IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Impact of Ethical Leadership, the Internal Audit Function, and Moral Intensity on a Financial Reporting Decision


  • Barbara Arel


  • Cathy Beaudoin


  • Anna Cianci



Two elements of corporate governance—the strength of ethical executive leadership and the internal audit function (IAF hereafter)—provide guidance to accounting managers making decisions involving uncertainty. We examine the joint effect of these two factors, manipulated at two levels (strong, weak), in an experiment in which accounting professionals decide whether to book a questionable journal entry (i.e., a journal entry for which a reasonable business case can be made but there is no supporting documentation). We find that ethical leadership and the IAF interact to determine the likelihood that accountants book the entry. Specifically, accountants are less likely to book a questionable journal entry when there is a weak ethical leader and a strong IAF compared to all other conditions. In addition, we find that accountants question the appropriateness and ethicalness of the request to book an undocumented journal entry more in the weak ethical leader and strong IAF condition than in the other conditions. These results suggest that the IAF has a different impact on financial reporting decisions depending on the ethicalness of executive leadership and that a strong IAF may cause accountants to question the appropriateness and ethicalness of an undocumented journal entry when combined with weak ethical leadership. We also find that the interactive effect of ethical leadership and the IAF on an accountant’s decision is fully mediated by his/her perception of the moral intensity of the issue. Thus, accountants, who perceive greater moral intensity associated with booking the entry, are less willing to do so. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Barbara Arel & Cathy Beaudoin & Anna Cianci, 2012. "The Impact of Ethical Leadership, the Internal Audit Function, and Moral Intensity on a Financial Reporting Decision," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 109(3), pages 351-366, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:109:y:2012:i:3:p:351-366
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-011-1133-1

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Graham, John R. & Harvey, Campbell R. & Rajgopal, Shiva, 2005. "The economic implications of corporate financial reporting," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1-3), pages 3-73, December.
    2. Steven Kaplan & Joseph Schultz, 2007. "Intentions to Report Questionable Acts: An Examination of the Influence of Anonymous Reporting Channel, Internal Audit Quality, and Setting," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 71(2), pages 109-124, March.
    3. Graham, John R. & Harvey, Campbell R., 2001. "The theory and practice of corporate finance: evidence from the field," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(2-3), pages 187-243, May.
    4. Treviño, Linda Klebe & Butterfield, Kenneth D. & McCabe, Donald L., 1998. "The Ethical Context in Organizations: Influences on Employee Attitudes and Behaviors," Business Ethics Quarterly, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(03), pages 447-476, July.
    5. Breda Sweeney & Don Arnold & Bernard Pierce, 2010. "The Impact of Perceived Ethical Culture of the Firm and Demographic Variables on Auditors’ Ethical Evaluation and Intention to Act Decisions," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 93(4), pages 531-551, June.
    6. Jeanette Ng & Gregory White & Alina Lee & Andreas Moneta, 2009. "Design and Validation of a Novel New Instrument for Measuring the Effect of Moral Intensity on Accountants’ Propensity to Manage Earnings," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 84(3), pages 367-387, February.
    7. Healy, Paul M., 1985. "The effect of bonus schemes on accounting decisions," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1-3), pages 85-107, April.
    8. Ryan Davidson & Jenny Goodwin-Stewart & Pamela Kent, 2005. "Internal governance structures and earnings management," Accounting and Finance, Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 45(2), pages 241-267.
    9. Merchant, Kenneth A. & Rockness, Joanne, 1994. "The ethics of managing earnings: An empirical investigation," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 79-94.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Rebekka Skubinn & Lisa Herzog, 2016. "Internalized Moral Identity in Ethical Leadership," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 133(2), pages 249-260, January.
    2. Dan Dacian Cuzdriorean, 2013. "Students Attitudes Regarding The Ethics Of Earnings Management Activities: An Empirical Investigation," Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, Faculty of Sciences, "1 Decembrie 1918" University, Alba Iulia, vol. 2(15), pages 1-6.
    3. Cathy Beaudoin & Anna Cianci & George Tsakumis, 2015. "The Impact of CFOs’ Incentives and Earnings Management Ethics on their Financial Reporting Decisions: The Mediating Role of Moral Disengagement," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 128(3), pages 505-518, May.
    4. Yahel Ma’ayan & Abraham Carmeli, 2016. "Internal Audits as a Source of Ethical Behavior, Efficiency, and Effectiveness in Work Units," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 137(2), pages 347-363, August.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:109:y:2012:i:3:p:351-366. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.