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40 years of research into trust and leadership, in a two minute read

Pardon the interruption in this blog – couple of weeks of launching something for a client coinciding with wife’s carers being on maternity leave or away = overstretch.

Trust and Leadership

D. L. Ferrin and K. T. Dirks examined 40 years of published research on trust in leadership and came to the following three conclusions:

1. For organizations to be effective, you need high trust in the leaders. (D’uh, you might think).

2. Trust in you as a leader develops or deteriorates through changes in psychological states – In other words, external worries about the recession, perhaps worries about the future of the company and their own job can have a lowering effect on the trust people feel in their leaders, even if those leaders haven’t acted in an untrustworthy way themselves. “I’m happy and confident, so I trust you more. I’m worried and anxious, so I trust you less.” Levels of trust in you can drop through no fault of yours.

3. Increasing complexity and ambiguities puts a strain on trust – The changes we have to go through as an organization to respond to the recession can create ambiguity & uncertainty. So, again, trust is at risk.

So what does this mean for me as a leader?

Basically, the effect of the recession is to erode trust in leaders, which can lead to a dip in performance (see item 1, above – ‘for organizations to be effective…etc.’). So, just when you need an increase in people’s performance, as we are trading through tough times, loss of trust can cause that performance to dip.

So, what can we do about it?

The Gallup Organization has researched over 10,000 people’s attitudes to their leaders. Gallup says that since the recession began, particularly since people began to worry about losing their jobs and seeing friends lose theirs, leaders have to raise their game significantly if they are to maintain levels of trust, let alone build the trust needed to sustain high performance.

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