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Purpose – Vulnerability is a concept that lies at the core of the most prevalent academic trust definitions. Accordingly, a vast amount of scholars refers to vulnerability when studying trust. Surprisingly, there is almost no conceptual nor empirical work explicitly directed at understanding vulnerability itself. The purpose of this paper is to summarize and critique the existing base of knowledge of vulnerability with a particular focus on the leader-follower relationship and to open avenues for future research. Design/methodology/approach – In the process of a very systematic literature search, the authors identified 49 studies that refer to vulnerability when studying trust at the interpersonal level. The authors coded the literature into conceptualizations, antecedents and consequences of vulnerability – with a particular focus on the leader-follower relationship. Findings – The authors introduce a theoretical framework which allows the authors to structure the rather fuzzy discussed concept of vulnerability. The development of such a theoretical framework allows the authors to distinguish between trusting beliefs and actual trusting behaviour so that it is possible to separate the constructs of willingness-to-be-vulnerable and actual vulnerability. Research limitations/implications – With the help of the developed framework, the authors point to the need for more work on vulnerability in order to take the study of trust to the next level. In this respect, the authors formulate several propositions that should be tested in future research. Practical implications – Practitioners are made aware of the need to risk willingness to be vulnerable as a base for trusting behaviour. There is no way around being willing to be vulnerable. Originality/value – This literature review provides a holistic understanding of the concept of vulnerability. The intention is to show the different understandings and interpretations of this term within the literature and identify which antecedents and consequences are related to the concept of vulnerability.
Nienaber, A./ Hofeditz, M./Romeike, P.
This is a green open access version of an article accepted for publication in Personnel Review
For APA Quotation use: Nienaber A. M., Hofeditz M., & Romeike P. D. (2015): Vulnerability
and Trust in Leader-Follower Relationships, in: Personnel Review accepted; forthcoming in
Copyright © 2014 (Emerald Group Publishing Limited)
Reader in Business Management,
Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations,
Coventry University, United Kingdom
Phd student at Chair of Business Management, Personnel and Innovation
Munster University, Munster, Germany
Phd student at Centre for Trust and Communication in a Digitized World
Munster University, Munster, Germany
We introduce a theoretical framework which allows structuring the rather fuzzy discussed concept
of vulnerability. We distinguish between trusting beliefs and actual trusting behaviour in order to
separate the constructs of willingness-to-be-vulnerable and actual vulnerability. With the help of
the framework developed, we point to the need for more work on vulnerability in order to take the
study of trust to the next level. In this respect, we formulate several propositions that should be
tested by future research.
Vulnerability and trust are distinct concepts but often times mentioned together in regard to
leader-follower relationships. Although trust topics recently became of major public interest,
scholars in the field of Human Resource Management have still paid less attention to the term
vulnerability in leader-follower relationships. Only a few examples can be identified that
focus on vulnerability. One prominent example can be found by Lapidot, Kart and Shamir
(2007). Their analysis in a military training context shows impressively the cadets’
vulnerability to the actions of their team commanders since their judgments have an influence
whether the cadets survive or not. The study concludes that vulnerability is essential for trust
but needs further attention by scholars and business managers in the Human Resource field,
since an exact understanding of how trust and vulnerability are interrelated is still missing.
Regarding the Human Resource and Psychology literature, scholars agree on two key
issues concerning trust. First, trust is seen as the willingness to rely on a key partner in whom
one has confidence (Moorman et al., 1992; Mayer et al., 1995). Second, trust is defined as an
expectation held by an individual that his partner will behave in a mutually acceptable manner
(Sako and Helper, 1998). Thus, scholars define trust as the willingness of a party (the trustor)
to be vulnerable to the actions of another party (the trustee) based on the expectation that the
trustee will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to
monitor and control the other party (Rousseau et al., 1998).
A wealth of literature now exists which has used such vulnerability-based
conceptualisations of interpersonal trust when studying its antecedents and consequences
(e.g., Fulmer and Gelfand, 2012; McEvily and Tortoriello, 2010; Poon, 2013; Robertson et
al., 2013; Schoorman et al., 2007), often using the terms willingness to be vulnerable and
vulnerability interchangeable. Such a tendency to conflate the two terms constitutes a major
shortcoming which needs to be addressed. Accordingly, the intention of this paper is to
provide a holistic conceptualisation of trust and vulnerability that clearly distinguishes
between trusting beliefs (i.e. the willingness to be vulnerable) and trusting behavior (i.e.
actual vulnerability).
In order to do so, we firstly review the literature and illustrate which factors lead to
trusting beliefs and explain how these can lead to actual trusting behavior while taking into
account the role of different moderating factors. Secondly, we connect the vulnerability or
trusting behavior of one person to the level of trust an interpersonal referent holds.
Throughout the paper we apply our argumentation to the leader-follower relationship which is
an example for a situation with an imbalance of power and therefore a particularly interesting
area to study vulnerability and trust (Suff and Williams, 2004).
To the best of our knowledge, this appears to be the first literature review focussing
specifically on vulnerability as the key manifestation of trust between individuals. We build
this bridge with the use of sense-making theory (Maitlis and Christianson, 2014; Weick et al.,
2005). Sense-making theory provides a useful approach to this topic because of its focus on
the role of emotions (Weick et al. 2005; Maitlis et al., 2013). Very limited conceptual or
empirical work so far exists that is explicitly directed to understand vulnerability itself (e.g.
Sheffi, 2005; Tsui-Auch and Moellering, 2010). In the present study, we analyse 49 studies
(conceptual and empirical) that deal with vulnerability and its connection to the overarching
concept of interpersonal trust.
We are able to make the following contributions: First, this literature review provides
a holistic understanding of the concept of vulnerability. The intention is to show the different
understandings and interpretations of this term within the literature and identify which
antecedents and consequences are related to the concept of vulnerability. Second, we
introduce a theoretical framework which allows us to structure this rather fuzzy discussed
concept of vulnerability. The development of such a theoretical framework allows us to
distinguish between trusting beliefs and actual trusting behaviour so that it is possible to
separate the constructs of willingness-to-be-vulnerable and actual vulnerability. Third, based
on this framework we are able to derive further research implications in the form of testable
propositions and provide practical implications for building trustful leader-follower
relationships based on actual vulnerability.
Vulnerability is typically mentioned in relation to trust in the management and psychological
literature since scholars in these fields see the willingness to be vulnerable as one core aspect
when defining trust. In the case of trust between leader and followers, trust both Mayer et al.
(1995) and Rousseau et al. (1998) define trust as the follower’s willingness to be vulnerable
based on positive expectations that his leader will not take advantage of this vulnerability.
However, while most scholars refer to the “willingness to be vulnerable”, the interpretation of
vulnerability itself being either an intention to trust (e.g. Chow et al., 2012) or an actual
trusting behaviour (e.g. Graebner, 2009) is rather unclear. As mentioned before, Lapidot et al.
(2007) were one of the first to study the impact of vulnerability on trust. Their content
analysis of critical incidents in a cadets’ officer training course revealed that higher feelings
of vulnerability on the side of the follower increased the importance of the perceived leader’s
To provide a broad understanding of the concept vulnerability, we start by outlining
different conceptualisations of this construct across different disciplines. Second, we explore
the exact relationship between vulnerability and trust. Finally, we get even more specific and
explore vulnerability in leader-follower relationships with the use of sense-making theory.
The United Nations (ISDR, 2002) propose a macroeconomic perspective on
vulnerability describing how general categories of factors determine a communitys level of
vulnerability. One of the most dominant streams of research on vulnerability can be found in
medical sciences. Here, vulnerability describes an individual’s inability to protect and
maintain her/his interests (CIOMS, 2002). Just taking into account relevant sociological
factors, Chambers (2006) explains vulnerability in terms of arising from two sources: external
threats and a lack of internal coping mechanisms.
Turner et al.’s (2003) conceptualisation of vulnerability has originally been used for
models of human-environment systems and is one of the most prevalent in the literature that
has been widely quoted in other disciplines, too. The authors argue that vulnerability can be
observed not only in situations of stress or perturbations (hazards), but also in the system’s
resilience and sensitivity when being exposed to such hazards. Table 1 includes a list of the
most frequently used definitions of vulnerability from different disciplinary backgrounds.
[Insert table 1 around here]
Focussing on the widely accepted definition of trust from Mayer et al. (1995) we can
say that trust in general is based on two core elements: (a) the positive expectations that the
other party will behave not in an opportunistic way and (b) the willingness to be vulnerable
because we trust someone. Regarding the relationship between positive expectations and
vulnerability, two different opinions can be identified in the literature. The first perspective
relies on the view offered by Mayer et al. (1995) who see the willingness to be vulnerability
as a consequence of positive expectations. An individuals’ willingness to accept vulnerability
is based on an assessment of the partner’s trustworthiness and thus, on the positive
expectations that the partner will behave in goodwill. Following Luhmann (1988)
vulnerability itself is seen as an antecedent for trusting someone and thus having positive
expectations towards his behavior. Luhmann states that trust presupposes a situation of risk”
(Luhmann, 1988, p. 97). These two references already suggest that it is important to
distinguish clearly between the willingness to be vulnerable and actual vulnerability.
Most researchers nowadays agree on the fact that trust has to be distinguished into two
dimensions: cognitive trust and affective trust (Lewis and Weigert, 1985; McAllister, 1995).
While cognitive trust is usually related to a rational assessment whether a party (e.g. the
leader) is seen as trustworthy or not, the affective dimension of trust is based on emotions.
The perceived trustworthiness of a party (e.g. the leader) is mainly determined by a perception
of the other partys ability, benevolence and integrity (Mayer et al., 1995) while affective
trust is mainly developed through the interpersonal interactions (Lewis and Weigert, 1985).
This suggests that positive expectations are more strongly related to cognitive trust while the
willingness to be vulnerable has stronger associations with affective trust. We elaborate on
that in our results section.
To address the affective side of trust in terms of willingness to be vulnerable, we have
to think about an adequate theoretical stream of research. Two main theories in terms of trust
between individuals (e.g. leader and follower) are social exchange theory and transaction cost
economic theory. While the latter theory may be useful to address the cognitive part of trust
(i.e. positive expectations), social exchange theory focuses on the affective part of trust (i.e.
willingness to be vulnerable). Social exchange theory advocates that trust decreases with a
perceived imbalance in the exchange (Khazanchi and Masterson, 2011). However, social
exchange theory does not reach far enough to explore the affective side of trust. Sense-
making theory puts emotions in the centre of its interest (Weick et al. 2005) which is why this
lens to explore the matter of affective trust and vulnerability. Sense-making theory suggests
that risky experiences such as unfamiliar situations are characterized by negative feelings in
the form of disorientation or foreignness (Maitlis and Christianson, 2014; Louis, 1980). The
key question related to sense-making is “same or different?” (Weick et al., 2005). The
majority of research in this area focuses on how awareness of a specific situation or event is
formed and categorized, and how these processes influence individual’s actions. While a lot
of researchers focused on the cognitive side of sense-making theory, we also have to consider
that Maitlis and colleagues (2013) pointed out which role individual emotions in the sense-
making process have and how these emotions are able to influence the final individual
decision making.
With the help of sense-making theory, we introduce a theoretical framework to
demonstrate the different relationships between antecedents, dimensions, intentions and
behaviours of trust, in particular of vulnerability and enhance our understanding of the
underlying relations and differences especially between willingness to be vulnerable and
vulnerability in regards to trust.
Data collection
This study applies the guidelines for a systematic literature review as provided by Pittaway et
al. (2004). First, we identified clear and precise aims and objectives for our literature search.
Thus, we checked the search categories dealing with vulnerability and trust between leaders
and followers. These categories are management, psychology and behavioural science. A
comprehensive search of the following databases was conducted, EbscoHost and
Second, we defined the following exclusion and inclusion criteria based on Tranfield
et al. (2003): 1) academic rigour (peer-reviewed journals); 2) interpersonal trust in business
contexts (we excluded non-business and organizational trust contexts); 3) sufficient scope for
generalizability (no single person interviews); and 4) a definition of trust that includes
vulnerability (e.g. Mayer et al., 1995; Rousseau et al., 1998).
Third, we applied the following search terms for our electronic search in combination
with trust (search hits in brackets): vulnerability (167), vulnerable (177), sensitivity (244),
susceptibility (25), vulnerableness (0), violability (0), unprotectedness (0). To ensure that we
focussed on the relationship between leader and follower, we also combined the search term
vulnerability with leader (84), supervisor (14), subordinate (37), follower (310) and employee
(310). In total, we were able to generate 1053 hits with the help of our search strategy.
Data filtering and description
We discarded more than three quarters of the studies due to duplication or because they did
not fit the general topic after a quick check of title and abstract, leaving 223 studies for closer
examination. Second, we excluded half of these studies after closer inspection of the entire
text document as they did not fit our inclusion criteria (1-3) leaving 132 studies for
examination. Finally, we excluded 84 studies since they did not define vulnerability as part of
trust (exclusion criteria 4). As a final step to ensure comprehensive coverage, we manually
undertook a forward and backward search of the identified studies which yielded the removal
of one additional study.
Overall, 49 articles (see appendix) were identified that met our criteria, spanning a ten
year period from 2002 and 2012. This is a comparable number to similar qualitative reviews
(e.g. Oreg et al.,, 2011). Two of the authors individually read and coded the final set of 49
studies following an inductive approach (Oreg et al., 2011). Where there was disagreement,
the coders reached consensus by re-visiting previously coded papers in the light of these
problems. Amongst these relevant articles, 33 are quantitative studies, eight are qualitative
studies and another eight are pure conceptual articles. Of the quantitative studies, 24 are
survey studies, two are case studies, one is a simulation study, three are interview studies,
eight are experiments and two are quantitative meta-analyses. 34 of the 49 studies used Mayer
et al. (1995) and/or Rousseau et al. (1998) for their definition of trust. From the entire set of
49 studies only 34 studies make an assertion about vulnerability beyond including the term in
their definition of trust. Strikingly, most of the assertions appear to be rather brief and to
remain on the concept’s surface. Only a very few articles put vulnerability into the centre of
interest (e.g. Sheffi, 2005; Tsui-Auch and Moellering, 2010); 14 studies explicitly cover a
leader-follower situation. In total, 11 of the 49 studies have empirically measured
Results and Discussion
In presenting our results we develop a comprehensive model that distinguishes vulnerability
from trust. We outline how, trust antecedents, cognitive and affective bases of trust, trust
intentions (i.e. willingness to be vulnerable) and trustful behaviour (i.e. actual vulnerability)
are interrelated. We describe how trust bases result into the trusting intention a person holds
and discuss how trusting intentions are finally manifested in trusting, vulnerable behaviour
such as disclosing sensible information to the supervisor. We also outline a number of
moderating factors. As last step of our model we link trusting behaviour of one person to the
level of trust his referent holds.
Figure 1 provides an overview of the theoretical model for this study which will be
discussed in a step by step in the following sections. Step 1 will describe the relationship
between trust antecedents, bases of trust and trusting intention. Step 2 explains the
relationship between the trusting intentions and the manifestation of trust and finally, step 3
refers to the trusting referent.
---- Insert Figure 1 around here ----
Step 1: Trust antecedents, bases of trust and trusting intentions:
Research on trust has typically distinguished between two classes of trust antecedents. One is
more strongly related to the formation of cognitive trust and the other has stronger
associations with the development of affective trust (McAllister, 1995).
The perceptions of a person’s character (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002) in terms of his
ability, integrity and benevolence (Mayer et al. 1995) fall into this first category which means
the formation of cognitive trust. Regarding the relationship to vulnerability, of these three
dimensions benevolence has received most attention by researchers. Some researchers
actually refer to benevolence as not taking advantage of the trustee’s vulnerability (Bews and
Rossouw, 2002). That means a leader should behave in a benevolent way towards his
followers and should not take advantage of a follower’s vulnerability due to hierarchical
issues or other dependencies. In a similar vein, others propose that fair treatment (Johnson and
Lord, 2010; Yang and Mossholder, 2010) and perceived justice (Colquitt and Rodell, 2011)
are particularly relevant concepts to benevolence as the presence of such perceptions
increases a person’s perceived trustworthiness and leads to a greater willingness to be
vulnerable. Apart from benevolence, integrity in the form of honest and truthful justifications
may lead to a higher willingness to be vulnerable (Colquitt and Rodell, 2011). Scholars have
noted that this assessment of the trust referent’s character is a rather cognitive process.
Indeed, Colquitt and Rodell (2011) state that the deliberate, careful consideration of the
supervisor’s or leader’s trustworthiness drives employee’s or follower’s intentions to be
vulnerable while Yang et al. (2009) argue that “subordinates [followers] become cognitively
assured about their vulnerability in interactions with their supervisors [leaders].” (p. 145).
Interactions between a trustor and trustee play an important role in the development of
affective trust. Research observes that personal interactions lead to more willingness to be
vulnerable (Mislin et al., 2011). In other words the more a leader and a follower interact with
each other the more willingness to be vulnerable they are to each other. Having a shared
interest is associated with both affective trust and a higher willingness to be emotionally
vulnerable (Jiang et al., 2011). Our results clearly demonstrate that the affective dimension of
trust needs further research as only a handful of the studies found within this review really
analysed affective trust. In support of such assertions, Dirks and Ferrin (2002) decided to
exclude affective trust from their meta-analysis because of too few studies in that field.
It is important to note that the development of trust bases as built on these trust
antecedents is not the same for everyone. Instead, in line with sense-making theory (Weick et
al., 2005), individual characteristics do play a role: People with low self-esteem are expected
to show less willingness to be vulnerable (Premeaux and Bedeian, 2003), whereas strong
interdependent identities show greater willingness to be vulnerable (Johnson and Lord, 2010;
The two bases of trust cognitive and affective form the trusting intention a person
holds. Most researchers conceptualised this trusting intention as consisting of two elements:
Positive expectations and the willingness to be vulnerable (Bird and Osland, 2005; Olsen,
2012). Particularly the intention to accept vulnerability has been named as the core element of
a trusting intention (Chow et al., 2012; Colquitt and Rodell, 2011) whereas Graebner (2009)
only refers to the aspect of positive expectation in a situation involving vulnerability” (p.
436). Regarding the interrelationship of positive expectations and the willingness to be
vulnerable, Olsen (2012) for example notes that the intention to accept vulnerability is based
upon positive expectations.
Step 2: From trusting intentions to actual trusting behaviour
To fully understand the concept of interpersonal trust, the trusting intention or beliefs
consisting in positive expectations and the willingness to be vulnerable must be considered
with trusting behaviour that is manifested in actual vulnerability. Gundlach and Cannon
(2010, p. 400) for example note that trust is manifested by actually increasing one’s
vulnerability to the actions of another and Deb and Chavali (2010) argue that “without
vulnerability of the trustor upon the trustee, trust becomes irrelevant (p. 44) which means
that both, the leader and the follower, have to express vulnerability otherwise trust is not
relevant in their relationship.
As trusting intention and trusting behaviour appear to go hand in hand, it is vital to
clearly distinguish between these two concepts. Lin et al. (2003) for example state that
vulnerability means taking a risk whereas the trusting intention does not yet comprise risk but
only the willingness to take risk. Similarly, Mayer and Gavin (2005) note that trust is a
generalized behavioural intention to take risk, whereas its outcome is actually taking risk.
Colquitt et al. (2007) state that “the distinction between trust and risk taking reflects the
distinction between a willingness to be vulnerable and actually becoming vulnerable.”
(p. 910). Hence, trust is manifested in actual behaviour that allows vulnerability to the trustee
(Mayer and Gavin, 2005).
Regarding the relationship between trusting intentions and actual trusting behaviour
one can see a clear complementary relationship: Higher levels of trusting intentions are
associated with higher levels of vulnerable behaviour: Confident expectations lead to a higher
willingness to be vulnerable which leads to higher levels of actual behavioural trust (Gillespie
and Mann, 2004) such as higher levels of dependence Svensson (2004). The more leaders
trust their followers, the more power they will delegate (Tzafrir, 2005). Furthermore,
Gundlach and Cannon (2010) note that relationships with the highest level of trust (close
relationships) may also be the relationships with the highest level of vulnerability. This result
is in line with Scandura and Pellegrini’s (2008) observation that high-quality relationships are
characterized by high levels of vulnerability.
Trusting behaviour itself can be distinguished between active vulnerability for
example characterized by deliberately disclosing sensible, potentially damaging information
(Mayer and Gavin, 2005) and passive vulnerability for example consisting in merely relying
on another person (Gillespie and Mann, 2004). In a similar vein, Child and Moellering (2003)
distinguish institution-based trust from active trust development that is more risky because it
requires a leap of faith and investment. In the leader-follower relationship, followers express
disclosure-based trust by actively sharing potentially damaging information and reliance-
based trust by passively accepting the influence of the leader (Mayer and Gavin, 2005).
Contrary, an unwillingness to be vulnerable leads to less reliance-based and disclosure-based
behavioural trust that becomes apparent in verification strategies, monitoring, assurances, and
corroboration (Gundlach and Cannon, 2010).
Proposition 1: The trusting behaviour of a person will be manifested in active
vulnerability (disclosure-based trust) and passive vulnerability (reliance-based trust).
Most research on trust focuses on the passive manifestation of vulnerability in the
form of reliance-based behaviour. This may take the form of help-seeking (Hofmann et al.,
2009), feedback seeking (Hays and Williams, 2011), and acceptance of risks (Bidault et al.
2007). In addition, a high degree of reliance-based trust becomes apparent when employees or
followers are free to focus their full attention on job tasks (Colquitt et al., 2007) and allow the
leader to have significant influence over their working lives (Colquitt and Rodell, 2011).
Reliance-based trust (i.e. passive vulnerability) may not only be expressed by followers
towards their leader but also vice versa: The trust a leader holds towards his followers is
manifested in sharing his power with them (Tzafrir, 2005). Reliance-based trust is also
relevant in international business where foreign investors may express behavioural trust by
relying on local leaders rather than sending in expatriates which increases their vulnerability
(Child and Moellering, 2003). As can be seen from our results, most research on trusting
behaviour (i.e. actual vulnerability) concentrated on reliance-based trust (i.e. passive
vulnerability). We therefore encourage future work to address this imbalance and direct their
research efforts towards disclosure-based behavioural manifestations of trust (i.e. active
Proposition 2: Reliance-based passive trust is more strongly related to the cognitive
trust building process and the positive expectation a person holds whereas disclosure-
based active vulnerability is more strongly related to the affective process of trust
building and the willingness to be vulnerable a person holds.
Similarly to our conclusion that the strength of the relationship between trust
antecedents and the formation of trust bases depends on certain individual differences, the
connection between trusting intention (i.e. willingness to be vulnerable) and trusting
behaviour (i.e. actual vulnerability) appears to be contingent on a number of situational
factors as well as on the trust referent (Mayer and Gavin, 2005; Kickul et al., 2005). Research
has articulated that less behavioural trust (i.e. actual vulnerability) will be expressed in
situations with higher levels of uncertainty (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002), that are for example
characterized by an absence of formal contracts (Colquitt et al., 2007). Virtuality is said to
have a negative effect on trusting behaviour (Hill et al., 2009) that may be caused by the
increase in distant between trustee and trustor, here leader and follower, that makes face-to-
face meetings less likely which reduces vulnerability and hence behavioural trust (Yakovleva
et al., 2010). Furthermore, a number of studies pointed out that the higher the power or status
difference between trustee and trustor, the higher the level of vulnerability of the trustor will
be (de Jong et al., 2007; Mayer and Gavin, 2005; Yang et al., 2009) and accordingly the more
behavioural trust expressed by relying on the trustee and by disclosing information, the higher
is the level of vulnerability of the trustor. The same applies to situations that are characterized
by a high degree of asymmetrical task dependence (de Jong et al., 2007). Therefore, we are
able to make the following propositions:
Proposition 3: Situational characteristics moderate the strength of the connection
between trusting intentions (i.e. willingness to be vulnerable) and trusting behaviour
(i.e. actual vulnerability).
Step 3: From trusting vulnerable behaviour of one person to the level of trust his referent
Trust generally develops from the iterative reciprocation of the parties’ trusting acts. The
process begins with one party trusting another enough to act on that trust (Weber et al. 2004).
The higher the vulnerability expressed by the trustor (e.g. the follower), the higher will be the
trust reciprocated by the trust referent (e.g. leader): Malhotra and Murningham (2002) argue
that “trusted parties were less likely to honour trust when trustors had taken small rather than
large risks as they attributed such actions to a lack of trust, which was viewed negatively
(p. 555). In the leadership context Gillespie and Mann (2004) note that trust building
leadership practises put the leader in a position of vulnerability and may be reciprocated by
the followers. This also applies to the international business context where Child and
Moellering (2003) report that for international investors who made themselves vulnerable by
relying on local leaders/managers instead of expatriates this might pay off as local
leaders/managers appreciate such signals of trust and reciprocate this to the advantage of the
Proposition 4: The higher the level of vulnerability expressed by the trustor, the higher will be
the reciprocal trust of the trust referent.
Implications for Research on Human Resource Management
Based on our results, we can conclude, that the current state of research does clearly not
satisfy the increasing relevance of vulnerability in interpersonal relationships in organisations.
Our results demonstrate that there are only a few studies that take the concept of vulnerability
into account but none of these studies explicitly addresses the role vulnerability plays exactly.
Furthermore, we found that the cognitive dimension of trust together with its antecedents
(ability, benevolence and integrity) appears relatively well researched. Contrary, the affective
dimension of trust needs further attention. Researchers should also be more sensitive when
conceptualizing the different components of trusting intentions which are positive
expectations and the willingness to be vulnerable. In particular they should differentiate these
underlying bases of trust from trustful behaviour which is actual vulnerability (either in active
or passive form). Finally, researchers should be more sensitive when conceptualizing the
different components of trust itself: positive expectations and willingness to be vulnerable and
in particular differentiate these underlying concepts of trust from trustful behaviour which is
the actual vulnerability (either in active or passive form).
Implications for Human Resource Management practise
Trust building through leaders expression of vulnerability
Our results demonstrate that the key issue for leaders’ perceived trustworthiness is the
expression of actual vulnerability. Thus, leaders should avoid showing themselves as
distanced and inaccessible to their followers. Instead they should demonstrate their own
vulnerability. Only when they present themselves as vulnerable they are able to build strong
emotional based relationships to their followers and thus, real trust relationships. Leaders may
express vulnerability in two regards: one being passive in the form of reliance-based trustful
behaviour, the other being active in the form of disclosure-based trustful behaviour. Reliance-
based trustful behaviour may in particular take the form of reducing control mechanisms or
monitoring systems. In terms of disclosure-based trust leaders may for example share
important strategic information with their followers.
Trust-building through followers expression of vulnerability
Our review clearly underlines that actual vulnerability expressed by the follower is essential
for trust to develop reciprocally in the relationship with the leader. Due to the hierarchical
nature of the leader-follower relationship, followers are typically per se in the more
vulnerable position. Nevertheless, in order to actually express vulnerability, the follower must
also hold some willingness to be vulnerable. To stimulate that willness leaders should avoid
any behaviour that might be perceived as opportunistic by the followers. Taking further into
account, that our review suggests that the willingness to be vulnerable (i.e. the intention to
trust) is mainly driven by the affective base of trust, two antecedents appear particularly
relevant: Emotional bonds between leader and follower as well as personal interactions
between the two. Hence in order to drive reciprocal trust, leaders should build an emotional
bond with their followers and secure regular personal meetings with the follower.
With this literature review, we are able to contribute to Human Resource Management and
Psychology in three regards. First, we show that there are only few studies that take the
concept of vulnerability into account while no single study explicitly addresses the role
vulnerability plays. This observation is striking as obviously a considerable amount of studies
rely on the concept of vulnerability when defining trust but apparently these studies lack a
deeper understanding of the concept of vulnerability and its relationship with trust. Second,
we introduce a comprehensive theoretical framework which allows us to distinguish between
the willingness-to-be-vulnerable and the actual vulnerability. Third, we provide clear
implications how leaders are able to build trustful relationships to their followers by being
willingly to be vulnerable and showing actual vulnerability
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the design of agency contracts: CEO-TMT relationships in family firms“, Academy of
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G: Trust Referent
A: Trust Antecedents
Assessment of
Interaction Frequency
Emotional Bonds
F: Trusting Behaviour:
Actual Vulnerability
Reliance-Based Trust:
Passive Vulnerability
Disclosure-Based Trust:
Active Vulnerability
C: Bases of Trust
Cognitive Trust
Affective Trust
D: Trusting Intention
Positive Expectations
Willingness to be
B: Individual
e.g. Trustor‘s
to Trust
E: Situational
e.g. Perceived Risk
Trust Antecedents ->
Bases of Trust ->
Trusting Beliefs ->
Trusting Behaviour
... leadership behavior and psychological safety. Various research has contributed further to the idea that a leader can behave vulnerably with followers without losing credibility (Nienaber, 2015;Edmondson, 2019). Vulnerability in leadership seems a refreshing and balancing antidote to the omnipotence and heroism implicitly attributed to leadership (Arnulf et al., 2013). ...
... Over the last decade, vulnerability has made an intriguing entrance among leading thinkers and in the literature as a driver of effective leadership (Brown, 2012;Khazanchi & Masterson, 2011). Vulnerability in leadership behavior is suggested to create deeper and more authentic relationships and trust between leaders and followers (Nienaber, 2015). Vulnerability appears as an ambiguous leadership behavior: It can lead to increased trust towards the vulnerable party and is suggested to create reciprocity by the receiver of vulnerability (Cozby, 1973;Zak, 2004). ...
... In an ever more VUCA world, contextual vulnerability seems to be a given, and yet, vulnerability has received relatively little attention in organizational and leadership research so far (Ito & Bligh, 2016;Nienaber et al., 2015;Lopez, 2018). Ito and Bligh (2016) stated that not a lot of empirical evidence exists about the "potential advantages and disadvantages of vulnerability in organizational contexts, as well as its antecedents and outcomes when leaders share vulnerability with their followers" (p. ...
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I researched the effects of vulnerable leadership behaviors for my doctoral dissertation at William James College. I explored 3 different types of vulnerable leadership behaviors using psychophysiological measurements. My experimental research data showed that vulnerable leadership behavior was related to higher levels of psychological safety.
... Although risking vulnerability is associated with other motives such as desperation, obedience, impulsivity, innocence, or selfassurance (Hoy and Tschannen-Moran, 1999), trust requires action (Nienaber et al., 2015) because it is reciprocal. Teachers can feel trusted when the principal entrusts them with managerial tasks since by doing so, the principal exposes their vulnerability to teachers. ...
... In that case, teachers may not feel trusted since what the principal has expressed is merely their (principal) perception of the teachers' trustworthy attributes. In a school setting, trust is demonstrated when leaders delegate a certain degree of power to their subordinates (Nienaber et al., 2015). Indeed, trust intentions arise from perceptions of trustworthiness. ...
... On the other hand, trustworthiness is one of the bases of trust as it influences the decision to trust. Facets of trust should essentially reflect the components of trust (intrapersonal, relational, or collective) based on the context and nature of vulnerability (whether passive or active) (Poza et al., 2014;Nienaber et al., 2015). Trust is to the trustor while trustworthiness is to the trustee. ...
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More than 20 years have passed since the publication of Pianta (2001) on the quality of the teacher-student relationship. Since then, several attempts have been made to elaborate theoretically the concept of teacher-student relationship quality and to provide empirical evidence of the impact that good teacher-student relationship quality might have on academic achievement, student psychological adjustment, and classroom climate. The teacher has been recognized as a “psychological parent” and defined as a secure base and safe heaven, following attachment theory (Verschueren and Koomen, 2012, 2021; Prino et al., 2022; Spilt et al., 2022). Several studies have shown that a relationship with the teacher characterized by affection, closeness, and respect predicts more favorable developmental outcomes and better adjustment to the classroom context in any school setting (Roorda et al., 2011, 2017; Longobardi et al., 2019, 2021; Lin et al., 2022). However, after 20 years, we saw the need to synthesize the current literature on the topic of teacher-learner relationship quality and to promote a collection of studies that provide new insights, ideas, and reflections to advance the research field and overcome current limitations. In this Research Topic, 16 publications were collected from different parts of the world. The Research Topic includes two literature reviews, several empirical works, some of which aim to develop and validate instruments to measure the quality of the teacher-student relationship, and others to promote new knowledge about the effects and mechanisms of action of the quality of the teacher-learner relationship on the psychological development and adjustment processes of children and adolescents. In addition, the Research Topic includes a contribution on possible intervention strategies on the quality of teacher-student relationship.
... Trust appears in the LMX literature in early works such as Dienesch and Liden [33] who identified trust as important to exchange relationships. However, the role and influence of trustworthiness, trusting behaviours and communication in relationship quality have remained unclear [34], and theory is largely unsupported by empirical studies [30,35,36]. ...
... Here, trust is theorised as a psychological state where one individual is willing to make themselves vulnerable to another [43]. Assessments of trustworthiness are made on the basis of the other party's: (1) ability to fulfil a role; (2) benevolence, i.e. kindness, support and consideration; (3) integrity, i.e. fair, ethical, honest, etc. [36] and (4) predictability/reliability [44]. Trusting behaviours are conceptualised as risk-taking actions by which leaders or followers make themselves vulnerable to the actions of the other [45]. ...
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For the last 20 years, Leader-Member Exchange theory (LMX) has been associated with the quality of relationships between leaders and followers, accounting for quality through the four dimensions of contribution, affect, loyalty and respect. This paper contributes to our understanding of relationship quality by presenting an extension to LMX theory. With a more comprehensive view of the development of leader-follower relationship quality than existing LMX theory, we propose the explanatory construct of Dyadic Relationship Quality (DRQ) development. The DRQ model demonstrates how trusting behaviours have hitherto been overlooked as the key to positive initial interactions. We show how performance and relationship quality are active dimensions of relationship development rather than outcomes of the relational process. The paper elaborates the experiential nature of leader-follower relationship quality by utilising a relatively rare methodology in LMX studies, a longitudinal qualitative study of leaders and followers in high-tech start-up organisations.
This dissertation study explored meaningful experiences contributing to students’ identity, capacity, and efficacy development as culturally relevant leaders. In Chapter One, I detailed the importance and relevance of this topic in the field of higher education. Then, I reviewed the literature on college student leadership development; defined leadership identity, capacity, and efficacy development; and culturally relevant leadership learning (CRLL; Bertrand Jones et al., 2016). In the third chapter, I described the qualitative methodological approach to uncovering how college students develop leadership identity, capacity, and efficacy to engage in culturally relevant leadership. I approached this study from a critical constructivist paradigm. I collected interview and focus group data on the individual and collective lived experiences of nine first-year college students who participated in a curricular and co-curricular leadership development program. Findings are summarized into nine themes. In the final chapter, the findings are analyzed and illustrated in an applicable model for fostering culturally relevant leadership identity, capacity, and efficacy development. This chapter details the model’s connection to current literature, the study’s limitations, implications for practice, and future directions.
This chapter explains the challenges family firms encounter when merging with or acquiring other organisations. Prime among these challenges are the heightened emotional and personal investment that employees and owners have with the organisation. The relational bond between a family firm and its employees is often strong; when the dynamics of this relationship change, this is experienced acutely by organisational members. However, since family firms are characterised by a high level of organisational trust, it should be possible to achieve merger or acquisition success if the right approach is adopted, which acknowledges the different nature of this trust relationship. High trust means that employees are vulnerable because they have positive expectations that the organisation acts with the best of intentions towards them. This means that when a change in trust referent occurs, it is not enough to focus on whether two organisations can be effectively combined/integrated across strategic key areas; it is critical to ensure that the new workforce is given the time and appropriate level of support to affirm and reaffirm trust in one another.
John 13:1–20 contains an account of the last teaching of Jesus with his original twelve disciples in the evening before his arrest. The book of John conveys a history of the life of Jesus and records several events with corresponding lessons. In this pericope, John recounted the circumstances surrounding the Lord’s supper and included details about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The act of washing feet was a common occurrence at the time of the Fourth Gospel, and this study examines the various meanings of the act, especially as it relates to leadership. The chapter aims to conduct a socio-rhetorical analysis of John 13:1–20 to determine biblical themes pertaining to the role of vulnerability in leadership.
Does outsourced employees' risk behavior depend more on rationality or emotion in temporary interorganizational project‐based teams? Combining trust‐related research and a time trajectory perspective, this study re‐examines the relationship between trust and outsourced employees' prohibitive voice in interorganizational project‐based teams. Two‐wave survey data were collected from 286 outsourced employees and their supervisors across 52 interorganizational teams in China. Empirical results show that outsourced employees' prohibitive voice depends more on cognition‐based trust than on affect‐based trust. With project execution time increases, the promoting effect of affect‐based trust on prohibitive voice shows an increase, while the impact of cognition‐based trust demonstrated little variation. Moreover, outsourced employees' perceptions of leader‐member exchange (LMX) differentiation mediates the moderating effect of project execution time on the relationship between affect‐based trust and prohibitive voice. However, the mediated moderation effect is not significant for cognition‐based trust. Theoretical and practical implications for project‐based team management are discussed.
Coaches of professional sports teams frequently adopt athlete leadership groups in their quest to gain a competitive advantage. Although the benefits of shared leadership approaches are well established, the sharing of leadership with athletes is never straightforward with little in the way of guidelines to assist coaches with this process. The current study provides insight into the strategies perceived to leverage the strengths of this shared leadership approach in professional football teams. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 coaches and 14 athlete-leaders from 17 professional teams, across four football leagues. An inductive thematic analysis generated five high-order themes: (a) player-owned team values and behaviors linked to accountability, (b) player-driven values-based athlete leadership group selection, (c) authentic and appropriate empowerment, (d) strong intrateam relationships, and (e) expert facilitation and dedicated leadership development support. Results illustrate teams are more likely to realize the potential of athlete leadership groups when coaches pay careful attention to the preparedness, social identity-based group influence processes, expert facilitation, and ongoing leadership development support required for shared leadership. Findings suggest that establishing high levels of trust and progressively and authentically empowering athlete-leaders within clearly defined parameters based on a mutually agreed behavioral framework may mitigate risks commonly associated with player empowerment-based leadership models.
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The authors investigate the role of trust between knowledge users and knowledge providers. The kind of knowledge of special concern is formal market research. Users include marketing and nonmarketing managers; providers include marketing researchers within a user's own firm and those external to the firm. A theory of the relationships centering on personal trust is developed to examine (1) how users’ trust in researchers influences various relationship processes and the use of market research and (2) how the relationships vary when examined across dyads. The relationships were tested in a sample of 779 users and providers of market research information. Results indicate that trust and perceived quality of interaction contribute most significantly to research utilization, with trust having indirect effects through other relationship processes, as opposed to important direct effects on research utilization. Deeper levels of exchange, including researcher involvement in the research process and user commitment to the research relationship, however, have little effect on research use. Finally, the relationships in the model show few differences depending on whether the producer and user share marketing or research orientations. Interorganizational dyads, however, generally exhibit stronger model relationships than intraorganizational dyads.
A retrospective assessment of 100 consecutive accepted referrals to a crisis intervention centre was undertaken. Successful outcome and a good level of previous coping were most likely amongst those not exposed to any of the Brown and Harris vulnerability factors, although there was no evidence for an additive effect for those experiencing more than one vulnerability factor. A significantly greater number of clients without a confidante showed a poor level of previous coping but none of the other vulnerability factors individually had a major influence on coping or outcome. The implications of the findings are discussed.
The rise of globalization is accompanied by an increase in alliances and collaboration. While firms are gaining in expertise and cultural sensitivity, some initiatives founder as people fail to fully consider culture’s impact. We adopt a cultural sense-making approach to intercultural collaboration, presenting a framework for analyzing cultural differences—value dimensions and communication styles rarely compiled in one location. Using these concepts, we explain cultural barriers to trust, a key component in collaboration, and demonstrate how cultural sense making is useful in analyzing intercultural situations. Fourteen strategies to help managers collaborate more effectively across cultures follow.
In this study, we view the contracts of top managers from an integrated agency theory-trust perspective, arguing that two conditions reflecting CEO risk bearing, top management team (TMT) behavioral uncertainty and CEO vulnerability, are negatively related to a CEO's perceptions of TMT benevolence toward him-/herself, which in turn influence the protective features of TMT contracts. Model tests on data from 122 family-owned firms in Spain support our hypotheses overall. Agency theory may be enhanced by accounting for a CEO's perceptions (as principal) of TMT benevolence and for the effect of those perceptions on contracts with TMT members (as agents).
Although trust is an underdeveloped concept in sociology, promising theoretical formulations are available in the recent work of Luhmann and Barber. This sociological version complements the psychological and attitudinal conceptualizations of experimental and survey researchers. Trust is seen to include both emotional and cognitive dimensions and to function as a deep assumption underwriting social order. Contemporary examples such as lying, family exchange, monetary attitudes, and litigation illustrate the centrality of trust as a sociological reality.
Despite a significant amount of theoretical and empirical attention, the connection between justice and trust remains poorly understood. Our study utilized Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman's (1995) distinction between trustworthiness (the ability, benevolence, and integrity of a trustee) and trust (a willingness to be vulnerable to the trustee) to clarify that connection. More specifically, we drew on a theoretical integration of social exchange theory, the relational model, and fairness heuristic theory to derive predictions about the relationships among justice, trustworthiness, and trust, with supervisors as the referent. A longitudinal field study stretching over two periods showed that informational justice was a significant predictor of subsequent trust perceptions, even when analyses controlled for prior levels of trust and trustworthiness. However, the relationship between justice and trustworthiness was shown to be reciprocal. Procedural and interpersonal justice were significant predictors of subsequent levels of benevolence and integrity, with integrity predicting subsequent levels of all four justice dimensions. We describe the theoretical implications of these results for future research in the justice and trust literatures.