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Moral disengagement answers the question of why “good” followers (those with high personal standards) go “bad” (engage in unethical and illegal activities). In moral disengagement, actors set aside the self-condemnation they would normally experience in order to engage in immoral activities with a clear conscience. Moral disengagement mechanisms encourage individuals to justify harmful behavior, to minimize personal responsibility for harm, and to devalue victims. The follower role makes individuals more vulnerable to moral disengagement. While all followers are susceptible to moral disengagement, some are more vulnerable than others due to such personal antecedents as lack of empathy, rigid and authoritarian beliefs, low self-esteem, and fear and anxiety. Retaining a sense of moral agency is the key to resisting moral disengagement. Exercise of moral agency can be encouraged by recognizing personal vulnerability; by never losing sight of the fact that “I” am at the center of any action, and by the on-going practice of self-questioning, such as modeled by the Quakers (Society of Friends).


Originally Published in Journal of Leadership Education 2014 Special Issue http://www.journalofleadershiped.org/

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