Trust is Key: Unlocking the Relationship Between Leadership and Team Performance

Author(s), Title and Publication

Boies, K., Fiset, J., & Gill, H. (2015). Communication and trust are key: Unlocking the relationship between leadership and team performance and creativity. The Leadership Quarterly26(6), 1080-1094.


This experimental study examined how transformational leadership behaviors influence team performance and creativity through underlying mechanisms of team communication and trust. Transformational leadership is a style that accentuates vision and inspiration. It is accomplished through four distinct but interrelated behaviors: idealized influence (the leader acts in a way that followers want to emulate), inspirational motivation (the leader articulates an inspiring vision), individualized consideration (the leader attends to followers’ individual needs and aspirations), and intellectual stimulation (the leader challenges followers’ preconceived notions). The authors focused on leadership behaviors of inspirational motivation and intellectual simulation and how these behaviors foster team communication, trust, and eventually influence team outcomes.

The experiment placed 137 participants recruited from a Canadian university into 44 newly formed groups to complete a creative block-building task with the transformational leadership style being manipulated as inspirational motivation, intellectual simulation or a control group. The study found that teams exposed to a leader displaying intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation demonstrated better between-member communication, which was positively related to team trust. Team communication and trust, in turn, were positively related to task performance and negatively related to the number of construction errors. This indicates that communication is a central mechanism in team functioning. In addition, teams exposed to intellectual stimulation had better creative performance, while inspirational motivation was associated with better task performance.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) emphasize different dimensions of transformational leadership when facing different types of challenges (e.g., intellectual stimulation is particularly important when aiming for creative performance, while inspirational motivation becomes salient when seeking task performance), and 2) encourage and implement transformational leadership when trying to improve communication and trust within newly established teams.

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