Trust and leadership


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

Trust is a positive expectation that another person 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 or 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 the relationship matures, we gain confidence in our ability to have positive expectations.

The term opportunistically refers to the inherent risk and vulnerability in any trusting relationship. Trust involves making oneself vulnerable, as when, we disclose intimate information or rely on another’s promises. By its very nature, trust provides the opportunity for disappointment or to be taken advantage of. But trust is not taking 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.

Evidence has identified five:

1. Integrity
2. Competence.
3. Consistency.
4. Loyalty, and
5. Openness.


Integrity refers to honesty and truthfulness. Of all five dimensions this one seems 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 considered as the most important..


It encompasses an individual’s technical and interpersonal knowledge and skills. One is unlikely to listen to or depend on someone whose abilities are doubtful. A follower needs to believe that the leader has the skills and abilities to carry out what he or she says they will do.


It relates to an individual’s reliability, predictability, and good judgment in handling situations. Inconsistency between words and actions decrease trust. Nothing is noticed more quickly than a discrepancy between what executives preach and what they expect others to practice.


Loyalty is the willingness to protect and save face for another person. Trust requires that you can depend upon someone not to act opportunistically. The final dimension of trust is openness.

Trust and leadership:

Trust is primary attribute associated with leadership and when this trust is broken it can have a serious adverse affect on the group’s performance. Honesty and integrity are two of the essential traits to be consistently associated with leadership. Leaders’ task is working with people to find and solve problems provided they access for adequate knowledge and creativity. When followers trust a leader they are willing to be vulnerable to the leader’s action. The followers will also get confidence that their rights and interests are not abused.

If a leader is found not trustworthy by the followers are unlikely to look up to him as they consider the leader as dishonest and unreliable.

Honesty for instance consistently ranks at the top of the most people’s list of characteristics they admire in their leaders. Honesty is absolutely essential to leadership. If people are willing to follow a leader into a battle or board room they first want to assure themselves that the person is worthy of their trust.