Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Trust and the Relationship between Leadership and Follower Performance: Opening the Black Box in Australia and China

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Trust and the Relationship between Leadership and Follower Performance: Opening the Black Box in Australia and China

Article excerpt

This study provides a cross-cultural comparison of the mediating effects of trust in the leader on the relationship between the in-role performance of followers (as rated by their leaders) and two types of leadership: transactional and transformational. Participants were 119 full-time Australian followers and 122 full-time Chinese followers. Australian followers reported higher levels of trust in their leaders than did Chinese followers. Culture moderated the mediation effects of trust on the leadership-performance relationship. The findings highlight the need to consider the cultural context within which leadership occurs when attempting to understand mediated relationships with performance outcomes. Keywords: leadership style, trust, mediation, cross-cultural.

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Despite recent theoretical and empirical work linking transformational leadership to outcomes (e.g., Waldman, Ramirez, House, & Puranam, 2001), there remains a need to open the leadership "black box" (Hunt, Boal, & Sorenson, 1990). That is, there is a need to examine more closely the dynamics of leadership-outcome relationships including the role of potential mediators (e.g., trust, self-efficacy) (House, 1995; Shamir, 1991), and test whether mediation effects are consistent across cultures. Trust in the leader and the effective performance of followers are both vital outcomes of successful leadership. The present research therefore examines the role of trust in the leader on the leadership-performance relationship and compares a Western culture (i.e., Australia) with an Eastern culture (i.e., China). This study contributes to the literature by providing a cross-cultural comparison of (1) the level of followers' trust in their leaders, and (2) the mediating effect of trust in the leader on the relationship between leadership and the in-role performance of followers as rated by their leaders.

Trust in the Leader

Trust can be defined in terms of the extent to which one believes in and is willing to depend on another party (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; McKnight, Cummings, & Chervany, 1998). It can further be defined as confidence in the goodwill and competence of others and the expectation that others will reciprocate with honest efforts that are consistent with agreements if one cooperates (Chen, Chen, & Meindl, 1998; Das & Geng, 1998; Ring & Van de Ven, 1994). The leader-follower relationship is an obviously important one within the realm of organizational behavior. Being trusted by one's followers may create an obligation or responsibility on the part of the leader to enable or empower a follower to perform. However, levels of trust in leaders may vary across cultural contexts for several reasons such as differences in implicit theories of leadership and in attitudes to formal authority.

Cultural Differences in Trust in Leaders

We recognize the inherent limitations in attempting to transfer organizational theories across cultures. As has been noted in recent leadership theory (e.g., Dorfman 1996; House et al. 1999), what works in one culture may not necessarily work in another culture. For example, the universal applicability of the notion that trust in the leader is vital for successful leadership can be questioned on the grounds that in some cultures trust in the leader may not be vital for high levels of follower performance due to cultural differences in implicit theories regarding leader-follower relationships. Although Bass (1997) claimed that the transactional-transformational leadership paradigm is universal, cross-cultural differences in values and implicit leadership theories may influence not only the relative levels of trust in the leader but also the mediating effects of trust in the leader on leadership-performance relationships (Triandis et al., 1994).

Cultural typologies can be complex and multi-faceted. Hofstede (1980) put forth one of the more parsimonious and popular classification schemes. …

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