Every employee survey carried out with our clients over the years has highlighted trust (or the lack of it) between leaders and their teams as a major cultural issue to be improved on in the workplace.

It’s hardly surprising, as the complex nature of the ‘world of work’ creates hundreds of opportunities to build and destroy trust on a daily basis.

Trust is often described as the ‘mortar’ that keeps the organisation together.

In the context of the business growth journey, trust applies to the confidence or belief a person feels towards your organisation, your colleagues and you as a leader.

When trust is present in your organisation individuals feel that everything somehow will work out, even when the business is facing major challenges and issues on the journey. This manifests itself in good interpersonal relationships with your managers and others.

When trust isn’t present individuals feel uncertain about the overall journey, their personal contribution and the organisation’s ability to meet the challenges.

More importantly, poor interpersonal relationship with others results in a lack of creativity, innovation, commitment and performance

A breakdown in trust has a starting point and it generally can be divided into three distinct categories:

1.  Strategic trust which focuses on the organisation’s vision, strategy and perceived ability to succeed and perform on the journey.

2.  Operational trust which concentrates on the day-to-day operational processes, policies and workings of the organisation.

3.  Personal trust which involves the role of the manager and leader in being fair in all dealings with their team members.

The leader is ultimately responsible for building and maintaining a culture of trust throughout your organisation in all of the above three areas.

However, strategic and operational trust is entwined with personal trust because it is the leader’s day-to-day behaviour which often drives these areas.

Trusted leadership should be a cultural norm

Trusted leadership describes the level (positive or negative) of interpersonal relationships with others throughout the organisation. It is very difficult to maintain and requires vigilance and protection at all times. Each day brings fresh challenges on the business growth journey and how leaders respond to them will affect how they are perceived.

The challenge therefore for the trusted leader is to do everything in his or her power to foster and sustain a culture of trust through leading by example.

This is achieved by focusing on the following five areas:

1. Demonstrating competence in their role as a leader

2. Following through on all commitments made to others

3. Demonstrating personal integrity in everything they do

4. Showing concern for the well-being of others

5. Keeping confidences at all times.

Trusted leadership is a combination of what the leader wishes to accomplish (objectives and outcomes) and the skills, qualities and competencies required to succeed in their role.

Improving trust in the workplace

The reasons why team members often distrust their leaders and managers are often linked to their personal performance in the five areas highlighted above.

Similarly a breakdown in trust between groups of team members can be addressed by reviewing each others behaviour linked to any one of the same five areas.

Improve personal performance in any of the areas and a culture of trust can begin.

However it’s important to state, that for trust to be viewed as a cultural norm in your organisation there has to be a willingness ‘to be trusted’ from the outset.

Starting at the top of the organisation, leaders have to demonstrate on a daily basis to others the behavioural expectation of others.

Also note, a culture of trust cannot be developed in selected pockets of the organisation and then ignored by other areas or groups of colleagues. It’s a 100% all-in requirement and it takes time to develop, flourish and sustain.

As the saying goes ‘the smallest lie kills trust with others.’


Building trust is about reviewing the causes of the distrust and building positive relationships with your people through developing and practicing the behaviours linked to the five areas highlighted above.

You will notice immediate and positive results.

When your people trust you and view you without suspicion this creates a healthy working climate that inevitably leads to outstanding performance and commitment to your organisation on the business growth journey.

As leaders that’s all we really want – isn’t it?

Best wishes on your business growth journey, wherever it may take you.

John Stein – Founder of The Winning Formula®

P.S. Building and maintaining trust is one of the cultural challenges covered in our award-winning leadership book Building the Pyramid