Leadership journal to retract five papers from FIU scholar

Fred O. Walumbwa, via FIU

Retraction Watch has learned that The Leadership Quarterly, a management journal published by Elsevier, plans to retract five papers by a Florida researcher poised to “rock” the field — but probably not quite in the way a press release intended — whose findings in the articles were questioned by readers.

The scholar, Fred O. Walumbwa, had a “stellar history of excellence and achievement,” according to this August 2013 press release from Florida International University announcing his move from Arizona State:

With the addition of Dr. Walumbwa, we have a ‘fab four’ faculty,” says Dr. Mayra Beers, Director of Operations for the CFL. “Individually, each professor on our team — Dr. Mitch Maidique, Dr. Nathan Hiller, Dr. Hock-Peng Sin and now Dr. Fred Walumbwa — has an incredible set of skills, including prolific writing, ground-breaking research, innovative thinking and the ability to transform good leaders to great leaders.

“But when you put these four together, there is a strength within the College of Business and within the Center for Leadership that cannot be matched elsewhere. These four are set to challenge existing paradigms and rock the leadership development world.

One of Walumbwa’s areas of interest appears to be “ethical leadership.”

In a letter to board members of the journal obtained by Retraction Watch, Leanne Atwater, senior editor of the LQ, tiptoed around the reason for the pending retractions:

Dear LQ board members

It is with great distress on many levels that I must report that a decision has been made to retract 5 published papers from The Leadership Quarterly.  This decision comes after a thorough investigation of complaints, responses from the authors  to the concerns and thorough follow up on the authors’ responses.  A formal retraction will be published in an upcoming issue.


There is no editor oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the academic integrity of The Leadership Quarterly(LQ), or of any other scientific journal of which I am aware.  However, the advancement of scientific leadership knowledge requires exactly such stewardship.  The health of our collective endeavor does likewise, as two of the hallmarks of a profession are that it engages in self-monitoring to insure the integrity of its contributions and that it places societal service and the public good above personal or institutional benefit.

In recent weeks serious allegations have been raised about the scientific value and contribution of a number of papers published in recent years in our discipline, five of which were articles published in LQ.  As a result of these a lengthy investigation was launched into the veracity of the allegations.   This inquiry process has been intensive and exceptionally time-consuming for me and many others looking into these issues.  It has also been incredibly stressful and unpleasant to conduct such an inquiry into the work of authors who are colleagues, acquaintances, and, in some cases, friends.

However, despite all the negatives associated with conducting such an inquiry, safeguarding the academic integrity ofLQ and of the knowledge published within its pages has required that it an inquiry be undertaken.

The inquiry process was lengthy and thorough and included a request from authors to demonstrate the accuracy and authenticity of their results and reporting.

As a result of the inquiry, myself and the two previous senior LQ editors, along with three independent statistical and methodological consultants, have concluded that, while intentional wrong doing should not be inferred, assertions of seriously compromised scientific value and contribution are supported with respect to five LQ articles.

The five articles (and corrigendum) which are hereby being retracted from publication in The Leadership Quarterly are:

Fry, L. W., Hannah, S. T., Noel, M., & Walumbwa, F. O. 2011. Impact of spiritual leadership on unit performance.Leadership Quarterly, 22(2): 259-270. 4

Corrigendum to “Impact of spiritual leadership on unit performance”  The Leadership Quarterly, 22 (2011) 259-270.

Peterson, S. J., Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., & Hannah, S. T. 2012. The relationship between authentic leadership and follower job performance: The mediating role of follower positivity in extreme contexts. Leadership Quarterly, 23(3): 502-516.

Walumbwa, F. O., Wang, P., Wang, H., Schaubroeck, J., & Avolio, B. J. 2010. Psychological processes linking authentic leadership to follower behaviors. Leadership Quarterly, 21(5): 901-914.

Zhang, X., Walumbwa, F. O., Aryee, S., & Chen, Z. X. 2013. Ethical leadership, employee citizenship and work withdrawal behaviors: Examining mediating and moderating processes. The Leadership Quarterly, 24(1): 284-297.

Avolio, B. J., Rotundo, M., & Walumbwa, F. O. 2009. Early life experiences as determinants of leadership role occupancy: The importance of parental influence and rule breaking behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(3): 329-342.

An Editorial Statement is being developed which will contain a summary of key issues that authors (as well as reviewers and editors) should be aware of.  This statement is not intended as a definitive summary of manuscript requirements but as an aid in ensuring that LQ is able to maintain a high standard of quality and academic integrity.

Finally, I would like to thank those voicing their concerns, as well as the two former senior LQ editors and three independent methodologists for their time and effort in bringing concerns to light and examining each concern carefully.  This constitutes service to LQ and the profession of the highest order, although each of these benefactors may expect some negative consequences as a result of their service.

One of the five papers — “Psychological processes linking authentic leadership to follower behaviors” — has been cited 41 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The corrigendum referred to in the letter reads:

The authors apologize for inaccuracies listed on page 266 of the article. Please see notice below:

The CFI, NFI, IFI, and RMSEA of .96, .94, .96, and .08, respectively, are reported incorrectly. The correct values are as follows: CFI = .42, NFI = .43, IFI = .45 and RMSEA = .47.

Walumbwa told Retraction Watch that he and his colleagues felt blindsided by the retractions, and that the journal had not given them enough time to prepare a rebuttal to the allegations of data irregularities.

We have data, we are working on that now.

Walumbwa also said the journal arranged for independent reviewers to analyze the papers in question but that the editor would not identify the experts.

 If you are being accused of something you need to know who [that person is]. How do you know what their motivations are?

Walumbwa said he and all of the co-authors of the five papers are preparing a letter to Elsevier detailing their concerns with the “undue process” and hope to forestall the retractions.

Update, 1:15 p.m. Eastern, 2/7/14: We asked senior editor Atwater for more details, but she demurred:

We actually have not made any such formal announcement yet. I appreciate that you appear to have been sent some information by a third party, but I’m afraid it would be inappropriate for me to either confirm or deny such an allegation prior to the conclusion of a formal process, subsequent communication to the authors, and then a statement in the Journal.

9 thoughts on “Leadership journal to retract five papers from FIU scholar”

  1. It’s interesting to read the worries about integrity and friendships and professional relationships coming from a journal that obviously doesn’t handle integrity issues like this very often. His concerns sound like things the editors of STEM journals deal with every day.

  2. Are they saying that the statistics were basically made up? That seems to be the gist of the letter, but it is so couched in expressions of how hard they worked on it that I can’t tell. And the claim by the authors that they weren’t give an adequate chance to respond, if true, would be telling.

    This is an example of why journals don’t usual conduct these investigations. They’ve been to a lot of trouble with it, but don’t feel confident enough to say who is on the committee, and then insert the weaselly “…intentional wrongdoing should not be inferred…” What then is the point of the inquiry?

    I think it just shows up the difference between science and fields such as ‘management’. Business and management are not usually held to the higher standard of scientific research. Truth, accuracy and evidence may play a role in leadership, but are certainly not an overriding imperative.

  3. The press release from Florida International University is quite something:

    “Dr. Walumbwa… has dozens of publishing credits in all major academic journals” (sic)

    Hear that, Nature? You’re not major. Because you have never published Walumbwa.

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