Perceptions by employed accounting students of ethical leadership and political skill: Evidence for including political skill in ethics pedagogy


School of Accountancy

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Using a sample of 703 full- or part-time employed students from two U.S. universities, we conducted an empirical investigation of the relation between perceptions of ethical leadership and perceptions of political skill. The sample was composed of 141 accounting majors and 562 non-accounting students. The results indicated that the two concepts were highly correlated. Our findings also indicate that perception of both ethical leadership and political skill significantly dropped with age and work experience. Moreover, accounting seniors who had previously completed a standalone ethics course had higher perceptions than their counterparts on both constructs, which were still highly correlated. This finding suggests that the ethics education of these students may not have positively impacted their discernment in the area of ethical sensitivity. Thus, accounting students may enter the workforce with inadequate ethical sensitivity, and entry-level accountants may therefore be prone to cognitively confuse the leadership attributes of political skills and ethics. The ability of accountants to differentiate between the ethical leadership and the political skill of leaders, and/or knowledge of how the political skills of leaders could mask their unethical guidance, is posited as an area of ethical sensitivity worthy of inclusion in accounting ethics pedagogy.

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Journal of Accounting Education

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