Happy People

Trust is the most important trait of exceptional leaders

If the 1980s view of leadership was the strong and charismatic visionary, the 2010s vision is the empathetic and trustworthy servant. And study after study supports the idea that trust is one of the most important factors for leaders today. In “What Leadership Trust Really Means“, we discussed what trust is.  Fortunately, a great deal of research has looked at what builds trust.  In this post, we focus on what’s needed to create trust.  It’s the framework to let us decide on specific actions to build more trust.

What, then, are the main factors in building trust? Research shows there are 7.

1. Care and Help: High trust leaders attend to each team member’s needs, act as a mentor or coach and listen to the team member’s concerns and needs. They care about team members and go out of their way to help team members succeed and be happy.

2. Integrity: High trust leaders behave in admirable ways that cause team members to focus on the leader’s and team’s goals.  These leaders display conviction, taking stands, and appeal to followers on an emotional level. They have a strong sense of mission and purpose and are ethical and moral in their actions.

3. Fairness: High trust leaders give team members a voice during a decision-making process or influence over the outcome and adhere to fair process, such as consistency, lack of bias, correctability, representation, accuracy, and ethicality. They are consistent, make accurate decisions based on all the information, provide team members with a voice, don’t let bias or preconceptions affect their decisions and correct mistakes when they make them.  This is sometimes referred to as procedural justice.

4. Respect and Propriety:  High trust leaders treat team members with respect (e.g., being polite rather than rude), and propriety (e.g., refraining from improper remarks or prejudicial statements). They are sensitive to team members’ feelings and needs and try to respect those feelings and needs.  This is sometimes called interpersonal justice.

5. Honesty and Sharing:  High trust leaders communicate the reasons for decisions and the procedures or criteria used to make decisions or evaluate employees.  They discuss with team members the rationale for their decisions relating to the employee.  These leaders show truthfulness and provide justification for the information provided to employees and decisions. Employees who feel that information they receive from their manager is inadequate or untrue feel a sense of injustice.


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6. Openness and Flexibility:  High trust leaders challenge assumptions, take risks, and solicit followers’ ideas. Open and flexible leaders stimulate and encourage creativity in their followers.

7. Vision: High trust leaders articulate a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers. Leaders with inspirational motivation challenge followers with high standards, communicate optimism about future goal attainment, and provide meaning for the task at hand.

Of course, it’s easier to say that leaders should provide these things than it is for leaders to actually do it.  Our next article, How to Become a Trusted Leader, discusses what kinds of behaviors leaders should take to build trust and how their companies can support them.

Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350-person internet company. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.

 Careerwave’s technology-based leadership coaching service is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager. Whether you need to coach 1 leader or 100, and whether you need a full program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a solution for you. To learn more, contact us at info@careerwave.me, or visit careerwave.me.


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