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Ethical Followership Institute

The Ethical Followership Institute conducts research and provides education on the efforts of followers to constructively resist directives, requests, or pressures to do unethical things at work, as well as their broader contributions to co-creating ethical leadership.




When presenting the results of my dissertation - a study on unethical behavior in the engineering profession - I found that workers are less likely to act unethically if being a moral person is important to them and if they appreciate the moral implications of their work. No surprise there! What did surprise me, though, is the response I received when suggesting that organizations celebrate cases when workers do the right thing when facing pressure to do otherwise. When I encouraged audiences to celebrate what I called "ethical followership," the response I often received was, "You mean whistleblowing?" 


Well... yes and no. I knew from experience that ethical followership is more than just blowing the whistle when you witness an ethical lapse. I knew that followers play an important role in fostering ethical behavior at work, one that scholarship on ethical leadership has historically ignored. I also wasn't satisfied that related constructs like ethical voice or upward dissent fully captured the contributions of followers when they face an ethical dilemma. 

Research Agenda

To help organizations empower their ethical followers, I identified a few research questions:

  • What happens when a worker is directed or asked to do something unethical?

  • What behaviors should we expect of ethical followers?

  • What are the outcomes of ethical follower behaviors?

  • How do we set up ethical followers for success?

  • How do we measure and evaluate ethical followership?

To get to know the answers to these and other questions, please refer to the articles below:


Payne, K. (2023). Doing bad things for good reasons: An examination of unethical pro-organizational behavior among professional engineers. Journal of Leadership, Accountability, and Ethics, 20(5), 74-100. 

Payne, K. (2023, Spring). How to avoid doing bad things for good reasons: Lessons from a study of professional engineers. PE Magazine.












Payne, K. (2023). Building an ethical organization: Why it's time to define ethical followership. Organization Development Review, 55(3), 68-73.

Payne, K. (2024). Making room for followers: A grounded theory study of ethical followership among professional engineers. The International Journal of Ethical Leadership... (in press).

Payne, K. (2024). Engineering ethics: How to hold your leader accountable. PE Magazine... (in press).

Fabiano, S. (Host). (2024, March 3). Followers Navigating Ethical Dilemmas [Season 3, Episode 1 episode with guest Dr. Kyle Payne]. Lead and Follow Podcast.










Payne, K. (2025). The development and validation of the ethical followership scale. (in press).

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