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

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Abstract

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.

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