it is only correct to assume that these results do not provide any solid evidence of that interactional justice fully predicts trusts, however likely it may seem in this case.
These results also seem to be in line with the assumption that affective trust has a greater effect on abusive supervision than cognitive trust would. It means that the emotional ties to a leader play a greater role than the extent to which his or her followers consider him or her to be competent in their job (Webber, 2008). The findings of Webber (2008) were also the reason why interactional justice was chosen as a mediating variable, since it was more likely that the interaction between leader and follower would influence the relationship between the two to a greater degree. It also confirms that abusive supervision may be tolerated under certain circumstances (Fors Brandebo, 2020), in which case followers would attribute the leader’s behaviour to be a consequence of the context in which they operate, rather than an inherent characteristic of that leader. Again, this is in line with the differentiation between affective trust and cognitive trust, in which the personal bond with the leader is much stronger than their destructive behaviour (Yang & Mossholder, 2010). It is also proof that trust is not an inherent characteristic of an individual, but rather a relational aspect (Fairholm &
Fairholm, 2000; Schoorman et al., 2007). Since trust is generated on the basis of experience between leader and follower (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2000), it is especially important for a leader to show his or her good intentions towards a follower. Considering the fact that benevolence is one of the most important antecedents of trust (Burke et al., 2007), not showing benevolent acts thus creates more distrust.
5.2 Exploitative leadership and trust
Contrary to the finding that the relationship between abusive supervision and trust was not significant, the negative relationship between exploitative leadership and trust was statistically significant, which means that H2 can be confirmed. It is not surprising that exploitative leadership has a negative effect on trust. Earlier research focusing on narcissistic leaders found that over time, leaders behaving in a self-interested way could expect that the employee they had a high-quality relationship with would respond to that behaviour in kind (Liu et al., 2017). The idea stems from the reciprocity principle, in which behaviour in service of another person is expected to be returned by