Trust as the Cornerstone:

Why Effective Leadership Begins with Earning Employee Trust

By; Christopher Lawrence, PCC, CMCP and Kyle Kalloo, MBA, PCC

In the realm of organizational success, trust between leaders and employees stands as the bedrock upon which thriving companies are built. Our expertise in executive leadership coaching, reinforced by an MBA in Leadership, Innovation, and Change, and a Masters in Coaching Culture, has consistently underscored the critical importance of trust. It’s the first step leaders must take before moving the organization forward, fostering cohesive cultures, and delivering impactful products or services. This blog delves into why and how leaders must prioritize building trust, drawing insights from academic research and practical strategies.

Trust: The Fundamental Leadership Currency

Leaders in today’s fast-paced business environment cannot underestimate the power of trust. Trust influences every interaction, decision, and strategy within an organization. Without it, even the most meticulously crafted business plans are prone to falter. As scholars like Gillespie and Mann (2004) have emphasized, trust in leadership is integral to team effectiveness and organizational success​​.

Trust - The Fundamental Leadership Currency
Trust – The Fundamental Leadership Currency

The Erosion of Trust: Top 7 Detrimental Leader Actions

Unfortunately, trust can be easily eroded by certain actions, often unconsciously, by leaders. The top seven trust-eroding actions include:

  1. Inconsistency in Actions and Communications.
  2. Lack of Transparency and Openness.
  3. Micromanagement.
  4. Neglecting Employee Feedback.
  5. Favouritism and Bias.
  6. Shifting Blame and Avoiding Accountability.
  7. Failing to Deliver on Promises.

These actions, as highlighted by numerous studies, including those of Hackman (2002) and Wheelan (2016), not only undermine trust but can lead to a decline in employee morale and engagement​​.

Understanding the Barriers to Building Trust: Insights from Research

In our exploration of why leaders need to focus on building trust with their employees, it’s crucial to understand the common barriers that impede this process. Research sheds light on several key factors that can hinder leaders from effectively establishing trust.

  1. Communication Gaps: One of the primary barriers is inadequate communication. Leaders often fail to convey clear, consistent messages, leading to confusion and mistrust among employees. This issue is further exacerbated when there is a lack of transparency in decision-making processes. Research often highlights the importance of effective communication in trust-building. Studies like those conducted by Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman (1995) in their work “An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust” emphasize how communication clarity and openness are crucial for trust.
  2. Leadership Style: Certain leadership styles can be less conducive to building trust. For instance, autocratic or overly directive approaches can stifle employee input and foster an environment of dependency rather than mutual trust. The impact of leadership style on trust is well-documented. For instance, Dirks and Ferrin’s (2002) research in “Trust in Leadership: Meta-Analytic Findings and Implications for Research and Practice” explores how different leadership styles influence trust levels in organizations.
  3. Cultural Misalignments: Organizational cultures that prioritize results over relationships can create an environment where trust is difficult to establish. In such settings, employees may feel undervalued and perceive their leaders as uncaring or solely results-focused. Schein’s (2010) work on organizational culture underscores the role of culture in trust-building, particularly how a culture focused solely on results can hinder the development of trust.
  4. Resistance to Vulnerability: Many leaders struggle with showing vulnerability. Admitting mistakes, acknowledging limitations, and showing a genuine human side are crucial for trust-building but are often overlooked in leadership practices. Brené Brown’s research, notably in her book “Daring Greatly,” addresses the importance of vulnerability in leadership as a key component of trust-building.
  5. Misaligned Values: A disconnect between the values professed by leaders and those demonstrated through their actions can create skepticism among employees. Actions that contradict stated values or ethical standards can rapidly erode trust. The concept of value alignment and its impact on trust is explored in various organizational behaviour studies, such as those examining the relationship between stated corporate values and actual behaviours.
  6. Inconsistent Feedback and Recognition: Lack of regular, constructive feedback and failure to recognize and reward employee efforts can lead to feelings of being undervalued and mistrusted. The importance of feedback and recognition in trust-building is supported by research in organizational psychology, emphasizing how acknowledgment of employee efforts can foster trust.
  7. Change Management Challenges: In times of change, if leaders fail to involve employees or adequately communicate the reasons and benefits behind changes, it can lead to distrust. Employees need to understand and buy into the vision and direction of the organization. Kotter’s (1996) classic work on change management highlights the importance of effective communication and involvement during organizational change to maintain and build trust.

Understanding these barriers is the first step toward overcoming them. Leaders who are aware of these challenges can work proactively to address them, thereby laying a stronger foundation for trust within their organizations. By prioritizing open communication, demonstrating consistency between words and actions, embracing vulnerability, and aligning organizational culture with trust-building practices, leaders can overcome these barriers and foster a more trusting and productive work environment.

Understanding the Barriers to Building Trust
Understanding the Barriers to Building Trust

The Pitfall of Inaction Post-Employee Surveys

An additional critical aspect in the trust-building journey involves the approach towards employee surveys. Organizations often use these surveys to gauge employee sentiment and engagement. However, simply conducting surveys without follow-up action can be counterproductive. When leadership fails to act on survey feedback, it can lead to a further erosion of trust. Employees begin to view these exercises as mere formalities, lacking genuine intent. This inaction results in lower participation in future surveys and a growing cynicism towards management’s commitment to employee welfare and organizational improvement. It becomes a cycle where engagement decreases, and distrust festoons the organizational culture.

A key takeaway for leaders is that trust isn’t just lost through direct actions but also through inaction, especially when employees expect responsive change. Addressing concerns raised in employee surveys promptly and effectively is not just about rectifying issues but is a powerful statement of respect and value towards employee opinions. This approach can significantly boost morale, engagement, and trust in leadership.

The Ripple Effects of Distrust

When trust is absent, the impact is far-reaching. Distrust leads to a decrease in employee engagement, innovation, and willingness to go the extra mile. It breeds a culture of fear and uncertainty, which in turn affects overall productivity and the organization’s bottom line. Distrust can also taint external relationships with stakeholders and customers.

Building Trust: A Strategic Imperative for Leaders

In the pursuit of effective leadership, the creation and maintenance of trust within an organization stands as a paramount goal. This is not merely for the benefit of a harmonious workplace environment, but as a strategic necessity for the success and resilience of the organization. Recognizing this, let’s delve into the specific actions and attitudes leaders must embrace to build and sustain trust. Supported by various research studies, these strategies highlight how leaders can actively foster a culture where trust is the foundational element driving engagement, performance, and overall organizational health. Let’s explore these strategies in detail.

Building trust is not just a feel-good factor; it’s a strategic imperative. Leaders must:

  1. Communicate Transparently and Consistently: Clear and honest communication is fundamental in trust-building. Mayer et al. (1995) emphasize the role of communication in their Integrative Model of Organizational Trust, suggesting that transparent communication enhances the perceived trustworthiness of the leader. Additionally, consistent communication reduces uncertainty and aligns expectations, as outlined by Dirks and Ferrin (2002).
  2. Demonstrate Reliability and Integrity: The perception of a leader’s reliability and integrity is crucial for trust, as noted in research by Robert Hurley (2006). Integrity involves adhering to a set of principles that are deemed fair and honest, while reliability relates to the predictability of a leader’s actions.
  3. Empower Employees and Delegate Effectively: Empowering employees signals trust and respect for their capabilities. Research by Pearce and Sims (2002) in “Vertical versus Shared Leadership as Predictors of the Effectiveness of Change Management Teams” shows that delegation and empowerment can lead to more effective and committed teams.
  4. Acknowledge and Value Employee Contributions: Recognizing and valuing employees’ contributions can enhance trust. As Eisenberger et al. (2001) discuss in “Perceived Organizational Support and Employee Diligence, Commitment, and Innovation,” such recognition contributes to a positive relational exchange between employees and the organization, fostering trust.
  5. Practice Equitability and Impartiality: Equitable treatment is a key factor in trust-building. Colquitt et al. (2001), in their work “Justice at the Millennium: A Meta-Analytic Review of 25 Years of Organizational Justice Research,” highlight the importance of perceived fairness in organizational settings for trust development.
  6. Own Up to Mistakes and Learn from Them: Admitting mistakes and learning from them is vital for trust. Research by Edmondson (1999) in “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams” underlines the importance of leaders creating an environment where vulnerability is accepted, enhancing trust and learning.
  7. Foster a Culture of Mutual Respect and Understanding: A culture that values mutual respect and understanding fosters trust. Schein’s (2010) work on organizational culture discusses the importance of these elements in creating a positive work environment conducive to trust.

These strategies are vital for creating a positive organizational culture where employees feel valued, heard, and empowered. In essence, trust in leadership is pivotal for creating a culture of engagement and high performance. Through deliberate actions and responsive leadership, trust can be nurtured, fostering a resilient and successful organizational environment.

Building Trust
Building Trust

Incorporating Academic Insights

Academic research offers valuable insights into the mechanisms of trust-building. For instance, studies by Salas, Sims, and Burke (2005) and Dyer (1984) highlight the significance of team dynamics and leadership behaviours in fostering trust​​. Their findings align with practical leadership strategies, emphasizing consistency, communication, and the importance of creating an inclusive and empowering environment.

Moving Forward: Trust as the Launchpad for Success

Leaders who prioritize trust-building set the stage for organizational resilience and adaptability. A trust-rich environment encourages innovation, drives engagement, and facilitates the smooth implementation of change. It’s the foundation upon which successful cultures are built and through which exceptional products and services are delivered.

The Bottom Line

Trust is more than just a component of effective leadership – it is the very essence of it. By understanding and addressing the factors that erode trust, and actively working to foster a trusting environment, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams and lead their organizations to new heights of success. As leaders navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape, remembering that trust is the first step in every journey toward organizational excellence is crucial. It’s not an option, but a necessity for sustainable success.

About the authors 

Christopher Lawrence: Currently in the final stage of his Master’s in Coaching Culture and as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation, Christopher Lawrence is a dynamic force in the realm of executive coaching. His journey from facilitating change in the energy sector to becoming a vice-president at Strategic Leader Coaching highlights his dedication to crafting empowered and psychologically agile work environments. His in-depth knowledge, combined with his educational background, certifications, positions Christopher as an invaluable consultant for organizations striving to build trust between leaders and employees. Particularly adept in using employee survey results to foster meaningful change, his approach ensures that feedback leads to constructive outcomes, enhancing both trust and engagement within the organization. Christopher’s expertise is not just in coaching but in actualizing the principles of a coaching culture at the organizational level.

Want to learn how to create a culture your employees will thrive in? Reach out to us Schedule a call or video conference with Christopher Lawrence or call us right now at 1-844-910-7111.

Kyle Kalloo: As the CEO of a coaching and consulting firm and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation, Kyle Kalloo brings his MBA in Leadership, Innovation, and Change to help organizations navigate trust-building between leaders and employees. Kyle’s expertise lies in transforming team environments and fostering strategic leadership. His approach, combining rigorous academic insights with real-world strategies, makes him well-suited to assist organizations seeking to utilize employee survey results effectively. By guiding leaders through the implementation of inclusive and impactful strategies, Kyle can help ensure that employee feedback translates into meaningful organizational change.

Get rid of doubt and become confident in your Leadership decisions – Reach out to me at  Schedule a call or video conference with Kyle Kalloo or call us right now at1-844-910-7111

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