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3 surprising simple ways to generate trust as a leader

Research suggests that when people have trust in their leaders and among team members, they tend to perform better, report greater levels of satisfaction, and demonstrate higher levels of commitment.

3 surprising simple ways to generate trust as a leader
[Source photo: Miray Celebi Kaba/Getty Images]

Leadership may be more difficult and yet more important than ever. In a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, leaders are integral to creating experiences where people can thrive and organizations can generate great results.

Trust is key to this process. When people trust their leaders, they’re more likely to give their best effort, contribute to a positive culture, and stay with an organization.

But the ways leaders create trust may surprise you—because they are remarkably straightforward.


While the importance of trust may seem self-evident, it’s important to consider its impact based on research because leaders are more likely to make the effort to enhance trust when they recognize the quantifiable benefits

For example, research suggests that when people have trust in their leaders and among team members, they tend to perform better, report greater levels of satisfaction, and demonstrate higher levels of commitment. Another study published in the Journal of Production Economics found that performance was enhanced when people had higher levels of trust.

Plus, research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that when leaders focused on the needs of others when building trust, employees were more positive about their work and more empowered—and this resulted in greater creativity, innovation, and productivity.


One of the first ways for a leader to build trust is to be visible and accessible. You don’t need to be on 24/7, but when you’re more available, you drive trust. A global study of almost 5,000 people by Oracle found that when leaders were more visible and accessible, team members were more confident and performed better.

This makes sense because people have a cognitive bias toward people who are familiar. Meaning, we tend to trust those they see more often, know better, and understand more. In addition, when a leader is more available, they send a message that they are attentive and that they care enough to tune in and support the team.

Leaders can build trust by being visible in person as well as from a distance—by having regular contact and communication with team members, turning their camera on with virtual discussions, and spending time intentionally in one-on-one meetings.


Another primary way for leaders to generate trust is through being responsive to team members. One study found that when leaders were receptive to people’s questions, replied to team members, and made decisions efficiently, people felt safer and more secure that leaders would be there when employees needed them. In addition, responsiveness tended to communicate respect and empathy, which influenced people’s desire to make an effort and perform well.

Leaders can demonstrate responsiveness by checking in on how people are doing, exploring whether others need support, and by answering questions quickly and thoroughly. Leaders are also wise to be proactive by being aware of what’s going on in the organization, helping people anticipate what might be coming in the future, and communicating how everyone can best respond.


An additional way leaders generate trust is by being consistent. Of course, leaders must adapt to the shifting demands of the market, customers, and the organization—as well as to the diverse needs of team members—but even with appropriate adjustments in approach, people want to work with leaders who are predictable overall in terms of their values, their motivations, and their character. This is according to compelling research published by the Academy of Management.

In fact, stress is reduced when bosses are more consistent. People often even prefer a leader who demonstrates poor behavior—but does so predictably—over a boss who is a loose cannon or behaves erratically.

Leaders can build trust when they are easy to read, when they explain themselves, and when they prioritize self-discipline, focus, and careful thinking. These behaviors all tend to be associated with a more predictable approach.


As you’re generating trust, you can also consider how people decide to trust. Indeed, there are multiple kinds of trust. Cognitive trust is when people make rational decisions based on the behaviors they experience. Another form of trust—referred to as affective trust—is when people decide how much to trust someone based on how the person makes them feel.

Another helpful way to think of trust is by distinguishing between task trust and relationship trust. With task trust, people believe you’ll follow up, do what you say, and complete tasks. Relationship trust is when people trust you at a personal level to keep their confidences. Relationships can have one type of trust or the other—but those which are most rewarding and productive tend to have both.

The bottom line is that if you want to generate trust as a leader, you should be available, responsive and consistent with your team members. Great leaders are receptive, follow up, and follow through. But you will also be wise to value people and prioritize their needs—ensuring that you’re creating an experience in which they feel respected, appreciated, and supported.

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Tracy Brower is a sociologist focused on work-life happiness and fulfillment. She works at Steelcase, and is the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work and Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work. More

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