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The Trusted Leader

People need to work in high trust environments if they are to perform well. In high trust work environments staff are focused on their work, are productive, and motivated to be at work. Authentic leaders create and sustain such environments. To do this they need to earn the trust of the people they lead because ‘trust is the glue that binds the leader to his/her followers and provides the capacity for organisational and leadership success’ (Mineo, 2014).

However, trust is a complex idea because it can mean different things to different people. For example, trust can be earned through doing something:

"You have to do something to give people the evidence they need to believe you should be trusted. You have to be willing to give in order to get."

Maister et al. (2001)
Lyman (2012) suggests that such interactions convey a message to those involved, and to those around them, that as the leader, you are willing to do something that benefits another person.
Lyman (2012) goes on to say that a trusted leader is viewed as credible, respectful and fair:
  • As a credible leader, ‘you mean what you say’ and ‘what you say is believed to be true’
  • As a respectful leader, you support employee personal growth, listen to and consider their ideas, and you work with them in an inclusive way
  • As a fair leader, you do not differentiate between employees based on their hierarchical position in the organisation

For others, trust may be an explicit or implicit socially expected behaviour. This does not mean however, that trust doesn’t need to be earned. To earn trust in such organisations:

  • You need to behave in accordance with any implicit or explicit expectations
  • You must be honest in your exchanges
  • You must not take advantage of your position even when the opportunity is available

(Lowry et al., 2016)


Reciprocally Based Trusting Relationships

For senior managers, earning the trust of subordinates can be challenging because:

"Research has shown that different organisational actors at different levels within an organisation are indeed likely to be considered more or less trustworthy."

Lowry et al. (2016)

What this means is that senior managers may have to work much harder to earn trust because they have a great deal of control, and trust is a substitute for control.  To create a high trust culture, senior leaders will need to foster trusting relationships by giving up some control and empowering others. This cannot be done without some agreement between those involved and a plan. Hurley (2006) identified many elements to support trust building, but suggested that it’s a process i.e. steps need to be taken toward creating a trusting relationship, and this must be developed reciprocally:

"The trust that leaders place in those they lead allows both the leader and her/his followers to excel. It is not a momentary event but a series of investments over time that truly allow success. Along the way leaders will make mistakes; however, an honest and caring approach will allow those mistakes to be overcome."

Mineo (2014)

In building reciprocally based trusting relationships, both parties must shake off the idea that a top-down model of command and control creates ‘trust’ and take on the new idea, that it is trust which creates authority.


Trust within your Team

Martinuzzi (2017) put together a list of questions, which have been adapted here, which might help you to think about the state of trust amongst the team you lead:

  • Do we share information that is helpful to each other, or withhold it?
  • Do we treat each other with kindness and compassion?
  • Do we try to do good in our dealings with each other?
  • Do we follow through on commitments to each other, even if it is at considerable personal expense?
  • Do we seize opportunities to encourage each other?
  • Are we just as happy about each other’s achievements as we are about our own



CIPD (2012) Where has all the trust gone?
Available from: https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/where-has-all-the-trust-gone_2012-sop_tcm18-9644.pdf [Accessed 16 Aug 2022]

CIPD (2013) Employee Outlook: Focus on trust in leaders.
Available from: https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/employee-outlook_2013-autumn-trust-leaders_tcm18-9571.pdf [Accessed 16 Aug 2022]

Hurley, R. (2006) The Decision to Trust. Harvard Business Review [online]
Available from: https://hbr.org/2006/09/the-decision-to-trust [Accessed 16 Aug 2022]

Lowry et al. (2016). Developing high trust work relationships. OpenLearn [online]
Available from: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/money-business/leadership-management/developing-high-trust-work-relationships/content-section-0?active-tab=description-tab [Accessed 16 Aug 2022]

Lyman, A. (2012) The trustworthy leader: Leveraging the power of trust to transform your organization. Jossey-Bass.

Maister et al. (2001) The Trusted Advisor. Touchstone.

Martinuzzi, B. (2017) The Power of Trust: a Steel Cable. Mindtools [online]
Available from: www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_46.htm [Accessed 16 Aug 2022]

Mineo, D (2014). The importance of trust in leadership. Research Management Review. 20 (1), pp 1-6.


Further Resources