Deterrence-based trust is common in organizations. Managers trust their subordinates because there is close monitoring and sanctions against opportunistic behaviour. It fits within the command-and-control approach to management. A little bit of this may be okay, but there is a better way.

I offer a more intelligent and productive way for leaders to handle trust and risk. Let me introduce you to Power II. Power II is a concept developed by the political philosopher, Sverre Raffnsøe. It is an alternative to Power I, which is the command-coerce-control style. Power II is trust-as-power. When leaders trust their subordinates they hand over part of themselves. They run the risk that those they place trust in will disappoint them. In this sense, they are placing themselves in the hands of their subordinates, to an extent. So Power II is really about a gift exchange--like we see in preliterate societies. In that cultural context, if I give you a gift you are under a moral obligation to reciprocate. A moral contract is set up. Similarly, when leaders take a risk and trust their subordinates (by delegating, for example), they lodge a moral claim: “I’ve stepped out on a limb and placed trust in you. Don’t disappoint me.” It is the moral duty of the subordinate to work diligently and creatively, and in line with the leader’s vison and aims. In trusting subordinates, leaders are em-powered. Hence the Power II label. By taking a risk and offering a gift to their subordinates, they create a condition in which it is quite likely that the outcomes they are looking for (hard work, creativity, and fidelity to the corporate mission) will actually eventuate.

You may be thinking at this point: “Well that’s a nice theory, but how does it work out in practice? We can all tell stories from our workplaces of people engaging in opportunistic behavior. It could be anything from pilfering items from the work supplies cupboard, to pushing work onto others down the line and then claiming credit for it, to serious misappropriation of funds. I found this in my ABC News feed a couple of days ago: ‘Former senior public executive Paul Whyte and another man, Jacob Anthonisz, have been charged with using fake invoices to fraudulently take $2.5 million in taxpayers' money, but police later revealed in court the final amount allegedly stolen could be up to $25 million.’   So does the Power II theory really work? I’m not absolutely sure, but there is a body of empirical research that suggests that it does. Feeling trusted by one’s leader is associated with increased performance, greater job satisfaction, and increased commitment to organizational citizenship. “Organizational citizenship” refers to behavior that is discretionary; it’s not part of the job description and is not recognized by the formal reward system. The end-result is promoting efficient and effective functioning of an organization. An example would be helping someone out in a different section who is snowed under when you have a little space in your workday.  We need more research to confirm this, but it does seem that the thinking behind a Power II approach has a basis in reality.

Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love Paperback

Project members

Associate Professor Neil Pembroke

Associate Professor in Practical Theology