Workplace Trust – Cultivating Leaders

by  Meghan Biro  |  Workplace Issues

Heather Coleman’s excellent post on trust started me thinking about some of the attributes of trust. In the web economy, trust must have at least three components: identity, privacy and security. Many social-networking powerhouses such as Facebook have two but not three, and sometimes only one, of these attributes, on any given day.

In the web economy trust can be seen as a transaction, or a precursor to a transaction. When attributes of trust fall off the list, people react, often negatively, to that company. Transactions – commercial, informational, transformational or tacit – drop off.

Companies have the same problem, seen through a different lens. In the workplace economy, trust can’t be a transaction; it must be a condition of employment.


Brands inspire trust by projecting a strong identity. So too leaders may inspire trust by enabling individuals to build an identity, typically a personal brand. Working smart, a leader can construct an environment of trust in which personal brand and workplace brand share attributes, which enables a community to emerge within the workplace.

By building trust – telling the truth, being honest in the sales and marketing of products and services, projecting clarity in ideas and direction, even cultivating shared preferences – a leader can manage the unknown for employees. As we’ve seen in the past two years, the unknown is an enormous threat to productivity, personal well-being and economic stability. The more unknowns there are in a workplace, the less productive and motivated employees will be. Customers will sense that uncertainty and stay away from your brand.

In short, trust is a core competency, even a currency, in today’s workplace. It is the basis of a solid working relationship. It requires emotional intelligence on the part of a leader. A good leader knows this in his or her heart, but it helps to occasionally take stock and refresh your stores of trust. Let’s go back to the three tenets of trust – privacy, identity and security – and think about how cultivating emotional intelligence in the workplace and social community feeds trust.

I think of identity as personal brand – we’ve written lots about that, and its close relative culture fit, at TalentCulture. Without diving deep here, I’d say that personal brand and culture fit are not always on the mind of a leader – but the leader can nurture them in employees by creating a workplace of shared trust.


It may seem odd to think of ‘privacy’ as an attribute of a workplace, especially when many people live in cubesville. In this context, I think of ‘privacy’ as akin to internal space: giving employees the emotional, creative and mental space to work and make good decisions. As Heather pointed out, micro-managing destroys trust. It is also the enemy of privacy – the ability of an individual to work independently, with the respect and support of management.


Then there’s security. I don’t mean data security (although you need that too in the workplace) but the trust in leaders necessary for employees to feel secure in being creative, serving clients, adding value to the business – even if it means pushing back on leaders from time to time. To do their best work most people must feel secure. They must feel trusted, and show trust. They must have trust in the ideas of leadership.

Trusting organizations requires enlightened leadership. Trusting people means trusting yourself as a leader first, so you can relax enough to trust your employees.

Let go and trust your employees, and watch them thrive. Employees, trust your leaders; if you can’t, tell them why. It’s difficult, but necessary, because trust will lead us out of the doldrums and into this new year with the hope we need to rebuild our companies/teams/communities and our brands as we see fit.

What are your trust issues? How do they affect your ability to lead? Let me know.

Photo by gleonhard on Flickr

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What People Are Saying

Jacqui Poindexter, Executive Resume Writer  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hi Meghan,

Another thoughtful post! Thank you!

Interestingly, I just wrapped an hour-plus ‘interview’ with a C-level leader, further equipping me / my team to strategize his resume. During the conversation, he heavily underscored his conviction to communicating openly to individuals, teams, colleagues (interestingly, he never used the word employees). In particular, he passionately articulated that being crystal clear on rewards systems was vital to ensure morale stayed intact when the outcomes arrived (good or bad). In turn, retention of his teams was higher than average in the company.

As such, your inherent message around ‘trust’ is SO important for leaders to embrace (as well as the team they serve).

I particularly like this: “Employees, trust your leaders; if you can’t, tell them why. It’s difficult, but necessary, because trust will lead us out of the doldrums and into this new year with the hope we need to rebuild our companies and our lives.”

The idea of 2-way communications between leaders and their employees is so invigorating! Leaders hold responsibility to be trustworthy and communicative, as do the individuals and teams they collaborate with! Moving from doldrums to hope is an exciting idea!

Thanks again for your consistent vision and mantra around collaboration, culture, talent, trust, leadership … and more!


Meghan M. Biro  |  18 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hello Jacqui! Appreciate your patience with my response. Travel has a way of micro-managing my schedule lately. Thank you so much for stopping by here to share your feedback.

It’s refreshing to hear (leaders should always at minimum strive to walk the talk – right?) leaders are getting in closer touch with their vision and are able to articulate this clarity and passion in your direction. It’s the difference between “fuzzy” and “crystal clear” personal branding on a thoughtful career search. I believe authentic/honest and goal-directed communication is a key factor to establishing credibility and inspiring passion in the workplace as a leader. This is particularly more complex in multi-generational workplace cultures where social media connection options are multiplying monthly. Our very definition of “work” and the ways in which we communicate on this front are fundamentally changing. Leaders will benefit by staying in touch with the ever-changing communication and trust dynamics on this front. Thank you for supporting my vision. We all benefit from real connection and consistency.

Georgia Feiste  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Meghan – Great post. I especially love where you said ” the trust in leaders necessary for employees to feel secure in being creative, serving clients, adding value to the business – even if it means pushing back on leaders from time to time. To do their best work most people must feel secure. They must feel trusted, and show trust. ” This is absolutely critical, and a difficult nut to crack. Often employees don’t trust because of position power, and it is up to the leader to let them know that you don’t rest within that hierarchical definition of position. You are part of the team, just like they are. You respect their knowledge and skills, because you are only one person and it is only with their help will the right answers even come close to being found.


Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thank you very much Georgia. My travel schedule finds me just getting to this comment now – Appreciate your patience. I really like your feedback. Yes, my point directly ties into the complex power issues that are often innate to situations leaders face. Often people who experience self-esteem issues feel a lack of support from those in the leadership rank or they simply do not have access to the proper career resources. Something I will continue to write about…

Jeff Waldman  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Meghan, I enjoyed reading your post, and of course agree with everything you said. I strongly believe that trust is the absolute cornerstone of any functional organization, regardless of the state of the economy. There are many things that an organization must do in order to maximize business success. However, when you dive deeper into these things, you can start to categorize, sub-categorize and ultimately bring them all under “trust”. Simply put, the absence of trust can instantly shatter (or break) the inner workings of an organization. To rebuild however, is a long process.

You touched on one thing that I wanted to comment on (I can probably write a book but will spare you chapters 2-25 for now!!). ?? That one thing is that “unknowns represent an enormous threat to productivity…” I could not agree more. Relationships within the workplace are so complex and diverse that what drives how well these relationships intertwine is positively correlated to the degree to which employees feel “in the know”. The human brain and its psychological influences are enormous, and drive how we feel during the course of a given day, which peaks and valleys constantly.

I guess my point to all of this is, a) I agree with your perspective, and b) how you create trusting relationships within the organization is driven by consistent, constant, personalized and authentic communication that is top-down. If leaders can do this, employees perceive their leadership to be in the best interest of them, and the organization. This is a win-win situation.

Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

So glad you enjoyed my post Jeff. I know you can relate to the “peaks and valleys” example here. Very true = Trust simply takes time and patience. Often we experience leaders that think about this concept in terms of “fixing trust” rather than a process that organically unfolds over the natural course of time. Entrepreneurial leaders particularly are faced with difficult/make or break people and business decisions. In reality, this state of unknown does not always jibe with consistency from a trust point of view. Leaders should strive to incorporate this open and personalized communication into a daily/weekly ritual – not just when fires erupt.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Excellent post that synthesizes an age old topic (trust) in a new “web” economy. Identity, security, privacy — so very true. As I think from the customers’ view of a company, they might also value the same: know me (identity), secure my trust with delivering what you promise, and keep my details/credit card — private/secure.

I think you hit a double with this one!

Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Hello Kate. Thank you for stopping by. Appreciate. Exactly my point – the new social web economy calls for more action than ever before on the part of leaders. Agree, personalizing services is definitely always a smart solution to drive overall productivity (and certainly this will nurture employee engagement on the inside of a workplace culture). Trust and security are now looming much larger – leaders have a tangible opportunity to seize this momentum to build authentic communication bridges in all directions.

Greg Farley  |  13 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Loved your post. Trust is an often overlooked issue with our people. We have a saying in the Navy, “All it takes is one oh-s***, to wipe away all of your atta-boys” Not the most poetic of phrases but I think it gets the point across. If you lose the trust of your people or superiors, it is a very hard thing to re-establish. I hold trust right up there with my integrity and personal brand. There are many times that it is tempting to cut corners or operate in a gray area. The potential of losing trust is what keeps me in the safe zone and centered on doing things the right way.

Trust also enables you to be able to go to your boss and respectfully disagree with their decisions. I know that there have been many times that I could do just that, where others didn’t have the established trust to do so. Great post, I appreciate it and your time to write it.

Greg (Voices of Leadership)

Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Greg, Thanks very much. It’s always valuable to hear your viewpoint. Trust is very challenging to inspire once it has been breached. If trust is lost the only route back is open communication and behaviors (key) that demonstrate new promises from a leadership perspective. So often a windy and difficult road…you are absolutely right. It’s wise to think ahead and prepare for action in this case. If integrity and trust are the hallmarks of your personal brand then your behaviors and communication will drive this – it will always benefit you. A solid reminder…

Maria Payroll  |  17 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Great post. Very informative. Thank you for sharing such good points. Trust is very important, even in the workforce. It is one of the reasons why employees look up to their boss and respects them. By keeping your word, offering job security or job satisfaction, your employees would see that they can trust you and your decisions. You also need to listen to them or notice the work they’ve been doing for you.

Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Hello Maria. Nice to see you here. I’m a big proponent of consistent behavoirs that back up promises in the workplace. Leaders and employees should endeavor to stay vigilant on this tack. Listening is definitely the first important step…

Benjamin McCall  |  17 Jan 2011  |  Reply

In order to gain trust you have to give it.

I give trust until someone earns the right for me to take it away!

Meghan M. Biro  |  16 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thank you Ben. This illustrates a powerful point! Giving trust takes faith and keeping this trust takes time and consistency. I like the nuance here. Nutshell – it’s all about leadership behaviors that model.

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