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Trust in Direct Leaders and Top Leaders: A Trickle-Up Model

  • J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University

Abstract and Figures

Low levels of employee trust in top leaders pose challenges to organizations with respect to retention, performance, and profits. This research examines how trust in top leaders can be fostered through the relationships individuals have with their direct leaders. We propose a trickle-up model whereby trust in direct leaders exerts an upward influence on trust in top leaders. Drawing on the group value model, we predict that direct leaders' procedural justice serves as the key mechanism in facilitating the trickle-up process. Further, this process should be particularly strong for employees high on vertical collectivism, and the trickled-up trust in top leaders should exert a stronger impact on employees' overall performance in the organization than trust in direct leaders. Multiphase and multisource data from 336 individuals support these hypotheses. The findings advance our understanding of trust and leadership by highlighting that trust in leaders at different levels does not form independently and that trust in leaders trickles up across hierarchical levels. (PsycINFO Database Record
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Trust in Direct Leaders and Top Leaders: A Trickle-Up Model
C. Ashley Fulmer
Tippie College of Business
University of Iowa
IA, 52242
Cheri Ostroff
School of Management
University of South Australia
GPO 2471
Adelaide, Australia 5001
Author Note
This manuscript was accepted for publication at the Journal of Applied Psychology. We thank
Peter Kim for his advice and comments on an earlier draft and the research assistants at National
University of Singapore Organizational Psychology Lab for their assistance on the preparation of
the manuscript.
Low levels of employee trust in top leaders pose challenges to organizations with respect to
retention, performance, and profits. This research examines how trust in top leaders can be
fostered through the relationships individuals have with their direct leaders. We propose a
trickle-up model whereby trust in direct leaders exerts an upward influence on trust in top
leaders. Drawing on the group value model, we predict that direct leaders’ procedural justice
serves as the key mechanism in facilitating the trickle-up process. Further, this process should be
particularly strong for employees high on vertical collectivism and the trickled-up trust in top
leaders should exert a stronger impact on employees’ overall performance in the organization
than trust in direct leaders. Multiphase and multisource data from 336 individuals support these
hypotheses. The findings advance our understanding of trust and leadership by highlighting that
trust in leaders at different levels does not form independently, and that trust in leaders trickles
up across hierarchical levels.
Keywords: trust; leadership; trickle-up; performance; procedural justice
Trust in Direct Leaders and Top Leaders: A Trickle-Up Model
Employee trust in top leaders of organizationsCEOs, boards of directors, and top
management teamsis at an all-time low (Edelman Berland, 2014; Hurley, 2006; Kouzes &
Posner, 2011). Yet, trust in top leaders is associated with numerous benefits for employees and
organizations, including a greater focus on productive tasks (Mayer & Gavin, 2005),
organizational commitment (Mahajan, Bishop, & Scott, 2012), intention to stay (Costigan, Iiter,
& Berman, 1998), compliance with corporate strategy decisions (Kim & Mauborgne, 1993), and
profitability (Simons & McLean Parks, 2002). Trust in top leaders can therefore lead to a
competitive advantage (Davis, Mayer, Schoorman, & Tan, 2000), making a better understanding
of the processes that foster trust in top leaders important in improving organizational functioning.
Research on trust in leaders has tended to focus on either trust in direct leaders or trust in
top leaders. However, employees typically develop and maintain multiple trust relationships
within the organization, making it likely that trust in one referent influences trust in another
referent (Fulmer & Gelfand, 2012). Leveraging the benefits of trust in leaders requires
understanding the interconnection between trust in different leader referents and which is more
important for a given outcome (Dirks & Skarlicki, 2004). To advance our understanding of the
relationship between different leader referents of trust that employees can have, we seek to
answer the question: How are trust in direct leaders and trust in top leaders related?
A growing body of research has been devoted to a trickle-down model of leadership,
assuming that leader behaviors and styles, such as ethical or abusive leadership, pass from higher
level leaders to lower level leaders through social learning (cf., Aryee, Chen, Sun, & Debrah,
2007; Mawritz, Mayer, Hoobler, Wayne, & Marinova, 2012; Simons, Friedman, Liu, & McLean
Parks, 2007; Wo, Ambrose, & Schminke, 2015; Zenger & Folkman, 2016). A trickle-down
model would indicate that trust in top leaders, or lack thereof, flows down to trust in direct
leaders. In contrast, we propose that a trickle-up model of trust in leaders is more theoretically
viable due to trust transfer, the process in which an individual transfers their initial trust in an
entity to a related, but lesser known, entity (Stewart, 2003; Uzzi, 1996). Given that employees
spend the majority of their work time with direct leaders and see them as representatives of the
organization (Eisenberger, Jones, Aselage, & Sucharski, 2004; Smidt, 1998), interactions with
these leaders should be more instrumental in forming individuals’ trust. This trust in the direct
leader in turn can trickle up to a higher level, but less familiar, leader.
Our study contributes to the literatures in trust and in leadership in three meaningful
ways. First, the primary contribution is the adoption of a trickle-up model of trust in leaders by
examining how employees trust in a focal relationship (with direct leaders) influences trust in
another relationship (with top leaders). This approach underscores that some leadership
phenomena are bottom-up rather than top-down processes. Second, we examine mediating and
moderating factors of the trust trickle-up to provide a more contextualized view of trust in
leaders. Drawing on the group value model (Lind & Tyler, 1988), we propose that the direct
leader’s demonstration of procedural justice is a mechanism through which the trickle-up occurs.
We also examine an individual difference variable, vertical collectivism, as a moderator of the
trickle-up trust process due to its combined emphasis on relationship harmony and obedience to
authority. Finally, we examine whether trust in direct leaders or trust in top leaders has a stronger
effect on the overall performance of individuals in the organization, answering calls for
examining more nuanced relationships between trust, perceptions of leaders, and employee
outcomes (cf., Antonakis & Atwater, 2002; Fulmer & Gelfand, 2012). Figure 1 depicts the
proposed conceptual model.
Trickle-Up Model of Trust from Direct Leaders to Top Leaders
Consistent with the seminal works of Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman (1995) and
Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, and Camerer (1998), we define trust in the leader as a psychological state
of willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of a leader that derive in
part from trustworthiness perceptions. Reviews of trust have highlighted that trust can have
multiple referents including leaders at different hierarchical levels (Dirks & Skarlicki, 2004;
Fulmer & Gelfand, 2012) and meta-analytic results indicate that different referents impact
different outcomes (Colquitt, Scott, & LePine, 2007; Dirks & Ferrin, 2002). For example, in a
study of professional athletes, trust in top management was more strongly related to team
performance, while trust in the direct leader (coach) was more strongly related to team cohesion
(Mach, Dolan, & Tzafrir, 2010). Hence, employees can distinguish between their trust in direct
leaders and top leaders. Yet, little research has considered the relationship between the two.
In expounding the relationship between trust in direct leaders and trust in top leaders, we
use a trickle-up model. Both trickle-up and trickle-down have been used to describe how
organizational phenomena transmit across hierarchical levels. Trickle-up suggests a bottom-up
effect from direct leaders whereas trickle-down suggests a top-down effect from top leaders.
Leadership research has typically adopted trickle-down models whose foundation resides in
social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), whereby lower-level leaders emulate behaviors through
direct experience or observation of higher-level leader behaviors (e.g., Mawritz et al, 2012).
Trickle-down leadership effects have been documented across topics such as behavioral integrity
(Simons et al., 2007), ethical leadership (e.g., Mayer, Aquino, Greenbaum, & Kuenzi, 2012;
Mayer, Kuenzi, Greenbaum, Bardes, & Salvador, 2009), and abusive supervision (e.g., Aryee et
al., 2007; Mawritz et al., 2012).
A separate, smaller body of work has considered trickle-up models in understanding how
perceptions and interactions originating at the lower organizational level influence higher-level
attitudes and behaviors in areas such as innovation (Abrahamson & Fombrun, 1994) and identity
(Kolk, van Dolen, & Vock, 2010). In a qualitative study, Detert and Treviño (2010) found that,
while higher leaders are influential in creating an overall environment in which it is safe to speak
up, it is difficult for higher leaders to encourage employees to speak up to them directly because
employees are less familiar with the higher leader than with the immediate leader, even when the
leaders at both levels exhibit similar behaviors and characteristics. Employees tend to have more
familiarity with their direct leaders, who interact with them routinely to interpret and enact
organizational policies and practices (Davis & Rothstein, 2006; Smidt, 1998; Stajkovic &
Luthans, 2001). This suggests that immediate leaders often play a key mediating role between
employees and higher leaders and that the perceptions of immediate leaders would be important
in influencing how higher leaders are perceived.
We adopt a trickle-up approach for trust in leaders because, as a psychological state on
the part of the employee, the trust afforded to a higher level leader is less likely to trickle down
to a lower level leader through social learning or emulation. However, trust is a socially
embedded property of the system in which the relationship is located (Granovetter, 1985) and it
can be transferred from a familiar entity (e.g., person, group, organization, and context) to a
similar but less familiar one (Stewart, 2003). Trust transfer can operate through communication
based on a third party exerting influence or as a cognitive process in which the initial trust placed
in a known entity from familiarity and interaction is used as a basis to trust another lesser known
entity when the two entities are perceived or known to be related (Stewart, 2003). Trust transfer
has been shown to occur between individuals (e.g., Ferrin, Dirks, & Shah, 2006; Uzzi, 1996),
brands (e.g. Pauwels-Delassus & Descotes, 2012), and organizations (Milliman & Fugate, 1988).
Here, we focus on the cognitive process of trust transfer that occurs naturally due to people’s
tendency to categorize similar others in a group (Fiske, 2000; Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000),
and leaders into the prototypical category (Lord, Foti, & De Vader, 1984). Existing trust can thus
serve an intermediary function in influencing individuals’ trust in a less familiar party (Coleman,
1990; Krackhardt, 1992), in the present case from a familiar direct leader to a top leader.
Such a transfer is consistent with the research highlighting the role of supervisors in
employee attitudes and perceptions in the organization. Employees have been found to view their
immediate leaders as agents or representatives of the organization and pay attention to their
exchange relationship by these leaders as indicative of how the organization values them
(Eisenberger et al., 2004; Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, Vandenberghe, Sucharski, & Rhoades,
2002). Because of this, direct leaders play a pivotal role in individuals’ attitudes and perceptions
toward the organization and its top leaders (Eisenberger et al., 2010; Simons & Roberson, 2003),
including trust. Hence, a trickle up model of trust in leaders is more likely to occur because the
greater familiarity and more frequent interactions employees have with the direct leader are more
salient in forming trust, which can then be transferred upward onto the less familiar top leader.
Hypothesis 1: Trust in direct leaders is positively related to trust in top leaders.
Mediating Role of Direct Leader Procedural Justice
To gain a better understanding of how the actions of direct leaders can facilitate the
trickle-up of trust to top leaders, we focus on direct leader procedural justice (Tyler, Degoey, &
Smith, 1996). Research has typically examined justice perceptions as a precursor of trust in
leaders. However, recent theory and research shows that trust can occur before justice
perceptions (Holtz, 2013, 2015; Todorov, Pakrashi, & Oosterhof, 2009), and that the relationship
between the two is reciprocal (Colquitt & Rodell, 2011). Importantly, because just treatment
facilitates more positive attitudes toward the organization overall (Moorman, Blakely, &
Niehoff, 1998), direct leader procedural justice should serve as the mechanism through which
our hypothesized trickle-up trust process occurs from the lower leader to higher leader.
Specifically, the group value model (Lind & Tyler, 1988) suggests that fair procedures
and treatment by leaders provide a message to employees about whether they are valued
members of the organization. The symbolic information of direct leader procedural justice
promotes organization-oriented perceptions and behaviors, including perceived organizational
support and organizational citizenship behavior (Moorman et al., 1998). More directly, feeling
valued by the organization has been related to trust in top leaders and positive employee attitudes
toward the organization (Cropanzano, Prehar, & Chen, 2002; De Cremer, 2005). Thus,
procedural justice from the direct leader should serve as a signal to reflect the organization in a
positive light and generate positive attitudes about the top leaders, facilitating the trickle-up
process from trust in direct leaders to trust in top leaders.
Hypothesis 2: Direct leader procedural justice mediates the relationship between trust in
direct leaders and top leaders.
Trust in Leaders and Overall Employee Performance
Trust in leaders is expected to affect employee performance because it encourages
employees to reciprocate and focus on tasks (Blau, 1964; Mayer & Gavin, 2005). Social
exchange theories indicate that individuals reciprocate the relational benefits they receive by
targeting their efforts toward the benefactor (Lavelle, Rupp, & Brockner, 2007). When
employees only trust the direct leader, they tend to target the reciprocation primarily at the direct
leader by agreeing to and following the decisions and instructions of the direct leader (Dirks,
2006). In contrast, when employees trust the top leader, they are likely to internalize the goals
and strategies of the organization (Rhoades, Eisenberger, & Armeli, 2001) and may exhibit a
broad range of performance behaviors to reciprocate this overall organizational support.
In support of this notion, compared to trust in immediate supervisors, trust in top
management has been found to be more strongly related to employee outcomes related to the
organization as a whole including perceived organizational effectiveness and satisfaction with
organizational outcomes (Ellis & Shockley-Zalabak, 2001). Meta-analytic results reveal that trust
in direct leaders is more strongly related to job satisfaction, while trust in top leaders is more
strongly related to perceived organizational support and organizational commitment (Dirks &
Ferrin, 2002). Thus, based on social exchange theories, trust in the direct leader would likely
direct employees’ attention to the expectations of the direct leader. The addition of trickled-up
trust in top leaders will likely spur a focus on the organization as a whole and consideration of
broader ways to contribute to the organization. Therefore, individuals’ trust in direct leaders
upwardly inspires their trust in top leaders, which in turn would exert a positive and direct
impact on individuals’ overall performance.
Hypothesis 3: Trust in top leaders has a stronger positive relationship with overall
employee performance than trust in direct leaders.
Vertical Collectivism as Moderator of the Trickle-up Trust Relationship
Reviews of relationships between leader attributes and trust in leaders indicate that
individual differences play an important moderating role (e.g., Burke, Sims, Lazzara, & Salas,
2007). Given that trust fundamentally concerns interpersonal relationships, empirical research
has shown the primacy of relational connections in trust (Huang & Murnighan, 2010). As an
individual difference, collectivism emphasizes relational harmony and collective good (Triandis,
Leung, Villareal, & Clack, 1985; Wagner, 1995). Vertical collectivism in particular is relevant in
a trickle-up model with respect to leaders as it prescribes the values of ingroup solidarity as well
as obedience, obligation, and loyalty to authority (Triandis & Gelfand, 1998; Wasti & Can,
2008). Because of the premium they place on positive leader-follower relationships, individuals
who are higher on vertical collectivism should be less sensitive to the symbolic signal of leader
procedural justice and more tolerant to leader unjust treatments, which weakens the trickle-up
process. In support of this, the relationship between justice perceptions and leader-member
exchange (LMX) was found to be weaker among individuals higher on collectivism who focus
on protecting harmonious relationships rather than retaliating leader disrespect and fairness
violations (Erdogan & Liden, 2006). In contrast, fairness is an especially important concern for
low collectivists, as it is related to one’s fundamental rights, individual freedoms, and positive
view about the self (Earley & Gibson, 1998; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Thus, trust in top
leaders should depend to a greater extent on the direct leader’s procedural justice for individuals
lower on vertical collectivism, strengthening our hypothesized trickle-up trust process.
Hypothesis 4: Vertical collectivism moderates the relationship between direct leader
procedural justice and trust in the top leader. The relationship is stronger for employees
low rather than high on vertical collectivism.
Sample and Procedure
Three waves of data
were collected at a military academy in the United States from 336
officers-in-training across 120 units in 30 divisions (81% male and 79% Caucasian), who
The data presented in this article were part of a broader data collection effort. This article is the
first publication from this database.
regularly engage in duties and activities that are similar to those of full-time officers and receive
regular active-duty benefits and pay that are commensurate with their rank. Across the three
waves, the overall response rate was 54%. The institution evaluated the research procedures and
classified the research as “exempt”. Participants filled out surveys about their squad leaders and
company officers. The squad leader was participants’ direct unit leader and supervisor, and is
responsible for the performance of the unit by setting goals, assigning tasks, and monitoring
performance. The company officer is the top leader at the highest level of participants’ division
(three levels above the direct leader), who is highly visible and responsible for the performance
of the division by leading and mentoring the members of the division including providing regular
feedback on skills, performance, and character development. We test our trickle-up model in the
military because trust is critical for its functioning (e.g., Sweeney, Thompson, & Blanton, 2009),
and like for-profit firms, trust in senior leadership has been eroding (e.g., Gerras, 2002; Seck,
At Time 1, when the direct leader was appointed, vertical collectivism was assessed.
Time 2 data were collected three months later, including participants’ trust in the direct leader
and procedural justice. Time 3 data were collected two weeks after Time 2, when participants
reported their trust in the top leader. The two-week separation between Times 2 and 3, and
randomizing the order of items, serve to reduce common method bias (Podsakoff, MacKenzie,
Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). The temporal separation was designed to be sufficiently long so that
the prior responses were less salient and available in short-term memory, but short enough to
minimize contaminating factors (Ostroff, Kinicki, & Clark, 2002; Podsakoff et al., 2003).
The level of analysis was at the individual level as the primary interest of our
hypothesized model was in how individuals’ trust in leaders trickles up, not the emergence of
unit-level trust among members. Prior research has shown that individuals nested in units do not
necessarily share their levels of trust sufficiently to warrant aggregation (Colquitt, LePine,
Zapata, & Wild, 2011). Further, an ANOVA with unit membership as the independent variable
was non-significant for trust in leaders or performance.
All responses were made on a Likert-type 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 =
strongly agree). We measured trust in leaders using the four-item measure adapted from Mayer
and Davis (1999) to reflect follower willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive
expectations of a leader (Fulmer & Gelfand, 2012; Mayer et al., 1995; Rousseau et al., 1998).
Sample items included “I believe my _____ will look out for my welfare,” and “I am willing to
let my _____ have influence over matters that are critical to me.” The blank space in each item
indicated squad leader” in Time 2 and company officer in Time 3. The alpha was .92 for trust
in direct (squad) leaders and .95 for trust in top leaders.
Procedural justice of the direct leader was assessed with six items from Niehoff and
Moorman (1993). A sample item is “My leader makes sure all members’ concerns are heard
before decisions are made.” Alpha was .90. Vertical collectivism was assessed with three items
from Triandis and Gelfand (1998), including “Team leaders and team members must stick
together as much as possible.” Alpha was .77. The objective overall performance measure was
obtained from the institution with participants’ consent. It is a composite measure that included
ratings from multiple sources across a wide range of activities within the organization, such as
military performance, physical performance, conduct, and professional courses. Performance and
behavioral appraisals from multiple raters have been used in prior research (e.g., Halbesleben &
Bowler, 2007) and shown to reduce rater-induced bias and to capture divergent behaviors across
organizational levels (e.g., Martell & Leavitt, 2002). Sex and ethnicity were controlled in all
analyses because of their relationships with the predictor and outcome (Becker, 2005).
Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations for the study variables are presented in
Table 1. To test Hypothesis 1 that trust in direct leaders and trust in top leaders are positively
related, Time 3 trust in top leaders was regressed on Time 2 trust in direct leaders. Trust in direct
leaders at Time 2 was significantly and positively related to trust in top leaders at Time 3 =
.14, p < .05), supporting Hypothesis 1. A bias-corrected bootstrapping procedure on 5000
samples was conducted (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) to test Hypothesis 2 concerning the mediating
role of direct leader procedural justice in the relationship. The index of moderated mediation
indicated the indirect effect of trust in direct leaders on trust in top leaders via direct leader
procedural justice was significant = .16, 95% CI [.04, .29]). Hypothesis 2 was thus supported.
To examine the trickle-up model more robustly and compare it with alternative models,
we conducted SEM using MPlus (Muthén & Muthén, 2012). All continuous variables were
centered as recommended by Aiken and West (1991). A confirmatory factor analysis was first
conducted to test the measurement model, following the recommendations by Anderson and
Gerbing (1988). The four-factor model (vertical collectivism, trust in direct leaders, direct leader
procedural justice, and trust in top leaders) fit the data well according to various model fit
statistics (root-mean-square error of approximation [RMSEA] = .04, comparative fit index [CFI]
= .94, standardized root-mean-square [SRMR] = .04; Hu & Bentler, 1999).
Next, the hypothesized path model from trust in direct leaders to direct leader procedural
justice to trust in top leaders and finally to employee overall performance (Model 1) was
compared to four alternative models. Model 2 is a partially-mediated model in which trust in
direct leaders has a direct effect on trust in top leaders, in addition to an indirect effect through
direct leader procedural justice. Trust in top leaders then predicts employee overall performance.
Model 3 is a two-predictor model in which both trust in direct leaders and direct leader
procedural justice predict trust in top leaders, which leads to employee overall performance.
Given that Time 2 and Time 3 were only two weeks apart, we also tested trickle-down models.
Therefore, Model 4 is a trickle-down model in which trust in top leaders predicts trust in direct
leaders, which leads to employee overall performance. Model 5 is another trickle-down model in
which trust in top leaders predicts both trust in direct leaders and direct leader procedural justice,
which in turn lead to employee overall performance.
Compared to the three trickle-up models (Models 1-3), the trickle-down models (Models
4 and 5) fit the data poorly (see Table 2). Among Models 1-3, the 90% RMSEA CI of the
proposed Model 1 has a smaller range than those of Model 2 and Model 3. In addition, the upper
values for the 90% RMSEA CI of Models 2 and 3 exceed the cutoff value of .08 for acceptable
fit (Hu & Bentler, 1999). The hypothesized full mediation Model 1 was supported and the
pattern of results is consistent with Hypothesis 3.
Finally, Hypothesis 4 predicted a moderating effect of vertical collectivism in the
relationship between direct leader procedural justice and trust in top leaders, so a cross-product
term was added to Model 1 to estimate Model 6. The fit statistics indicated the model fit the data
well (Table 2). Figure 2 shows the paths and their standardized coefficient estimates for the final
estimated model (Model 6) and Table 3 contains additional details. All paths within the
hypothesized model were significantly positive: between trust in the direct leader and direct
leader procedural justice = .53, p < .001), between direct leader procedural justice and trust in
the top leader = .27, p < .001), between trust in the top leader and employee overall
performance in the organization = .05, p < .05). Further, the indirect effect of direct leader
procedural justice = .15, p < .001) and the cross-product term between direct leader procedural
justice and vertical collectivism were also significant = -.35, p < .05). Taken together, the
hypothesized model (Model 6) explained 7% of the variance in employee overall performance (p
< .01), with vertical collectivism accounting for an additional 2% of variance beyond the
mediated path model (Model 1).
Figure 3 shows the interaction pattern. As predicted, for individuals low on vertical
collectivism (1 SD), the relationship between direct leader procedural justice and trust in top
leaders was stronger than for individuals high on vertical collectivism (+1 SD). Simple slopes
showed that the slope for low vertical collectivism was significantly positive, t(330) = 3.09, p <
.01, whereas the slope for high vertical collectivism was non-significant, t(330) = .80.
Hypothesis 4 was thus supported.
Additional Analyses
An alternative model (Model 7) was tested to account for a common method factor.
Following the recommendations of Podsakoff and colleagues (2003) in cases where the specific
source of method bias is unknown, we included a first-order unmeasured latent factor in the
model. The model fit statistics were acceptable (Table 2). More importantly, all the relationships
in the model were significant and consistent with the hypothesized Model 6, indicating that the
common method factor did not have a substantial effect on the findings.
Further, while an ANOVA test indicated that unit membership did not significantly
influence individuals’ outcomes, we nevertheless estimated an alternative model (Model 8) in
which participants were nested within the division level to account for potential higher-level
effects. The fit statistics indicated the model fit the data comparably well (Table 2). Again, all
the relationships remained significant and consistent with the hypothesized Model 6, suggesting
that the effects were primarily at the individual level.
The relationship with one’s supervisor . . . may anchor the relationship with the organization
and one’s willingness to contribute to it (Hui, Lee, & Rousseau, 2004, p. 238).
As part of the broader research effort to bring social contexts into the investigation of
trust in organizations (Ferrin et al., 2006; Lau & Liden, 2008), our study focused on leaders at
different hierarchical levels and examined how trust in direct leaders and trust in top leaders are
connected. Based on the notion that trust transfers between entities (Stewart, 2003), our results
provided support for a trickle-up model over a trickle-down model, demonstrating that
individuals’ trust in direct leaders inspires trust in top leaders. In addition, consistent with the
group value model (Lind & Tyler, 1988), we found that the trickle-up process occurred through
direct leader procedural justice, suggesting that actions around fairness on the part of the
immediate leader are one mechanism through which trust trickles upwardly. Further, the effect of
direct leader procedural justice on the trickle-up of trust was weaker for employees high on
vertical collectivism, as expected due to their emphasis on obedience and obligation (Triandis &
Gelfand, 1998). Finally, trust in top leaders had a direct and stronger impact on individuals’
overall performance in the organization, as rated by multiple raters, than trust in direct leaders.
It should be noted that our study is not without limitations. In particular, although the
temporal separation of measures can reduce common method bias, it does not afford causal
inference. A question may also be asked about the generalizability beyond the military context.
While we expect our theoretically driven trickle-up model would likewise be relevant in other
types of organizations, future research should examine it in a range of contexts and samples.
At the same time, our study has several notable implications for theory and research.
First, although trickle-down processes are prevalent in the leadership literature (e.g., Erdogan &
Enders, 2007; Mayer et al., 2012; Simons et al., 2007), trickle-up models represent a different
and complementary approach for theorizing how lower-level factors can influence relationships
and outcomes higher in the organization. A trickle-up model brings the focus back to the
influences of interactions, communication, and routines among employees at the lower level that
can spread to perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in an upward manner. Our research thus
qualifies the current larger focus on top-down processes of leadership in organizations by
showing the contributions of conceptualizing some leadership phenomena as bottom-up
processes. Future research is needed to consider both trickle-up and trickle-down simultaneously
to determine which is more suitable for the phenomenon of interest and to elucidate potential
reciprocal influences. For example, based on social learning theory, trickle-down models may be
more appropriate for explicit behaviors, while based on transfer, trickle-up models may be more
appropriate for social-psychological constructs such as trust and perceived support.
Second, our trickle-up findings underscore the critical role that front-line leaders play in
influencing employee perceptions and attitudes toward leadership at higher levels of the
organization. This relationship is particularly strong among employees low on vertical
collectivism. This finding extends past research on different justice concerns between high and
low collectivists (Earley & Gibson, 1998; Erdogan & Liden, 2006) by demonstrating the
implications of these differences for trust in leaders and performance. Future research is needed
to examine additional mediators, boundary conditions, and outcomes. For example, to the extent
that supervisors are deemed as representatives of the organization and can facilitate perceived
organizational support, supervisor organizational embodiment (Eisenberger et al., 2010) is likely
to strengthen the trickle-up of trust. In addition, a team climate where individuals share their
perceptions of the procedural justice or trust may exert a cross-level effect that strengthens the
trickle-up. Future research could also extend our individual-level findings by examining whether
our model applies across cultures that vary in magnitude of vertical collectivism at the country
level. With regard to outcomes, future research can test whether the trickle-up process varies for
different indicators of performance. For example, the effect of trickled-up trust in top leaders
may be less relevant for supervisor-rated performance.
Third, as in other areas such as justice, commitment, and citizenship (Lavelle et al., 2007;
Meyer & Herscovitch, 2001), scholars have called for a clearer differentiation of multiple trust
referents and for examinations of their interconnections (Colquitt et al., 2007; Dirks & Ferrin,
2002; Fulmer & Gelfand, 2012; Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 2007). Greater specification of
trust referents will improve theoretical clarity and allow for comparisons of the effects of
different referents. Further, research can differentiate forms of trust, such as between cognition-
based trust that emphasizes competence and integrity and affect-based trust that emphasizes
emotion bonds (McAllister, 1995), to examine potential divergent effects on trust in leaders and
the trickle-up process. Relatedly, future research can also explore the implications of distrust, the
negative expectations of another that involves suspicion, vigilance, and intense negative affect
(Lewicki, McAllister, & Bies, 1998). Distrust in direct leaders may trickle up and thus
undermine trust in top leaders with implications for performance and organizational functioning.
Finally, our findings on trust in different leaders and their effects on employee overall
performance highlight the utility of a referent-match approach in understanding the implications
of trust. As constructs such as trust and justice can involve different referents, matching the
referent and an outcome provides a theoretical basis to examine the effects of these constructs,
with potential to reveal stronger results with the outcome (Fulmer & Ostroff, 2016). This notion
is supported in the meta-analysis by Harrison, Newman, and Roth (2006): As compared to broad
or general attitudes, narrower attitudes are related to narrower behavior and performance
indicators. In our research, top leaders were at a higher level of the organization with broad-
ranging influences, and consistent with referent-match, we found that it was trust in top leaders
rather than trust in direct leaders that directly affected employees’ overall contributions in the
organizations. Such an approach may help address the sometimes inconsistent and weak link
between trust in leaders and performance in current research (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002).
Our results also hold practical implications for managers and organizational leaders who
aim to capitalize on the numerous benefits of trust in leaders across hierarchical levels. In
addition to prior findings that implementing policy and practices for employee support and
communication should facilitate trust in management (e.g., Ellis & Shockley-Zalabak, 2001;
Mayer & Davis, 1999), our findings imply that such trust can be cultivated across levels of the
organization through positive interactions with direct leaders. This echoes other research that
suggests supervisors are perceived as key representatives of the organization (Simons &
Roberson, 2003), providing an opportunity and a challenge at the same time for organizations
regarding the appropriate training of front-line leaders.
In conclusion, both trust in direct leaders and top leaders have been linked to numerous
employee and organizational benefits (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Mayer & Gavin, 2005). Utilizing a
trickle-up model, we demonstrated that direct leaders’ procedural justice facilitates the upward
process from trust in lower-level leaders to trust in higher-level leaders. The trickled-up trust in
top leaders, in turn, exerts a positive effect on individuals’ overall performance. Our findings
thus highlight the interrelations among individuals’ trust in different leaders, as well as the
implications for performance associated with these different types of trust.
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Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations of the Study Variables
1 Sex
2 Ethnicity
3 Trust in Direct
4 Direct Leader
Procedural Justice
5 Trust in Top Leaders
6 Vertical Collectivism
7 Overall Performance
in Organization
Note. N = 336. For sex: 1=male; 0=female. For ethnicity, 1=majority, 0=minority. Scale
alpha coefficient in parentheses. *p < .05; **p < .01.
Table 2
Model Comparisons
90% CI
Model 1
Model 2
Model 3
Model 4
Model 5
Model 6a
Model 7b
Model 8c
Note. N = 336. CI = confidence interval. aFinal estimated model. bWith estimation of common
method factor. cWith estimation of higher-level nesting effect.
Table 3
Estimates, Standard Errors, and Variance Explained in the Final Estimated Model (Model 6)
Direct Leader
Procedural Justice
Trust in
Top Leaders
in Organization
-0.05 (0.07)
0.01 (0.13)
0.11* (0.06)
-0.19** (0.07)
0.01 (0.13)
0.23** (0.05)
Trust in Direct Leaders
0.53** (0.03)
Direct Leader Procedural Justice
0.27** (0.08)
Vertical Collectivism
0.28* (0.12)
-0.35* (0.16)
Trust in Top Leaders
0.05* (0.02)
0.46** (0.04)
0.07** (0.03)
0.07** (0.03)
Note. N = 336. For sex: 1=male; 0=female. For ethnicity, 1=majority, 0=minority.
*p < .05; **p < .01.
Figure 1. The hypothesized conceptual model.
*p < .05; **p < .01
Figure 2. Results of the hypothesized research model.
Employee Vertical
Direct Leader
Procedural Justice
Employee Overall
Performance in
Trust in Direct
Trust in Top
Employee Vertical
Direct Leader
Procedural Justice
Employee Overall
Performance in
Trust in Direct
Trust in Top
Figure 3. Interaction between direct leader procedural justice and vertical collectivism.
Low Direct Leader
Procedural Justice High Direct Leader
Procedural Justice
Trust in Top Leaders
High Vertical
Low Vertical
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Welche Faktoren der psychischen Widerstandsfähigkeit, Resilienz, sind für Führungskräfte in Veränderungen am wichtigsten und welche Maßnahmen helfen zur Resilienzförderung? Hierzu wurden Experteninterviews (N = 10) durchgeführt. Die Experten sind oder waren selbst Führungskraft oder arbeiten im beruflichen Kontext mit Führungskräften zusammen, haben Veränderungen selbst oder im direkten Kontakt zu den Betroffenen erlebt und verfügen über ein grundsätzliches Verständnis von Resilienz. Es wurden sechs Situationen geschildert und nach deren Bewältigung sowie Maßnahmen der Resilienzförderung gefragt. Nach der Auswertung zeigt sich Selbstwirksamkeit (29,01%) als wichtigster Resilienzfak- tor, gefolgt von Reaching Out (22,65%) und Impulskontrolle (15,75%) sowie Resilienzförderung durch psychologische Angebote, Coaching, Training und physi- sche Angebote. Den Resilienzfaktoren Emotionssteuerung, Empathie, Kausalanalyse und Optimismus wurde weniger Bedeutung beigemessen. Ausge- hend von Ergebnissen bisheriger und dieser Studie zeigt sich, dass im Rahmen von Veränderungen in Unternehmen bestimmte Resilienzfaktoren besonders wichtig sind, um die Anforderungen als Führungskraft mental zu bewältigen und dass Resilienzförderung hierbei durch die genannten Maßnahmen als möglich gesehen wird.
La confiance des salariés dans leurs dirigeants est souvent présentée comme vecteur de performance individuelle et organisationnelle. Or la littérature consacrée à la confiance identifie conceptuellement deux formes de confiance, affective et calculée, chez l’individu ; et rares sont les études distinguant les antécédents qui seraient propres à chacune de ces deux formes de confiance. Nous proposons dans cet article une analyse des facteurs explicatifs de la confiance tant affective que calculée des salariés à l’égard des dirigeants de leur entreprise. S’appuyant sur une étude menée auprès de 337 salariés français, nos résultats montrent une influence positive, à la fois directe et indirecte, de la perception de justice organisationnelle sur le niveau de confiance des salariés. La relation indirecte est médiatisée par la perception individuelle de soutien de la part de l’organisation ainsi que le niveau de satisfaction au travail et le niveau de satisfaction à l’égard de la rémunération.
Supervisors directly influence employees’ perceptions of supervisor justice and subsequent supervisor-supportive behaviors by displaying just treatment through ongoing work interactions. Using a two-study design, we build on this target similarity approach by examining the potential for an indirect actor to be held accountable when a direct offender is acting on the indirect actor's behalf. Integrating fairness and role theory perspectives, Study 1 shows that the relationship between coworker injustice and supervisor-supportive citizenship behavior is mediated by supervisor blame and supervisor justice. Further, these linkages are strengthened when the offending coworker is delegated additional authority by the supervisor. Delegation more clearly connects the supervisor to the coworker's unjust behavior because the coworker is seen as an intermediary for the supervisor (i.e., perceived intermediary delegation-PID). In a constructive replication, Study 2's results support the basic mediation model from Study 1 but also show that the PID effect is influenced by victims’ relative standing with the supervisor compared with their offending coworkers (i.e., relative status). PID's strengthening effect as a result is most pronounced when victims of coworker injustice hold lower relative statuses than offenders. We conclude with implications of our findings and areas for future research.
We propose and test the idea that trust in the senior leadership team is needed to help overcome the potential widespread decrements to employee well‐being resulting from the Covid‐19 pandemic. Drawing on conservation of resources theory, we suggest that psychological capital mediates the relationship between trust in the senior leadership team's response to Covid‐19 and employee well‐being. We also examine the contextual relevance of line management's servant leadership alongside country differences (i.e., India vs. UK) in reinforcing the importance of trust in fostering psychological capital. We test our model in a time‐lagged survey study that follows employed individuals towards the early, middle, and later stages of the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. Results provide support for our model and indicate potential country differences. Our findings point to the significance of leadership, both at the senior level and at the line management level, in protecting employee well‐being during crises.
Remote working has become the new norm in organizations. However, little is known about how supervisors’ monitoring affects their relationships with subordinates in remote work settings. Our research aims to enhance the understanding of the daily dynamics of monitoring and trust between supervisors and subordinates. Based on self‐determination theory, we propose a multilevel theoretical model predicting that supervisors’ daily monitoring affects the extent to which subordinates feel trusted by their manager (‘felt trust’) and their subsequent daily exhaustion and vigor. Further, we develop the novel concept of supervisor monitoring variability and test its role in these relationships. We conducted two Experience Sampling Method (ESM) studies (N=191, 1,417 data points for Study 1; N=257, 2,244 data points for Study 2) in different hybrid work contexts. Multilevel analysis findings confirmed that daily monitoring was negatively associated with daily felt trust, which in turn had a negative impact on subordinates’ daily well‐being in both contexts. Furthermore, we found that monitoring variability intensified the negative relationship between daily supervisor monitoring and subordinates’ daily felt trust in the newly introduced remote working context, although not in a more stable context. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings and derive a research agenda to study the daily dynamics of monitoring and its implications for organizations.
Presents an integrative theoretical framework to explain and to predict psychological changes achieved by different modes of treatment. This theory states that psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy. It is hypothesized that expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. Persistence in activities that are subjectively threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, through experiences of mastery, further enhancement of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions in defensive behavior. In the proposed model, expectations of personal efficacy are derived from 4 principal sources of information: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. Factors influencing the cognitive processing of efficacy information arise from enactive, vicarious, exhortative, and emotive sources. The differential power of diverse therapeutic procedures is analyzed in terms of the postulated cognitive mechanism of operation. Findings are reported from microanalyses of enactive, vicarious, and emotive modes of treatment that support the hypothesized relationship between perceived self-efficacy and behavioral changes. (21/2 p ref)
Social psychologists possess considerable enthusiasm and expertise in the study of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, having commenced in the 1920s and 1930s. Research and theory in the next three to four decades focused on motivation,follow oed by a reactively exclusive focus on cognition in the 1970s and early 1980s, in turn followed by a 1990s joint focus on cognition and motivation. Throughout, intra-individual conflict analyses have alternated with contextual analyses, though both clearly have merit. Based on a social evolutionary viewpoint, a few core social motives (belonging, understanding, controlling, enhancing, and trusting) account for much current research on interpersonal category-based responses. Trends for the future should entail more emphasis on behavior, more sensitivity to cultural specificities and universals, as well as budding efforts on neural mechanisms of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Copyright (C) 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The authors examined whether the performance-cue bias can be reduced by relying on groups as raters. Study participants (N = 333) were provided with feedback regarding the performance of a workgroup and, after observing the group, assigned to an individual or group rater condition to complete a behavioral rating instrument. Results revealed that when provided with positive (vs. negative) feedback, individuals attributed more effective and fewer ineffective behaviors to the workgroup; however, group ratings were unaffected by the feedback. In addition, feedback biased the decision criteria and false alarm rates of individuals but not of groups. Discussion of when groups may attenuate versus amplify bias in performance appraisal judgments emphasizes 2 key elements-bias magnitude and task perception.
Introduction: The Problem of EmbeddednessOver-and Undersocialized Conceptions of Human Action in Sociology and EconomicsEmbeddedness, Trust, and Malfeasance in Economic LifeThe Problem of Markets and Hierarchies
Using social exchange theory, this study investigated the role of trust in top management as a mediator of the relationship between top management communication, employee involvement and organizational commitment. Data was collected from 484 drivers working for a national trucking company. Findings indicated that trust in top management fully mediates the relationship between top management communication and organizational commitment and partially mediates the relationship between employee involvement and organizational commitment. Theoretical and managerial implications were then discussed.