Leadership: Trustworthiness and Ethical Stewardship
A Matter of Trust
Even upon an initial, cursory examination of the terms, there readily appears to be significant correlation between the concepts of leadership, trustworthiness, and ethical stewardship when applied to a corporate or enterprise-based model. The definition of stewardship denotes the protection or the guardianship of some form of interest, which, robustly relates to the connotations of leadership that imply that a leader has followers because they believe that he or she will help them achieve some goal. The belief that the followers have in their leader or in leadership in general is based upon trust. However, what is at the crux of the Cam Caldwell et al.'s journal article, Leadership, Trustworthiness and Ethical Stewardship, is the central question of whose specific interest are being tended to with the leadership and stewardship of enterprises in professional organizations, and is that interest one that is worthy of being trusted by those who follow such leadership. More specifically, the question that begs to be answered is how can leaders truly be trusted by their subservients in an organization, when the vast majority of qualities required to obtain a position of leadership seem to directly contradict those required for ideal leadership?
The fact that these two sets of qualifications, those required to earn a leadership position (particularly one which involves stewardship or the overseeing of an entire organization) and those required to best fulfill such an obligation are considerably at variance with each other has been demonstrated by a number of research literature, as the following quotation from Colins (2001, pp. 36-37) readily indicates. "…the animus and personal ambition that often drive people to positions of power stand at odds with the humility required for Level 5 leadership." This notion of there being a perceived contradiction in the methods for pursuing leadership roles and successfully executing them is further underpinned by the following quotation from Cam et al. (2010, p. 501) that illustrates the conflict in interests facing leaders in the financial market. "…leaders will avoid self-defeating short-term decisions that inflate market value but…impair the firm's fundamental mission -- despite the allures and seductions of a Wall Street model that panders to short-term financial targets and stock prices." The conflict in interests implied with the short-term market value profits that circumscribe the long-term goals of a company coincides with that of the behavior necessary to procure a leadership position and that which ensures successful leadership in that the interests of the leader are contrasted with those of the company and the company's employees.
This contradiction in behavior and in interests befitting a leader is directly addressed, if not outright resolved, in the three-factor model of leadership outlined by Chemers (1997, p.27), specifically in the third factor, image management. The concept of image management is that the most prudent leadership involves concern for the salutation of the organization which one is spearheading, more so than concern for one's own position or interests. More specifically, it involves the performance of behaviors that are synonymous with what leaders profess to believe in, which of course earns the trust and dedicated following of subordinate employees (Leeds, 2003). This idea certainly appears to be one of the most important tenets of leadership mentioned in the article of Caldwell et al., primarily due to the fact that it involves a degree of effacement and a responsibility to the organization as superseding that to virtually anything else, which is the basic premise under which leadership is conducted. Individuals are not selected to lead because they can make themselves appear important, but rather because they can guide the organization under their charge to desired positions of importance.
What is most significant in regards to image management is that several of the qualities necessary for its practice succinctly coincide with those related to ethical stewardship. In particular, the belief that there is a degree of humility involved with image management, that enables a leader to care more for company results than for individual achievement -- or rather, that permits that leader to seek his or her own individual achievement in the success in the organization he or she may be running -- is one of the primary components of ethical stewardship. The importance of personal humility in the daily activity and goals of a leader is denoted by the following quotation from Cam et al. (2010, p. 499). "Thus, as Collins…noted, the most effective leaders focus on creating organizational cultures and systems that enable people to be successful, demonstrating not only a passion for excellence but also a personal humility. For Level 5 leaders, image management may be implicitly difficult to assess because these leaders seek to remain out of the spotlight while giving credit to others for organizational successes."
This degree of effacement and selfless commitment to an organization, as well as measuring success in terms of what the collective accomplishes as opposed to what the individual achieves, is one of the primary aspects of ethical stewardship. In particular, the conceptualization known as stakeholder theory corroborates this notion that in ideal guardianship and leadership, the needs and achievements of the many should supersede those of the few. Stakeholder theory may be compactly defined as the performance of governance in which a manager is motivated by the interests of the organization he or she is supervising, rather than any form of behavior based upon self-interest (Davis et al., 1997, p. 24). In both a literal and ideal sense, the stakeholder theory goes beyond the contemplation and caring for the interests of the shareholders or the owners of a corporation, and is based upon the needs of the individual stakeholders to ideal balance the concerns of both shareholders and stakeholders (Smith, 2003, pp. 85-86).
This definition of stakeholder theory is highly congruent with that of image management. Both of these ideas are largely based upon a commitment to service for an entire company that is greater than a commitment to self-interest which, in the most highest form of both leadership and ethical stewardship, should be virtually non-existent or at least minimized as much as possible. The synonymous nature of both ethical stewardship and prudent leadership is strongly alluded to in the following quotation from Caldwell et al. (2010, p 501). "Hosmer (2007) argued that businesses needed to integrate both economic and social performance in governance to achieve the moral and ethical objectives implicit in stewardship -- an idea later joined by Paine (2002) in her description of the duties owed by the modern leader." This quotation effectively demonstrates the highly correlative nature of the goals of both effective leadership, as ideally actualized by image management, and that of ethical stewardship.
Once there is a self-effacing, pro-organization form of management or leadership in place, which is guided by the aforementioned principals of ethical stewardship, the trust of subordinate employees is rather easy to ensure. In many ways demonstrative, efficacious leadership is based upon trust. Before explaining the way in which these two concepts relate to one another, however, it is first imperative to define both the connotation and the denotations of the term "trust." Just as there was a three-part model of leadership, there is similarly a three-part model of trust that is a subjective perception that can most astutely be measured by the ability, benevolence and integrity of whoever is being trusted (Mayer et al., 1995).
Interestingly enough, the aspect of trust that is that most closely correlates to that of leadership can be found in the first factor of the three-factor model of leadership, which is known as relationship development and which essentially is the interactions of a leader in maintaining palpable levels of commitment with various employees and other personal components of an organization (Caldwell et al., 2010, p. 498). As evinced by the…