Trust and leadership

     Trust is a primary attribute of leadership. It has a central importance in effective leadership processes. There are two aspects of trust that need to be taken into consideration: trust in leaders as knowledgeable individuals (Personal trust) and trust in the context of leadership processes (Leadership trust). 

Personal trust, when referred to leadership, means the recognition of the leader’s personal inspiration and charisma. This trust begins with the leader’s attractiveness exerted as a winning individual with a winning vision he or she wants to accomplish, as we’ve seen in the previous chapters, and progresses through the constant teamwork between the leader and the rest of the team, intensifying and sharing the leader’s inspiration and vision. This initial trust is purely instinctive and is absolutely necessary to activate appropriately the leadership process. It brings to surface the leader’s individuality and puts it in connection with each member of the team’s personality. Personal trust is a rather immediate process.

     Leadership trust on the other hand is the study of those processes and behaviors that contribute to building trust in the organization’s environment, provided that numerous social studies identified and confirmed trust as an essential element in the leadership activity and organization development. There is plenty of research regarding trust as related to leadership, almost all research shares the common assumption that trust is a psychological state, involving several cognitive and affective aspects. 

     Time generated trust. Among the many trust-building behaviors a leader can develop, historical interaction is one of the strongest. It is also one of the simplest because according to this model, trust is more or less strong depending on the length of time and the positive or negative interaction experience between the leader and a team member. When we refer to the duration of the interaction, usually trust builds up on two separate factors, the first being the expectations one has on the trustworthy behavior of the other and the second factor being if the length of time of the experience together confirms or not this expectation. Building trust through time is natural and happens by itself.

     System generated trust. Trust builds up around the role rather than the individual qualities of the leader. The assumption here is that if an individual was chosen to occupy the role of leader, this individual is trustworthy because the organization chose, tested and approved this particular individual. The team trusts the system and accepts the leader as trustworthy unless this leader behaves otherwise. Here the individual becomes secondary to the system. The leader can however benefit of this initial ‘blind’ trust.

     Membership generated trust. The leader has an initial trust credit that derives from being member of a social or organizational category. The only fact of being accepted in one of these associations generates trustworthiness because, similarly as the system generated trust, the system has selected and accepted the leader, in some way confirming the leader’s qualities.

     Rules generated trust. Here trust in the leader is generated by the respect and compliance the leader has for the system of rules. When the leader, as much as the team, demonstrates continuous respect for the shared rules, this builds trust.

     Procedural competence generated trust. A leader that establishes and shows respect for procedures that are considered fair by all the team, will be considered trustworthy. Consideration and respect for procedures relaxes the environment and activates trust, each member of the team feels to be part of a system that works and that protects them. This model requires that the leader discusses with the team in advance, and if necessary, adjusts the rules.

     Neutrality. This behavior suggests a fair and impartial leader. We are human beings and obviously there are situations or people that stimulate in us reactions that are all but neutral, positively or negatively. What matters here is the leader’s effort to be neutral not to obtain a perfect neutrality. As a leader you are relating to other human beings who will sense this effort more than an ideal, depersonalized, neutrality. This approach greatly contributes to generating immediate trust, because it is considered authentic.

     Authenticity generated trust. There is no rule here. Authenticity is a vitally important factor in leadership. Just be yourself and never forget to always be yourself. One of the truly common factors of any high leader, beyond what scholars and social studies say, is the courage to be oneself. Let it out and your leadership will generate impressive trust.

     Culture generated trust. Cultural generated trust is one of the most difficult of this series for a leader, but it also is a proactively generated trust, thus stronger than Time, System and Membership trust which are essentially generated automatically, without involving the individuality of the leader. organizations face multicultural environments and leader high in cultural intelligence is the one who can relate to differing cultures, avoiding barriers, opening doors and building trust. A leader succeeding at focusing the entire team on the project, will build trust in the team who will recognize the leader as someone with knowhow of the project and relations. 

     Competence generated trust. The effect of competence on the team is high and durable in time. With competence comes one of the highest levels of trust. Competence generated trust opens doors to productive teams with efficient relations. The leader’s knowledge and activity move the project in the wanted direction, issues are addressed without hesitation, relationships within the team are fluid and functional to the objective. There are clear benefits when all members of the team, starting from the leader, relate with appropriate levels of trust. A trustworthy environment encourages collaborative behaviors, extra role support and the team’s mutual commitment to the project. Competence is constantly observed and tested on the field, both the leader’s and the team’s, and any errors are easily overcome, often attracting positive collaboration to find a solution. There is a general feeling of honor to participate to the project and respect for the leader. 

     Inspiration generated trust. Goes along with competence generated trust and is the highest level of trust. When the leader is capable of passing his or her inspiration and passion for the project to all the team, you have a positive, collaborative and productive environment all the way to the achievement of the goal. Everybody works with the objective well clear in mind and often brings innovative solutions. Each step is made in accordance with the activity of every other individual in the team. Productivity is at maximum levels, trust is undiscussed. However, inspiration cannot survive alone, it needs to constantly run on competence. Having an inspired team is what leadership is all about, the duty of the leader is to constantly keep high the inspiration in order to stimulate innovative solutions.

     Feeding trust to the team is the essential work of the leader. A team, however good it may be, is a dynamic phenomenon that constantly interrelates, adapts, changes. Satisfactions, delusions, issues constantly change the context. The high leader has a constant feel of the context and adjusts his or her behavior or intervention to the real situation. Trust must be maintained as a key element of relations and the leader must have complete knowledge of the context by talking with each team member, observing, interpreting situations and relations. The leader’s intervention here may go from fine tuning to stepping in strongly. Sometimes the strongest action is to disappear for a short time or, by converse, to strongly impose the leader’s individuality in order to reset a situation. Whatever the choice, nothing should be left to chance, each decision must be anticipated, taking context into account.