Inspired to Action? Examining the Effects of Observing Workplace Courage

Author: ORCID icon
Bruno, Evan, Business Administration - Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Detert, James, DA, University of Virginia
Adams, Gabrielle, BA, University of Virginia
Cian, Luca, DA, University of Virginia

I explore several questions in this dissertation. First, does witnessing a courageous action really lead to inspiration in observers, as many theorize and numerous organizational members claim? If it does, is the inspiration affective or motivational, or both? If it does not, what are the potential affective and behavioral outcomes that result from witnessing courage? Finally, I examine whether there might be boundary conditions of individual attitudes and personality traits in observers that make inspiration more likely or that augment or attenuate the impact of observing courage. Using an experimental design with mixed analysis methods, I contribute to both the courage and inspiration literatures by empirically testing the underlying assumption that witnessing courage inspires others to act similarly in organizations (i.e., speak up more), and that they feel greater positive affect (i.e., inspiration) as a result. I also separate and explore the differences between being inspired “by” something and inspired “to do” something, an important approach not frequently taken in the inspiration literature. Additionally, I explore the possible effects of individual differences between observers on their experience of the same courageous event. Measuring in situ behavioral outcomes of witnessing courage in a controlled, repeatable context adds much-needed clarity to our knowledge of what the organizational impacts of witnessing someone speak up actually are.
The main study is an experiment which I pre-registered to explore both the between-condition findings as well as the within-treatment results. Because of the unique design of the study, this dissertation is structured such that Chapter 1 is an overview of how I conceptualize courage and why. Then, Chapter 2 comprises my research methodology for the Experiment, while Chapters 3 and 4 each set up the respective hypotheses. Chapter 3 covers the between-conditions hypotheses (comparing inspiration, desire to emulate, felt anxiety, discomfort, and subsequent voice behaviors between courageous voice and “regular” voice conditions). Chapter 4 covers the within-treatment hypotheses (focusing on the role that observers’ duty orientation may play on the experience of witnessing courageous voice). Because the data are so rich (e.g., video recordings of each participant’s real-time reaction to courageous voice) and due to time and budget constraints, there are some future opportunities to dig deeper into my data and findings. Chapter 5 thus expands on strengths, limitations, and future steps for this research stream.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Workplace courage, Voice, Speaking up
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