Leading with values: The moderating influence of trust on values acceptance by employees

Open Access
Brown, Michael Edward
Graduate Program:
Business Administration
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 24, 2002
Committee Members:
  • Barbara Louise Gray, Committee Member
  • Susan Mohammed, Committee Member
  • Linda K Trevino, Committee Chair
  • Dennis Arnold Gioia, Committee Member
  • values
  • leadership
  • value-based leadership
Scholarly and practical attention has focused on leaders as transmitters of values to their subordinates. Yet we know little about the values transmission process. I define values-based leadership as an influence process consisting of transmission of values by leaders and subordinates’ acceptance of these values as guiding principles for their work. Accepted values are the values that followers use to guide decisions and actions. Employees, however, are not simply values receptacles. In the climate of cynicism that is prevalent in many business organizations, employees may be hesitant to accept leader-espoused values. The key question driving this research was, what influences employees’ acceptance of their leader’s values message? I proposed that trust (confident positive expectations of a supervisor) would moderate the values transmission-acceptance process by facilitating employees willingness to believe and cooperate with their manager’s values messages and influencing their willingness to make themselves vulnerable by accepting their leaders’ values messages. I hypothesized that specific dimensions of trust would moderate the strength of the relationship between transmitted and accepted values depending on the values in question. I also examined alternative theories that might explain values similarity between managers and their direct reports—ASA (Schneider, 1987), charisma (Bass & Avolio, 1995), power, demographic similarity (Byrne, 1971) and demography (Pfeffer, 1983). To test these my hypotheses against these competing explanations, I conducted a survey-based field study in a large national healthcare organization. Overall, the results suggested that: a) leader and direct report values are significantly correlated for self-transcendence, change orientation and conservatism but unrelated for self-enhancement values; b) despite some significant bivariate and partial correlations (controlling for social desirability), there are no significant main effects of leader values on employee values in regression analysis, only moderated ones; c) demographic and occupational/cultural differences affect the values leaders convey and employees use; d) no one theory appears to fully explain the values transmission and acceptance process; and e) the ASA, power and charisma arguments were for the most part unsupported. I discuss these results and highlight the implications for the future research and practice.