What is Trust?

Trust, or lack of trust, is an increasingly important leadership issue in today’s organization. In this article we define trust and provide you with some guidelines for helping build credibility and trust.

Trust is a positive expectation that another will not through words, actions, or decisions act opportunistically. The two most important elements of our definition are that it implies familiarity and risk.

The phrase positive expectation in our definition assumes knowledge and familiarity about the other party. Trust is a history dependent process bad on relevant but limited samples of experience. It takes time to form building incrementally and accumulating. Most of us find it hard, if not impossible, to trust someone immediately if we don’t know anything about them. At the extreme, in the case of total ignorance, we can gamble but we can’t trust. But as we get to know someone and relationship matures, we gain confidence in our ability to form a positive expectation.

The term opportunistically refers to the inherent risk and vulnerability in any trusting relationship. Trust involves making oneself vulnerable as for example, we disclose intimate information or rely on another’s promises. By its very nature, trust provides the opportunity for disappointment or to be taken risk per se; rather it is a willingness to take risk. So when I trust someone, I expect that they will not take advantage of me. This willingness to take risks is common to all trust situations.

What are the key dimensions that underline the concept of trust? Evidence has identified five: integrity, competence, consistency, loyalty and openness.

Integrity refers to honesty and truthfulness. Of all five dimensions, this one seem to be most critical when someone assesses another’s trustworthiness For instance, when 570 white collar employees were recently given a list of 28 attributes related to leadership, honesty was rated the most important by far.

Competence encompasses an individual’s technical and interpersonal knowledge and skills. Does the person know what he or she is talking about? You are unlikely to listen to or depend on someone whose abilities you don’t respect. You need to believe that the person has the skills and abilities to carry out what he or she says they will do.

Consistency relates to an individual’s reliability, predictability and good judgment in handling situations. Inconsistencies between words and actions decrease trust. This dimension is particularly relevant for managers. Nothing is noticed more quickly than a discrepancy between what executives preach and what more quickly than a discrepancy between what executives preach and what they expect their associates to practice.

Loyalty is the willingness to protect and save face for neither person. Trust requires you can depend on someone not to act opportunistically. The final dimension of trust is openness. Can you rely on the person to give you the full truth?

Trust and Leadership:

Trust is a primary attribute associated with leadership; and when this trust is broken, it can have serious adverse effects on a group’s performance. As one author noted:

Part of the leader’s task has been, and continues to be, working with people to find and solve problems, but whether leaders gain access to the knowledge and creative thinking they need to solve problems depends on how much people trust them. Trust and trust worthiness modulate the leader’s faces not knowledge and cooperation.

When followers trust a leader, they are willing to be vulnerable to the leader’s action – confident that their rights and interests will not be abused. People are unlikely to look up to or follow someone whom they perceive as dishonest or who is likely to take advantage of them. Honesty, for instance consistently ranks at the top of most people’s list of leadership. If people are going to follow someone willingly whether it be into battle or into the boardroom, the first want to assure themselves that the person is worthy of their trust. —