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When and why leaders trust followers: LMX as a mediator and empowerment as a moderator of the trustworthiness-trust relationship

I.M. Jawahar (Office of the Provost, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA)
Thomas H. Stone (Department of Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA)
Don Kluemper (University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 2 October 2019

Issue publication date: 25 October 2019




Followers’ perceptions of leader trustworthiness affect their trust in the leader (Colquitt et al., 2007). However, because positive benefits of trust generally accrue when trust is reciprocated, examining when and why followers’ perceptions of leader trustworthiness elicit leader’s trust in followers may provide heuristic and practical value. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to examine if followers’ perceptions of leader trustworthiness elicit leaders’ trust in followers, casting follower’s perceptions of leader–member exchange (LMX) quality as a mediator and their perceptions of empowerment as moderating this mediated relationship.


Followers’ perception of leader trustworthiness was measured at Time 1, followers’ perceptions of empowerment and LMX were measured at Time 2 and leaders’ trust in followers was measured in Time 3. The authors tested the research model with data collected from 347 leader–follower dyads using the three time-lagged surveys as noted above.


Followers’ perceptions of leader trustworthiness and perceptions of empowerment interacted to influence followers’ perceptions of LMX quality, which in turn influenced leaders’ trust in followers. Thus, LMX mediated the trustworthiness–trust relationship and this mediated relationship became stronger at increasing levels of empowerment.

Practical implications

Being trusted by leaders is beneficial to followers. Training managers in behaviors that elicit employees’ perceptions of manager trustworthiness has the potential to accrue benefits to employees, managers and the organization.


This study is the first to demonstrate that followers’ perception of leader trustworthiness resulted in leaders trusting followers. In addition, the results support a mediating role for LMX and a moderating role for empowerment in the development of leader trust in the follower. Understanding when and why leaders trust followers offers important insights about development of trust between followers and leaders. The authors discuss implications for theory and practice.



Jawahar, I.M., Stone, T.H. and Kluemper, D. (2019), "When and why leaders trust followers: LMX as a mediator and empowerment as a moderator of the trustworthiness-trust relationship", Career Development International, Vol. 24 No. 7, pp. 702-716.



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