Why Successful Leaders Lead with Trust


Why Successful Leaders Lead with Trust

We’ve reached the final blog of our Trust series. Previously, we discussed in times of organisational change – Trust changes everything and how to effectively manage resistance to change.

Trust is the new currency in organisations.

Trust is now considered one of the most important elements of work-based relationships that managers and leaders need to focus on.

In an excellent recent article, The Neuroscience of Trust Paul J. Zak cites some interesting statistics. Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies reported: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfied with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Sometimes we sit at the extremes of trust where we are either too trusting or not trusting enough explains Stephen M. R Covey. Often arising out of gullibility or cynicism we fail to reap the benefits of trusting relationships. Stephen speaks eloquently about what he calls the “Third Alternative: Smart Trust”.

How to let go and Trust:

Smart Trust is opening our hearts and trusting but with some judgment. It’s an ability which enables us to operate with trust while minimising the risks of getting burned. Simply put, Smart Trust is how to trust in a low-trust world. Smart Trust allows us to see the endless possibilities for good in people and situations while not ignoring warning signals and letting emotion cloud our judgement.

We can all think of a situation where we trusted and got hurt whether it was in our personal or work lives or both. But how many of us reflect on the level of trust we had in the situation and learn how to trust more effectively?

Trust is something many people mistakenly believe is either there or it isn’t, something which must be earned and something which if lost cannot be regained. We spend time reflecting on who was to blame, the hurt we endured or how to protect ourselves from it ever happening again.

Maybe we don’t realise that when we lead out with trust we receive trust in return or when we hold back on trust, we generate distrust.

Reflect for a moment on a relationship you have had where there was a breakdown of trust. This may have been a work based or personal relationship. Answer the following questions honestly.


  1. What was your part in the breakdown of trust in the relationship – i.e. did you trust blindly and ignore any analysis of the relationship or did you remain sceptical and guarded throughout the relationship? For many people being guarded and sceptical means that you don’t let people in and that they develop perceptions of you which may remain unchallenged or they misinterpret aspects of the relationship more easily because there is no opportunity to clarify.
  2. What would you now do differently to resolve the situation given what you know about taking personal responsibility for trust? This does not necessarily mean you want to do anything about the past relationship as some relationships may just need to end but it is about learning how to enhance your trust based relationships in the future.


One technique for Smart Trust based relationships is explicit agreements and trust codes. This involves calling out important elements of the relationship and setting agreements around them. For example, a manager and a team member may agree that if there is a conflict or problem between them that they will both endeavor to resolve it between them before telling anyone else about it.

This technique has many interesting outcomes.

Firstly, it stops people assuming that trust is something that evolves mysteriously over time. Trust can be explicitly built. Secondly, it deepens relationships as people gain insight into what is important for them in trusting and it cuts through the politics of the workplace by bringing misperceptions and misunderstandings, which can happen so easily within the workplace, into the open for quick resolution.

All of this leads to enhanced levels of trust and cohesion in individual relationships and in teams which bring greater levels of satisfaction and productivity.

Download our free guide on how to build a culture of trust and help leaders to successfully build high trust relationships.

Mary Lynch

Mary is a senior consultant with over 16 years’ experience. Mary specialises in the areas of Organisational Development, Change Management, Performance Management, Leadership and Coaching.

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