Trust and Leadership | Organizational Behavior and Human Relations (2023)

Learning Outcomes

  • Understanding trust as an element of successful leadership

The leader who does not establish trust will have no followers. Trust is the primary attribute associated with leadership, and trust that is broken can have an adverse effect on a group’s performance. People are unlikely to follow someone they think is dishonest, or someone they think will take advantage of them. Conversely, when followers trust a leader, they’re willing to be vulnerable to the leader’s actions.

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What Is Trust?

Trust and Leadership | Organizational Behavior and Human Relations (1)What is trust? Trust is a positive expectation that another individual will not act opportunistically at another’s expense. Trust is dependent on history, based on relevant but limited samples of experience. Trust involves five key dimensions:

  • Integrity: the honesty and integrity of the individual.
  • Competence: the knowledge and ability of the individual.
  • Consistency: the reliability of the individual.
  • Loyalty: the willingness of the individual to protect the interests of another.
  • Openness: the individual’s willingness to be forthcoming with others.

In today’s world of business, there are plenty of reasons for trust to be deteriorating. Wells Fargo took advantage of sales teams and, with them, their own customers, and their predatory behavior was called onto the carpet in front of Congress. Volkswagen’s faked emissions testing cost their business customers and international relations. Facebook has been taken to task for lax security measures around users’ personal information, and the lack of checks and balances in their advertising policies may have influenced our country’s presidential election.

Whether trust is lost between a leader and a follower, or a customer and a company, it costs the organization money.

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Types of Trust

There are three types of trust in organizational relationships.

  • Deterrence-based trust. Perhaps the most fragile of all the types of trust, deterrence-based trust is based on the fear of reprisal if trust is violated. A new employee might extend deterrence-based trust to his or her new manager, understanding that there is limited experience on which to base any other trust. The potentially harmed party must be willing to introduce harm in return if the trust is violated. “I am willing to speak poorly of you if you do the same to me,” is an example of that.
  • Knowledge-based trust. This trust is the most common, and it’s based on the behavioral predictability that comes from a history of interaction. Even when an individual can predict that another individual will be unpredictable or untrustworthy, knowledge-based trust can still exist. “I know enough to know he won’t show up on time and he won’t bring the pizza,” is what one might say in a knowledge-based trust situation.
  • Identification-based trust. This is the highest level of trust achieved between two individuals, because it’s an emotional connection between them. This trust is based on a mutual understanding of each other’s intentions and appreciation of the other’s wants and desires. A happily married couple exercises identification-based trust, as well as two people in an organization who have worked together for a long period of time.

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Principles of Trust

Where an organization is concerned, there are some basic trust principles that leaders should keep in mind:

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  • Growth can mask mistrust. In a time of organizational growth, leaders enjoy rapid promotions and increased power and responsibility. Leaders who don’t plan to be with an organization for very long can take shortcuts and leave issues of mistrust for their successors to handle.
  • Decline tests the highest levels of trust. There’s nothing like a string of layoffs or an episode of corporate downsizing to erode even strong levels of trust.
  • Trust increases cohesion. Group members who display trust in each other will work together and exert high levels of effort to achieve goals. Mistrusting groups should expect the exact opposite.
  • Mistrust generally reduces productivity. While trust doesn’t necessarily increase productivity, mistrust almost always decreases it. Mistrust forces group members to focus on individual differences, which makes it hard to visualize any common goals.

In a 2016 survey done by Price Waterhouse Cooper, they reported that 55% of CEOs think a lack of trust is the biggest threat to their business. Certainly , companies whose employees consider them “high trust” are experiencing a lot of advantages: their employees report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.[1]

Be trustworthy.


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  1. Zak, Paul J. "The Neuroscience of Trust." Harvard Business Review. January/February 2017. Accessed April 29, 2019.


What is the relationship between trust and leadership? ›

The leader who does not establish trust will have no followers. Trust is the primary attribute associated with leadership, and trust that is broken can have an adverse effect on a group's performance. People are unlikely to follow someone they think is dishonest, or someone they think will take advantage of them.

How do you demonstrate trust in leadership? ›

As a leader, being trustworthy is about:
  1. Doing what you say you will do (being dependable and consistent)
  2. Being approachable and friendly (people trust leaders they like)
  3. Championing authenticity, empathy and humanity.
  4. Showing support for your team members, even when they make mistakes (and admitting to your own)

What is the relationship between trust and human behavior in the workplace? ›

According to this model, trust operates in a straightforward manner: Higher levels of trust are expected to result in more positive attitudes, higher levels of cooperation and other forms of workplace behavior, and superior levels of performance.

How do you describe leadership human behavior? ›

What is leadership behavior? Leader behavior is the traits and characteristics that make some effective as a leader. Leaders utilize their behavior to help them guide, direct, and influence the work of their team.

What are the four components of trust in leadership? ›

In this article, the author discusses the four elements of trust: (1) consistency; (2) compassion; (3) communication; and (4) competency. Each of these four factors is necessary in a trusting relationship but insufficient in isolation. The four factors together develop trust.

What are the 5 components of trust? ›

There are five key elements of trust that drive our philosophy:
  • Reliability: Being reliable creates trust.
  • Honesty: Telling the truth creates trust.
  • Good Will: Acting in good faith creates trust.
  • Competency: Doing your job well creates trust.
  • Open: Being vulnerable creates trust.
Feb 25, 2021

What qualities must a leader have to build trust? ›

The following seven key leadership traits will help you to develop and maintain trust in the workplace:
  • Communicate effectively by listening first. ...
  • Show that you trust your people. ...
  • Encourage transparency. ...
  • Be interested in your people. ...
  • Be a career advancer. ...
  • Always do what you say you will. ...
  • Say “Thank you”

How does a good leader build trust? ›

So how can leaders build trust? It starts with creating a safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks. It means being transparent and authentic. And it requires establishing clear expectations and following through on commitments.

What is the role of trust in leadership? ›

Trust Creates Future Leaders

When you trust your employees, you empower them to own their success. When they own their success, they can better push through adversity, take responsibility for their performance and results and enhance their own leadership skills.

What is trust in human behavior? ›

In psychology, trust is believing that the person who is trusted will do what is expected. According to the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, development of basic trust is the first state of psychosocial development occurring, or failing, during the first two years of life.

What is trust and importance in human relationship? ›

Trust is an important and tender aspect of all relationships because it requires us to choose to be vulnerable and courageous. When we have learned to distrust someone, it's usually because we've come to understand that what we share with them or what's important to us is not safe with that person.

What are 3 leadership behaviors? ›

And each successful leader develops a style based on their own personality, goals, and business culture based on one of these three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

What are leadership behaviors examples? ›

Here's a list of ways you can behave like a leader:
  • Be honest. ...
  • Be confident in your decisions. ...
  • Be approachable. ...
  • Provide objective feedback. ...
  • Lead by example. ...
  • Create a reward program for staff members. ...
  • Address potential issues before they become problems. ...
  • Pay attention to the needs of individual employees and try to meet them.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the importance of leadership and human behavior in the workplace? ›

Leadership is very important in a firm as it leads to higher performance by the team members, it improves motivation and morale within the members, and helps to respond to change. Leadership facilitates organizational success by creating responsibility and accountability among the members of the organization.

What are the 5 C's of trust based leadership? ›

Creating a high-trust environment is not easy. However, the components are clear: care, communication, character, consistency and competence.

What are the three main components in a trust relationship? ›

A long history of research demonstrates that trust can be broken down into three components: competence, honesty, and benevolence.

What are the 4 C's of trust? ›

Research reveals that there are four elements of relational trust: consistency, compassion, competence, and communication.

What are the 7 principles of trust? ›

According to Dr. Brown's research, trust—an integral component of all thriving relationships and workplaces—can be broken up into seven key elements; boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault (confidentiality), integrity, non-judgement and generosity.

What are the 8 C's of trust? ›

The eight pillars of trust (Clarity, Compassion, Character, Competency, Commitment, Connection, Contribution and Consistency) are based on Horsager's original research and his experience working with major companies and government agencies throughout the world.

What are the 3 types of trust? ›

To help you get started on understanding the options available, here's an overview the three primary classes of trusts.
  • Revocable Trusts.
  • Irrevocable Trusts.
  • Testamentary Trusts.
Aug 31, 2015

How do you build trust and respect in a team? ›

How to build trust in your team
  1. Foster communication. Fostering communication between yourself and your team is a great way to build trust. ...
  2. Try to be transparent. ...
  3. Meet with individual team members. ...
  4. Conduct team-building activities. ...
  5. Encourage collaboration. ...
  6. Show your appreciation. ...
  7. Exhibit leadership qualities.
Feb 28, 2023

How do you define trust in the workplace? ›

Trust in the workplace refers to psychological safety, mutual respect, and open communication between employees and management. As interpersonal challenges and conflict naturally arise, building trust improves problem-solving and comfort in the workplace.

What does trust in leadership look like? ›

What Is Leadership Trust? Trust means 'uncompromised by doubt. ' In the workplace, people can't do their best work if they doubt others' intentions or capabilities, the direction or viability of the organization, or, most importantly, if they doubt their own ability to keep up with the demands placed on them.

What type of leadership promotes trust? ›

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders gain the trust and confidence of their teams, encourage team members, and lead employees toward meeting company goals. Transformational leadership also always improves upon the company's conventions and motivates employees to grow and further develop their skills.

How do leaders earn the trust and respect of others? ›

Leaders don't automatically gain respect from their employees; they need to earn respect by demonstrating that they value employees and prioritize their growth. Managers can earn more respect by improving their communication with employees and explaining important decisions.

What is the importance of trust and respect in good leadership? ›

Trust is typically developed from mutual respect. When staff members trust their leaders, they feel supported and confident that they're being treated fairly and respectfully. This may improve the ability of leaders to lead and motivate teams because team members are more accepting of their ideas.

Why trust and confidence are the key to effective leadership? ›

When leaders have gained trust, their teams are confident that they are with the right team and headed in the right direction; the atmosphere is positive and they enjoy working towards a common goal; they like what they do and are focused on being the very best.

What are the two types of trust in leadership? ›

We all instinctively understand what trust is, but there are actually two types of trust that are crucial to successful leadership. These are cognitive and affective trust.

What are examples of trust? ›

A simple example would be the situation in which one member of a family advances money to another and asks the second member to hold the money or to invest it for him. A more complicated example of an implied trust would be the situation in which one party provides money to another for the purchase of property.

What are the three characteristics of trust? ›

(1995) found that there are three elements that must be in place before trust exists. They are ability, integrity, and benevolence. The convergence of these three dimensions is where trust truly exists.

What is the main point of trust? ›

A trust is generally employed to hold assets so that they are safe from creditors or others that might have a claim on them after the grantor's death. In addition, trusts are often used to keep assets safe from family members who might otherwise sell or spend them.

What are some examples of trust in a relationship? ›

You tell each other first when you have news, whether it's good or bad. You do what you say you're going to do. You respect each other even when you disagree. You discuss how to carry out life-changing decisions before making them (for example those involving money, careers or values).

What is trust in a relationship examples? ›

Listening and supporting each other. Showing consideration and care. Trusting each other that you know what is best for yourself. Showing mutual respect for boundaries.

Why is trust important in a workplace? ›

Trust in the workplace means your employees enjoy a culture of honesty, psychological safety, and mutual respect. They're proud of where they work and are more willing to go above and beyond for your organization. Trust in the workplace also helps employees feel secure in their jobs and, in turn, reduces turnover.

Can you give 3 qualities of a good leader? ›

A good leader should have integrity, self-awareness, courage, respect, empathy, and gratitude. They should be learning agile and flex their influence while communicating and delegating effectively. See how these key leadership qualities can be learned and improved at all levels of your organization.

What are the 3 most important qualities of a leader? ›

Passion, teamwork, and social skills are three important qualities for leaders to possess in order to be effective. Learn how to bring these qualities into your workplace and put your best foot forward in both your personal and professional life.

What is a successful leader? ›

A successful leader is an influencer who can inspire, motivate and get the best out of their people. A leader's primary responsibility is to lead, and the foundation for great leadership is trust.

What is the key to leadership? ›

To be an effective leader, you must understand your own motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Great leaders connect with their team by facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth and development, and giving and receiving feedback.

What is the relationship between leadership and human behavior? ›

Are leadership and human behavior related? The two are definitely related. Actually, human behavior dictates the way you lead your people and also determines your success. Without an understanding of human behavior, you cannot be as successful as you could be as a leader.

What is the leadership behavior that's most important to employees? ›


What are the important characteristics of a leadership behaviors? ›

Characteristics of an Effective Leader
  • Ability to Influence Others. ...
  • Transparency—to an Extent. ...
  • Encourage Risk-Taking and Innovation. ...
  • Integrity and Accountability. ...
  • Act Decisively. ...
  • Demonstrate Resilience.
Oct 4, 2018

What is the meaning of trust in leadership? ›

Trust is the belief that a person or an object is reliable. Therefore, trust in leadership refers to when an organisation's employees believe that their leaders are reliable. When employees trust their leaders, they believe that they're able to make decisions that take their best interests into consideration.

Why trust is important in leadership and team? ›

Trust is essential to an effective team, because it provides a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take appropriate risks, and expose vulnerabilities.

What is the impact of leadership on trust? ›

Transformational leadership is more effective in building trust among traditional styles. As followers trust in their leader and exchanges between them grow, the sense of organizational identification and belongingness improves, which positively impacts employee performance.

What are the three elements of trust? ›

(1995) found that there are three elements that must be in place before trust exists. They are ability, integrity, and benevolence. The convergence of these three dimensions is where trust truly exists.

What are the five dimensions of trust in leadership? ›

Along with a general willingness to risk vulnerability, five faces of trust emerged: benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty, and openness.

What kind of leader can be trusted? ›

A trustworthy leader will always invest in relationships with others. They're unfailingly supportive and willing to go the extra mile to help those around them grow and improve. At the heart of a trusted leader is a core of service and support. They listen with an open heart and mind.


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