Navigating Ethical Dilemmas: The Lone Wolf Salesperson

December 1, 2022

Bruno Lussier, PhD, Nawar N. Chaker, PhD, Nathaniel N. Hartmann, PhD, and Deva Rangarajan, PhD

Within the remote-work culture of real estate, it is not unusual to find a lone wolf salesperson, one who prefers to work independently when making decisions, setting priorities, and accomplishing goals. These individuals tend to prioritize their own interests and are prone to focus on outcomes rather than on structured processes. It is not uncommon for lone wolf salespeople to have a “sell at all costs” mentality, which can lead to ethical dilemmas. In this research, we explore the relationship between lone wolf sales tendencies and ethical behavior. We also explore whether perceived supervisor support and the cognitive attribute of self-efficacy serve as moderators for ethical decision-making tendencies of a lone wolf salesperson.

Stock Image of Older Man Walking Alone Beside Commercial Building with Briefcase in One Hand and Other Hand in His Pocket

Lone wolf salespeople are prevalent in many industries, and their strengths likely lend themselves toward a profession like real estate, where much of the work is self-initiating and individualistic. Through understanding the findings of our research, supervisors and sales managers can more effectively manage salespeople with lone wolf tendencies and take action to mitigate any unethical behavior.

Perceived Supervisor Support

Not all salespeople prefer to cooperate and collaborate with colleagues. Lone wolves possess intrinsic motivation, determination, and a competitive spirit that fuels their career success; they are also recognized as poor team players who view colleagues as less competent and not as committed to the organization. Harnessing the aforementioned elements and moderating the negative aspects, though, can produce a highly effective employee.

Through our research, we found that the perception of supervisor support tends to decrease the negative relationship between categorical lone wolves and ethical decision making. With input and support from a supervisor, lone wolf salespeople will be less inclined to believe that they can get away with unethical behaviors.

Supervisors who add accountability, guidance, and emotional support can help develop a lone wolf salesperson by promoting values and behaviors that deter unethical decision making. In addition, perceived supervisor support can foster an environment of recognition and feedback where lone wolves may be more inclined to seek support from others. By providing recognition and positive reinforcement, supervisors can influence lone wolves to excel and attain personal goals while also contributing to and achieving goals of the firm.  


Self-efficacy is an individual’s confidence in their abilities to perform a job or task in an effective manner. While having confident, competent employees is crucial to running a successful real estate business, salespeople who are high in self-efficacy are more focused on themselves and the pursuit of individual goals rather than the goals of the firm. We explored the impact of self-efficacy on lone wolf salespeople’s tendency toward ethical behaviors and found that self-efficacy strengthens the negative correlation between lone wolf salespeople and their ethical decision-making. In other words, salespeople who feel they do not need the help of others may be tempted to complete tasks in an unethical manner if it means they can do it without having to depend on someone else. For instance, an agent may offer legal advice to a client in an effort to expedite the purchase process, whereas legal advice should always be referred to an attorney. In this case, the agent and firm can be held responsible for said advice.

Another key takeaway from our research is that when interviewing for sales positions, employers should note that the assumption that a higher level of self-efficacy is always beneficial is not necessarily true. When paired with lone wolf tendencies, self-efficacy heightens unethical behaviors. 


One thing made clear through interviews with sales professionals is that lone wolves are not inherently unethical, nor do they have intentions to act in an unethical manner. However, an inclination toward unethical behaviors can harm customer relationships and have negative consequences for the employer.  

Lone wolves provide value to a selling organization in their high energy and determination to get things done, but they require the proper oversight to mitigate unethical behavioral tendencies. By providing guidance and feedback, an effective supervisor can reduce a lone wolf’s tendency toward unethical behavior.  

In real estate, there is not always a structured, guided process for connecting with a customer and making a deal happen. Every transaction has different obstacles and special circumstances, which is why our research provides helpful insights into effective management strategies. Through our research, we found that lone wolf salespeople, compared to their colleagues, are more likely to act unethically. Most concerning is the finding that self-efficacy strengthens the relationship between lone wolf tendencies and negative ethical behaviors surrounding sales efforts. By contrast, lone wolf salespeople are less likely to act unethically when they feel that their supervisor is supportive of their goals.

By understanding the tendencies of a lone wolf salesperson, a supervisor or employer can effectively manage to achieve optimal results from salespeople while mitigating unethical behavior that is detrimental to the firm.

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Recommended Reading

Lussier, Bruno, Nawar N. Chaker, Nathaniel N. Hartmann, and Deva Rangarajan (2022), “Lone Wolf Tendency and Ethical Behaviors in Sales: Examining the Roles of Perceived Supervisor Support and Salesperson Self-Efficacy,” Industrial Marketing Management, 104, 304-316.

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About the Authors

Bruno Lussier, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, HEC Montréal University (Canada)
Dr. Bruno Lussier (PhD – Grenoble University) conducts research primarily on sales force effectiveness. His research interests include sales management, business-to-business (B2B) selling, relationship marketing, mental health, and ethics. He has published multiple articles in outlets including the Journal of the Academy of Marketing ScienceJournal of Business EthicsIndustrial Marketing Management, and Journal of Business Research. He serves on the ERB of Industrial Marketing Management and Journal of Business Research. Prior to his academic career, he held various positions in professional sales and marketing in several B2B firms.

Nawar N. Chaker, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing and Director of Research, Professional Sales Institute, Louisiana State University
Dr. Nawar N. Chaker (PhD – University of Tennessee) has industry experience in marketing, sales, distribution, and engineering. His experiences have primarily been in professional sales, where he previously worked for two Fortune 100 companies. His research interests include drivers of salesperson performance, emotions in sales, salesperson-sales manager interface, cross-functional sales relationships, and frontline employee management. His research has appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Service Research, Decision Sciences, Journal of Business Ethics, Industrial Marketing Management, and Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, among others. In addition, Dr. Chaker also serves as an Editorial Review Board member for the Journal of Business Research, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, and the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice.

Nathaniel N. Hartmann, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing and Senior Researcher, Marketing and Sales Innovation Center, University of South Florida
Dr. Nathaniel N. Hartmann (PhD – Purdue University) works with companies to perform managerially oriented research on issues related to sales force effectiveness, buyer behavior, and innovation. Nathaniel has been the recipient of the Shelby D. Hunt/Harold H. Maynard Award for making the most significant contribution to marketing theory in Journal of Marketing within a calendar year. His research has appeared in the Journal of MarketingJournal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Service Research, Journal of Product Innovation Management, and Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, among others.

Deva Rangarajan, PhD
Professor of Marketing, IESEG School of Management (France)
Dr. Deva Rangarajan’s (PhD – University of Houston) main areas of research include B2B industrial marketing and sales force and key account management. His research has appeared in California Management Review, Business Horizons, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Journal of Service Research, and Industrial Marketing Management, among others.