Leaders Can Inspire Followers to Engage in Citizenship Behavior

Topic(s): citizenship behavior, leadership
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2011)
Article: Leading by Example: The Case of Leader OCB
Authors: T. Yaffe, R. Kark
Reviewed by: Thaddeus Rada

Although many definitions of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) define this behavior as “extra” behavior that falls outside of the formal job description, most organizations want, and may even expect, employees to engage in OCB. This may be especially true for leaders of teams, who are generally expected to set the example of what is expected from all members of the team.

As such, organizations have an interest in knowing if leaders’ OCB can serve as inspiration or motivation for other employees to engage in OCB, particularly at the group level. In other words, would OCB be more prevalent, or viewed as more important, in a group led by an individual who engaged in frequent OCB, compared to a group led by a leader who did not frequently engage in OCB?


A new study (Yaffe & Kark, 2011) addresses this issue, examining the relationship between leader and follower OCB, and potential variables that explain or alter the relationship between the two types of OCB.

The authors collected survey data from over 60 work units in a large Israeli organization. Among the authors’ hypotheses, they believed that higher levels of leader OCB would be associated with higher levels of group OCB, as well as stronger group beliefs about the worthiness of OCB. They also hypothesized that leader (physical) distance, and group perceptions of the leader, would have an impact on the degree to which leader OCB facilitated group OCB.

Overall, the authors found support for their hypotheses. In addition to leader OCB impacting OCB at the group level, the physical distance of the leader from the group, and group members’ perceptions of the worthiness of the leader as a role model, had further impacts on the degree to which leaders could “inspire” their group members to engage in OCB. 


These findings imply that it may be important for organizations to inform their leaders that their own individual OCB has a major impact on the degree of helping behavior that their employees will engage in. By heightening leaders’ awareness of this function of their jobs, citizenship behavior can be encouraged and supported at all levels of an organization.


Yaffe, T. & Kark, R. (2011). Leading by example: The case of leader OCB. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 806-826.

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