Employees’ innovative behavior is a vital source for promoting the sustainable survival and development of enterprises. Innovation is a complicated and high-risk mental process, where in each stage employees’ innovative attitude and behavior will be affected by the varying behaviors of their direct leaders. Therefore, exploring the intricate relationship between leadership behavior and employees’ innovative behavior is necessary. Based on social exchange theory, this study builds a cross-level moderation model to investigate the impact of ethical leadership on employees’ innovative behavior and the mediating role of organization-based self-esteem and the moderating role of flexible human resource management. On the basis of a questionnaire survey of 146 supervisors and 365 subordinates in the mainland of China, the empirical results show that: (a) Ethical leadership positively affects employees’ innovative behavior significantly; (b) Organization-based self-esteem has a partial mediating relationship between ethical leadership and employees’ innovative behavior; and (c) flexible human resource management plays a positive moderating role in the relationship between organization-based self-esteem and employees’ innovative behavior, and it also positively moderates the mediating effect of organization-based self-esteem on the relationship between ethical leadership and employees’ innovative behavior. The findings reveal the internal mechanism and boundary condition of ethical leadership influencing employees’ innovative behavior, which provide a reference for enterprises to encourage employees to innovate, and have important practical significance for employees to actively pursue innovative activities in the workplace.
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