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4.1 Employees’ Collective Propensity to Trust

People differ in their inherent disposition to trust others. “Propensity will influence how much trust one has for a trustee prior to data on that particular party being available. People with different developmental experiences, personality types, and cultural backgrounds vary in their propensity to trust.”Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman (1995), p. 715. In other words, it takes emotional intelligence to follow as well as to lead well.Fitzgerald and Schutte (2010).

The central issue is whether those who are not driving change within an organization see change as an opportunity for growth or a threat to their well-being. There is considerable organizational research that demonstrates that the label of “threat” or “opportunity” is influenced by the perceiver as much as the actual event, if not more so.Hinduan, Wilson-Evered, Moss, & Scannell (2009).

Michael Maccoby, an organizational psychologist, helps us to understand why some employees are predisposed to follow the leader and why others are not. Using the Freudian concept of transference, Maccoby argues that transference is the emotional glue that binds people to a leader. When there is positive transference, employees trust their leaders, work hard, and are highly motivated. When there is negative transference, employees distrust their leaders, do just enough to get by, and are not motivated.Maccoby (2004).

In addition to an employee’s formative relationships, previous history also influences his or her propensity to trust. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” It has been my observation that bad management leads to the creation of unions; and when a union forms, everyone loses—management, employees, customers—everyone.

However, disposition to mistrust is not limited to blue collar laborers. One recent research study of salespersons is particularly telling. A global Fortune 500 firm agreed to partner with the United Nations philanthropic organizations, and some social scientists were asked to study employees’ perceptions associated with this partnership. Interestingly, if the employees perceived top management to be insincere, then the overall organization’s social responsibility initiatives were perceived to be “window-dressing” and not worthy of employee support. However, if the employees perceived their executives to be sincere, then the organization’s social responsibility initiatives were perceived to be “positive” and worthy of support.Vlachos, Theotokis, & Panagopoulos (2008). The key takeaway here is that the same overall corporate initiative was viewed differently according to the employees’ perception of executives’ sincerity.