Countless management books, seminars and programs offer insights into how leaders can develop trust within their organizations. Their consistent theme—“It begins with you”—is certainly valid, as leaders must model trust and set an example for their people. Success depends on a personal campaign of inner reflection, values assessment and relational intelligence. Training can be effective and rewarding, but much of the focus often stops there.
A culture of trust is one where individuals have confidence in and reliance on individuals and groups to do the right thing: to be fair, truthful, honorable and/or able.
Leaders develop trust (rely on others to do the right thing) after observing people’s character and behavior over time and gaining confidence in them.
Leaders earn trust by consistently displaying personal integrity, accountability and concern for others.
Trust, in fact, is the most potent tool in a leader’s arsenal, asserts JetBlue Airways Chairman Joel Peterson in The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great (AMACOM, 2016). Trusted leaders are more productive, profitable and prosperous. Their people are more engaged, morale and loyalty soar, and the overall work ethic is enviable. The organization sees lower turnover, waste and inefficiency.
While we’re often led to believe that trustworthy behavior will permeate the work environment like ripples in a pond, this trickle-down theory is overly simplistic. As Gallup studies reveal, employees trust their coworkers even less than their leaders. Organizations cannot reach their full potential until leaders establish a culture where employees trust their coworkers.