When timing is key : How autocratic and democratic leadership relate to follower trust in emergency contexts

In emergency contexts, leaders’ ability to develop others’ trust in them is critical to leadership effectiveness. By integrating functional leadership and team process theories, we argue that democratic and autocratic leadership can create trust in the leader depending on the performance phase of the action team. We further argue that action and transition phases produce different task demands for leadership behavior to enhance trust in the leader, and different leader characteristics (i.e., leader benevolence and leader ability) mediate these effects. The results of a scenario experiment (N = 125) and field survey (N = 165) among firefighters revealed that autocratic rather than democratic leadership elevates trust in the leader during the action phase by increasing leader ability. In contrast, democratic rather than autocratic leadership enhances trust in the leader during the transition phase by elevating leader benevolence. These findings highlight the importance of leader characteristics in emergencies, demonstrating the value of mixing autocratic and democratic leadership behaviors across different team performance phases to build trust in the leader.


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