Workplace Trust – Cultivating Leaders

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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