Leaders, Followers, and the Institutional Problem of Trust




Carl M. Rhodes
Department of Government
Franklin and Marshall College
Lancaster, PA 17604
Department of Political Science
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0375
Rick K. Wilson
Department of Political Science
Rice University
Houston, TX 77251-1892




In this paper we ask whether leaders can serve as institutionally imposed solutions to the problem of trust. After briefly reviewing the problematic and fragile nature of trust and cooperation, we argue that leaders can encourage the formation of trust among a group of followers. Their ability to do so, however, is contingent on the willingness of followers to offer their trust to leaders. We then examine the dynamic of leadership and trust in a series of experiments. Results suggests that the ability of leaders to foster trust and cooperation is dependent on 1) the nature of the underlying context, and 2) the reputation and behavior of leaders themselves.