The Trust Factor

Allow me to make you a proposal; it is more important for staff to trust leadership than for leadership to trust staff.  

As a leader, for many years I have had this notion, yet I have not been able to clearly articulate my meaning until now. 

That said, for those of you who are immediately scoffing at my proposal, I’ll make a revision; it is equally important for staff to trust leadership as it is for leadership to trust staff. 

My moment of clarity came when I foundan interesting mathematical representation of this hypothesis and added to the formulation from my own experience. 

Imagine your organization is composedof astute strategists, visionaries with the best mapped out plans for achieving specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time (SMART) results. 

You might expect this formulation: 

High level strategy x Meticulousplanning = Result 

10 x 10 = 100 

We have a winner. 

Now, let us add the human element starting at the foundation with trust. 

(High level strategy x Meticulous planning) x (Trust in staff x Trust from staff) = Result 

If trust is at a somewhat medium levelon both sides, what happens? 

Scenario 1: Leadership trusts staff somewhat, and staff trusts leaderships somewhat. 

(10 x 10) x (70% trust in staff x 70%trust from staff) = 49 

Obviously, even with the best strategy and planning, without a high level of trust, we can compromise our organization and our results. 

Now, imagine this formulation isextended across 3 staff. 

(High level strategy x Meticulousplanning) x {[(Trust in staff 1 x Trust from staff 1) + (Trust in staff 2 xTrust from staff 2) + (Trust in staff 3 x Trust from staff 3)]/3} 

Maintain the leadership staff trust at 70% yet modify the staff trust in leadership from various people and examine the result. 

Scenario 2: Leadership trusts staff somewhat,and staff trusts leadership somewhat and less than somewhat.

(10 x 10) x {[(70% trust in staff 1 x70% trust from staff 1) + (70% trust in staff 2 x 60% trust from staff 2) + (70% trust in staff 3 x 50% trust from staff 3)]/3} = 42 

We are not doing as well as scenario 1 hence losing the trust of staff can impact negatively. 

Increase the leadership trust in staff by 10% yet keep the staff trust the same as in scenario 2 and see what happens. 

Scenario 3: Leaderships trust staff more and staff trusts leadership somewhat.

(10 x 10) x {[(80% trust in staff 1 x70% trust from staff 1) + (80% trust in staff 2 x 60% trust from staff 2) +(80% trust in staff 3 x 50% trust from staff 3)]/3} = 48 

We are still not doing as well as we might want to be. 

Now, instead, increase the level of trust from leadership by 10% and from staff by 10% and see what happens. 

Scenario 4: Leadership trusts everyone somewhat yet staff trusts leadership more. 

(10 x 10) x {[(70% trust in staff 1 x80% trust from staff 1) + (70% trust in staff 2 x 70% trust from staff 2) + (70%trust in staff 3 x 60% trust from staff 3)]/3} = 49 

It is not great, yet it is better than scenario 3. 

Although this might be a very simplistic way at looking at strategy and trust. From experience, I have seen this as a result of a lack of trust on all sides. 

Hence, it might be more impactful for staff to trust leadership at a higher level than for leadership to trust staff at a somewhat lower level. 

Simply stated, as leadership, we need staff to trust us as much as possible. 

Keep in mind, I am not talking about zero trust in that you think the staff member is a thief or a true criminal and a horrible human being; that is a different conversation all-together. 

In this context, we are talking about regular trust between a regular leader and staff with no outstanding and outlying serious negative issues. 

So, where do we go from here especially if you have a somewhat medium level of trust on both sides? 

The simple answer is, let’s start with some questions. 

Can lost trust be restored? 

Can trust be taught and learned? 

Is the relationship shattered beyond repair? 

These are questions you will need to answer for yourself, yet the short and simplistic answers are:  

Yes, lost trust can be restored yet it will take time and is hard and will require effort on all sides. 

Yes, trusting can be taught and learned. 

No, if it is shattered beyond repair, it might be beyond repair and one or both parties might need to move-on or stay and live with the reality they choose. In this case, very clear and precise performance and behaviour parameters will need to be in place with regular check-ins. 

The simple fact is that leadership not trusting people is very risky and weakens an organization and individuals on both sides. 

Yet, where do we start? 

Trust is a function of the things you do and say and your skills and abilities in your job. 

So, it starts with self-reflection or in this case, a self-diagnostic. 

Like with any good self-diagnostic, we shall propose some questions for your consideration based on various characteristics. 


Q. Do you “wall your talk?” 

Q. Are you truly open to hearing differing perspective? 

Q. Do you believe there are things out there you have yet to learn? 

Q. Do you believe you can develop new ways of thinking and new habits? 


Q. How often do you look to acknowledge the contribution of the team as a “win” for everyone versus a “win”just for yourself? 

Q. How often do you try to be the “hero” and be recognized for your ideas? 


Q. Are your capabilities current and up-to-date? 

Q. What have you done to grow and expand your skills and abilities? 

Q. What attitude do you have about work and the people you work with? 

Q. What knowledge do you posses that you can pass along to others? 

Q. Does your current style help get work done or get in the way of accomplishing what needs to get done or even what you want to achieve? 

Q. Do you recognize the need for trust as essential to good working relationships? 

Q. Are you making efforts to learn about trust, developing it, growing it and even restoring it if lost? 


Q. What results have you recently delivered? 

Q. Would you qualify for your own job with your own current track record? 

Q. Do you recognize the difference between actions and results? 

Since this is a personal exercise, honesty is crucial, the only person you would be cheating is yourself. 

Keep in mind, likely no one can live up to these standards and has work to do; that is the beauty of self-development. 

Based on your answers, you might recognize areas where you might need to work on. This is at the core of the exercise. 

Yet also, a natural inclination will be for people to think that these are exactly the areas the staff need to work on and you might be completely correct. 

To that, I will say, would it be possible that it is your role as the leader to get them to a place where they can see that for themselves? Even if it is one element at a time? 

Or, maybe you realize you can’t control what they say and do at their core, yet you can control the way you act and behave and work on that yourself? 

Is it conceivable that you might influence them over time to come meet half-way or even a quarter of the way down the path? 

If you did this, would you not demonstrate to yourself that you have true leadership ability and acumen? 

This would be your success. 

Moving forward, after we look internally, we need to examine our actions with respect to our relations with others and how to build relationship trust, even when it is lost and as long asit is not shattered. 

My suggestion would be to start with one thing at a time. 

This might also entail engaging the staff and agreeing to working on this together after a very direct and honest necessary conversation. 

At minimum, work on the elements for yourself and measure where it takes the relationship. 

You might even express on paper for your own consideration what you might define as a success for each element.  

For example, if a staff comes to you with a mistake they made, this can demonstrate trust simply because the opposite would have been for them to hide the mistake or lie. 

Let’s face it, if some of the staff made mistakes and never came to us, we might never know about them. 

Ask yourself which is better? 

Yet, also, ask yourself, if they don’t come to you, what is the reason for that? 

Might it be because you will get mad, overacted, punish them for an honest mistake? 

Or, maybe, they have heard from others they should not come with mistakes as they will be scolded and reprimanded or even fired. 

If your reaction is not measured, what is the probability they will come back to you again when they make another mistakes and rest assured, we all make mistakes. 

Trust is complex and at the core of our personal and work lives. 

Outside work, when someone loses ourtrust, we might be able to just walk away. At work, we might not have that luxury. 

So, our choice is to do nothing, accept the status quo, leave, or take actions. 

As an optimist, I would suggest, if the relationship is not shattered, take action that is within your control.  

I would suggest extending trust first if you expect trust because you can’t expect trust if you don’t give it. People can sense when you don’t trust them and in return, they will meet yourexpectations. 

If someone has burned you in the past, have a different type of trust with them. Ask questions and follow-up, yet still trust them to do what they have committed to and what they are paidto do. If you need, get them to verbally commit. If need be, confirm or get them to agree in an email confirmation. Remind them that this is standard practice. 

If you want to work on your behaviour, especially if you want to work on one element at a time, I would suggest the following table below in the download section and maybe even more importantly in this table is what not to do. 

I will admit, I am working on this myself and am guilty of what not to do, yet as I always say, I am a w-i-p (work-in-progress). 

Extend trust if you expect trust.

Extend your thoughts to me on this topic if you feel inclined.