Trust in leader-follower relationships
: how and when trust building enhances dyadic and organisational outcomes

  • Alison Legood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Guided by theory in both the trust and leadership domains, the overarching aim of this thesis
was to answer a fundamental question. Namely, how and when does trust-building between leaders and followers enhance leader-member exchange (LMX) development and organisational trust? Although trust is considered to be at the crux of the leader-follower relationship, surprisingly little theoretical or empirical attention has been devoted to understanding the precise nature of this relationship. By integrating both a typology of trustworthy behaviour and a process model of trust development with LMX theory, study one developed and tested a new model of LMX development
with leader-follower trust-building as the primary mechanism. In a three wave cross-lagged design,
294 student dyads in a business simulation completed measures of trust perceptions and LMX across
the first 6 months of the LMX relationship. Trust-building was found to account for unexplained
variance in the LMX construct over time, while controlling for initial relationship quality, thus
confirming the critical role of the trust-building process in LMX development. The strongest evidence was found for the role of integrity-based trust-building behaviour, albeit only when such behaviour was not attributed to insincere motives. The results for ability and benevolence-based trustworthy behaviour revealed valued insights into the developmental nature of trustworthiness perceptions
within LMX relationships. Thus, the pattern of results in study one provided a more comprehensive
and nuanced understanding of the dynamic interplay between trust and LMX. In study two, leader
trust-building was investigated cross-sectionally within an organisational sample of 201 employees. The central aim of this study was to investigate whether leader trust-building within leader-follower relationships could be leveraged for organisational trust. As expected, the trust-building process instigated by members in study one was replicated for leaders in study two. In addition, the results were most consistent for benevolence-based trust building, whereas both integrity- and ability-based trust-building were moderated by the position of the leader within the organisation’s hierarchy. Overall, the findings of this thesis shed considerable light on the richness of trusting perceptions in organisations, and the critical role of trust-building in LMX development and organisational trust.
Date of Award16 Sept 2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGeoffrey M Thomas (Supervisor) & Claudia Sacramento (Supervisor)


  • trust
  • leadership
  • leader-member exchange (LMX)
  • trustworthy behaviour
  • trustworthiness

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