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Chapter 4 OCC Dimension 2: Trusting Followers

Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.


There are people I know who won’t hurt me. I call them corpses.

Randy Milholland

Trust makes all change possible. Trust refers to a person’s belief that others make sincere efforts to uphold commitments and do not take advantage of that person if given the opportunity.Child and Rodrigues (2004). As discussed in the previous chapter, trustworthy leadership is an important ingredient to engendering a trusting organizational environment in which change can take place. However, effective leadership is incomplete unless there is effective followership.Kelley (1992). After all, leadership is a relationship, not a position. If the leader’s partners, the followers, are not sufficiently trusting, then organizational change capability will be impaired.

I came to this somewhat counterintuitive realization when working with a talented executive leader at Alcoa. This individual was a very strong and trustworthy leader—he had strong technical and interpersonal skills, had succeeded in every previous managerial role within Alcoa, was confident but humble, and he genuinely cared about his followers. Because of his strong track record and his considerable future potential to join the executive ranks, he was given increasingly difficult managerial positions within the company. When he was made the plant manager of a large but troubled and underperforming plant within the Alcoa system, he realized that the employees were not inclined to trust him or his leadership team. They were unionized, which gave them the power to stand up to management, and had been used and abused for many years. Previous plant leaders had tried all sorts of Machiavellian tactics to break or bend the union into submission. The end result was pervasive mistrust among most employees and within the overall plant. During his 5 years at the plant, the union gradually came to trust him. However, they told him that he would soon be promoted and replaced by “another untrustworthy jerk,” which is exactly what happened.

In general, it has been shown that there are three things that interact to build or tear down organizational trust. First, there is the trustworthiness of the leader or change agent. This was our focus in the previous chapter. Second, there is the propensity or disposition to trust those in authority positions. Finally, there is the risk associated with trusting.Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman (1995). The second and third determinants of organizational trust are the focus of this chapter.