…does not equal the presence of trust.”

Just over five years ago, I wrote these words in a blog detailing the important elements of trust. They recently came back to me as the topic surfaced as a key element of so many coaching conversations over the last several months.  There was a leader struggling to verbalize the diminished trust they had with a key associate. Or the leadership team concerned that a public proclamation of trust as a value would somehow have a negative effect (images of the sleazy salesperson who leads with “trust me” accompanied by a sly grin!) These, and other similar conversations, have me wondering why something so obviously key to effective leadership would be so difficult to verbalize. Upon reflection, I found the conversation broke down to two primary categories of trust; Ethics and Compliance, both of which we’ll explore a little deeper.

  • Trust based on Ethics – Trust based on ethics suggests leaders and followers trust each other to do the right things at the right times simply because they believe it is right! It stems from the beliefs, attitudes and norms that motivate members of the organization to do what is right whether or not anyone is directly seeing the action or directly managing the process. I often refer to this environment as playing to win beyond simply getting things done, but also done the right way!
  • Trust based on Compliance – Trust based on compliance suggests leaders and followers trust each other to do the right things at the right times because those are the rules! It stems from rules and legal procedures that motivate members of the organization based on an element of fear and the need to avoid negative consequences of breaking the rules. I refer to this environment as one of playing not to lose as the focus is less about advancing the organization as it is about survival of the individual leader or follower.

Whether leaders and followers trust based on ethics or compliance, the underlying foundation for both is the organization’s culture. As we define culture as the combined beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and norms that guide the actions of the people in the organization, we can easily see the importance between it and trust. Does trust come natural based on a culture that engenders authentic collaboration between leaders and followers? Or is trust forced and guarded based on a culture that focuses on rule-following and blame between leaders and followers?

Going back to the title, just because there is no conflict does not mean that trust exists between leaders and followers. In fact, a sound argument can be made that the presence of conflict is, in and by itself, a sign that leaders and followers trust each other well enough to disagree in pursuit of the best decisions for the organization!

What is the trust in your organization based on and how do you know?

Lead Well!