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We all know that trust is at the heart of any relationship. In any organisation it is absolutely critical that there is trust in leadership.

If we think of trust in terms of:

  • Credibility (you do what you say you’re going to do);
  • Reliability (you do it when you say you’re going to do it); and
  • Intimacy (you do it in a way that is sensitive to the people around you),

then these hold as equally at an organised level as they do between individuals.

If you want an engaged, high performing workforce, this is probably as good place to start as any.

Employees need to trust the whole leadership ‘system’ in order to follow

That means not only the CEO or other key individuals, but the collective leadership of the organisation as perceived by the employee. For a retail assistant the store manager is probably more important than the CEO.

When the leadership system does not speak as one; When values are espoused but not lived; When commitments are made and not followed through; When leaders appear to be acting out of self-interest. These undermine trust.

Trust needs to be build from the top team down

As Patrick Lencioni suggests, the first step in building a healthy organisation is to build a cohesive leadership team. And that starts with trust. A top team that doesn’t trust each other won’t deliver.

Promises will be made that some of the leadership team have no intention of delivering on.

The tough issues won’t be tackled, undermining accountability. The top team becomes unreliable.

A top team that can’t be honest with each other also can’t understand and respond to the needs and wants of the wider organisation and, even if as a group of individuals their intentions are good, they will become distanced from the employee base, not intimate.

If there isn’t trust at the top level, the cracks will appear at the next levels down. The next-level leadership that needs to drive change loses confidence in their own leaders, and cynicism takes root. They’re not buying the vision, they don’t believe it will happen, and they certainly aren’t going to sell it. And so it continues throughout the leadership system, like poison, creating a negative cycle.

A lack of trust in leadership, and the resulting cynicism, is an absolute killer of change: and ultimately of organisations.

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