Imagining yourself as “doing good” can sometimes lead to bad things. You eat more at Thanksgiving because you went to the gym in the morning. The “good” action somehow licenses the “bad” action, because you have a self-image as a healthy person. Similarly, you may commit unethical acts precisely because you consider yourself an upstanding person. You do the heinous thing because, subconsciously or not, you have the halo-credits in the bank.
Psychologists call this “moral licensing” or “self licensing,” and apparently it applies as much to corporate behavior as it does to eating. A new study finds that CEOs are more likely to do bad things when they’ve just unveiled a corporate responsibility initiative. In other words, those leaders that look best may be the ones we should be most wary about.