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Management article
Reference no. SMR50215
Published by:
MIT Sloan School of Management (2009)
in "MIT Sloan Management Review"
8 pages


Although top managers must project an image of professionalism and strength, they still require networks of individuals they can trust. The development of trust depends on the degree to which the executives perceive the presence of three critical attributes - ability, benevolence and integrity - within their support networks, and on their ability to match these qualities with the type of support they are seeking in any particular situation. We model the support being sought as having high or low informational complexity and high or low emotional demand. The combinations correspond to four types of support requested: (1) raw information (low, low); (2) actionable advice (high, low); (3) emotional support (low, high); and (4) strategic or political help (high, high). Meanwhile, the three critical attributes (each with either a high or low rating) translate into eight kinds of support providers: (1) trustworthy partner; (2) harsh truth teller; (3) moral compass; (4) loyal supporter; (5) star player; (6) average Joe; (7) dealmaker; and (8) cheerleader. Executives in need of actionable advice will most often turn to trustworthy partners or harsh truth tellers, given their high levels of ability and integrity. For strategic or political help, trustworthy partners will be sought because of their high levels of ability, benevolence and integrity. Seekers of emotional support will look to loyal supporters and trustworthy partners because they offer high levels of benevolence and integrity. And when the three facets of trust are less critical, executives will be willing to go to virtually any of their contacts for raw information, though most often they seek out average Joes. These and other matches were observed, useful data was gathered and valuable insights were obtained when we tested our model on vice presidents, directors, general managers and other executives at a Fortune 50 technology firm.

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