Reports over the past decade continue to suggest low levels of trust in business generally, as well as between managers and their reports.
For organisations, this represents a challenge considering the role trust is thought to play in enhancing organisational competitiveness as well as in predicting important outcomes associated with successful employee performance.
Professor Clarke, along with colleagues at Southampton and Cork Business Schools looked at whether a manager’s leadership style was associated with greater levels of mutual trust between managers and their employees.
Based on data collected from a UK hospital, he found that managers showing a greater transformational leadership style shared higher levels of trust with their direct reports.
Professor Clarke says: ‘Leadership is arguably one of the most contested of topics within the social sciences. By that I mean there are so many alternative theories and perspectives that seek to explain what leadership is and which we can find in so many differing contexts.
‘But for me the notion that leadership can be better conceptualised as a relational phenomenon is one of the most exciting developments within the field. This recognises that leadership does not exist or take place in the absence of followers and that just focusing on a leader’s style or behaviour as characterising leadership may not provide the whole picture.’
He spent the past ten years looking at how the quality of the relationship that exists between leaders and their followers better explains leadership effects than looking at leader behaviours, alone.
He continues: ‘Relationality in leadership draws attention to aspects such as mutual trust and mutual respect which his research has found to be of great importance in organisations.
‘That is not to say that a leader’s characteristics (eg, emotional intelligence) or behaviours are not important. They are! Particularly in how they can affect levels of mutual respect and trust. And it’s not just respect and trust that seem to be important.
‘There is something about the mutual reciprocation of these that brings its own additional benefits. This may be because mutuality in relationships including leadership relationships can bring about a number of positive psychological outcomes associated with self-worth and self-validation.’
Professor Clarke’s ongoing research in the importance of mutual respect in leadership aims to show how this can bring about significant impacts in the workplace.
Research projects such as this feed into how we develop leadership skills on the MBA at Kent to maximise the personal effectiveness of our graduates.
The University of Kent’s MBA program offers a comprehensive and innovative curriculum focused on developing strong leadership skills and providing students with the knowledge and tools needed to succeed in today’s dynamic business environment.