Trust – an essential leadership trait that leads to motivation and sustainable business


When leadership experts talk about the things that motivate staff – as individuals and teams – one of the most common concepts that emerges repeatedly is the theme of trust.

Trust is a difficult thing to define because it means different things to different people. If you had five staff stand around a white board and each write down five words to describe trust, you would probably end up with twenty different words – but there would be some overlap and that’s important.

Leadership researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman looked at feedback data for 87,000 leaders to see if there were any key elements of trust that apply in any circumstance They identified three key elements:

  1. The extent to which a leader can create positive relationships with people and groups.
  2. The extent to which a leader is informed and knowledgeable, reflecting technical expertise, depth of experience and demonstrating good judgement.
  • How well leaders walk the talk, follow through on commitments and are willing to go the extra mile, while demonstrating consistency.

Managing and building trust as a motivating force is challenging enough at the best of times. However, building and maintaining trust in a crisis, such as a global pandemic that delivers widescale economic and commercial upheaval and social disruption is even more challenging. Ram Charan, one of the foremost international thought leaders and experts on organisational leadership, in his book “Leadership in the Era of Uncertainty”, talks about the negative behavioural impacts that fall out of crises, often resulting in dramatic reductions in interpersonal and intra-team trust.

In response, as well as the three characteristics outlined above, experts talk about the need to actively practice open and transparent communication, provide emotional support. Model and enforce integrity and simplify systems and processes in order to maintain and enhance trust, and motivation in teams.

And trust is critical to business success. Organisations that practice and embed trust-building behaviours and practices build better leaders from the ground up. That means that the outward, customer facing parts of your business will also exhibit trust. That customer and client facing trust is essential to the long-term success of any business. Customers and clients are constantly attuned to issues of integrity, honesty, openness and a fair go. If your customer facing staff can’t build trust with the people that are buying your goods and services, your business will ultimately fail.

Motivated staff are staff who have trust in their leaders. Motivated staff are staff who build trusting relationships with consumers. Business success, particularly in a time of crisis, is built on trust and trust starts at the top.


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