6 Leadership essentials for creating a culture of trust

I have been reflecting on a discussion I had at a recent event around culture, where trust came up. I see the impact of high and low trust cultures. I listen to leaders who struggle with a perception of needing to have oversight.  They face the paradox of being accountable but also wanting to create a sense of trust and empowerment.

“Cultivating a high-trust culture is not a “soft” skill — it’s a hard necessity. Put another way; it’s the foundational element of high-performing organisations.” Steven Covey


PWC’s 2016 Global CEO Survey revealed that 50% of CEOs worldwide consider lack of trust to be a significant threat to their organisational growth.

Harvard Researcher Paul J Zak’s in-depth research showed that “compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfied with their lives, and 40% less burnout.”

In low trust organisations, there are bottlenecks in decision making and powerplays for attention. But it’s not about handing over the reins on the realisation that you need to trust. Your culture needs to move to support trust. One area that I see come up for leaders is managing how and when people work and the discretion they afford people over the approach they take to work. There is a natural fear attached to things being missed, or seeking knowledge and understanding the decisions of others. However, if you can be clear about where responsibility lies and the deliverables expected you can start to build the discretion around how work is carried out. As well as creating trust this approach also creates autonomy, purpose and growth, critical factors for motivation.

As you look to scale your business or move your leadership forward, you will increasingly be required to take a broader approach.  By building strong connections, communication and trust with people in your organisation you strengthen your position.  Here are 6 actions you can start to consciously build into your approach to create a high trust culture:



It’s hard to trust people we don’t know, who don’t let us in or seek connection with us.  As a leader, you should role model the depth and quality of connection in your business. Ensure you meet regularly face to face and when you do that you fully engage in conversations and remove distractions. Be aware of your body language, how you listen and eye contact. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns and fears about a challenge. Also, you will start to notice the quality of insights you get back to give you more significant opportunities for action.  Get to know the people in your business and let them get to know you.


It has never been clearer what the public costs are of indiscretions. As a leader, you are watched and the little things people see matter. A failure to keep a promise, a lack of transparency over an issue or acting intentionally with ambiguity are some of the ways people lose trust in their leadership. By having the courage to admit to your fallibility, you will create trust and build transparency and open communication in your organisation.  You will also build a culture where people are open and if creativity and innovation are critical behaviours in your business, this is the ground where these can start to thrive.


‘Thequality of being well-meaning; kindness’ by the Oxford Dictionary

It is a prerequisite for trust. It is through benevolence that people want to stand alongside you as a leader or in an organisation in difficult times. When people know you have their back, that they will have yours. In some organisations benevolence becomes hierarchical, leadership looks after its own and teams replicate this behaviour. It is of little surprise that the organisational system churns out events that embed and reinforce the, us v’s them culture.

Change requires openness, transparency and vulnerability for leadership to extend well-meaning to all, remaining consistent and open through the inevitable push back.


Often when we hear the word communication, we think about how we create our message. It is essential to remember that communication is two way. Good communication comes from a place of understanding, and therefore the requirement to listen.

Research shows the company-wide communications and directives are not generally trusted. Leaders need to create opportunities to meet and communicate personally. Some conversations will inevitably be difficult. When you do need to share a problematic message taking time to consider what peoples needs and positions are as well as being able to put yourself in their position. The insights you will get will not only help you create understanding but ensure your message addresses more needs.

How you communicate will contribute to the climate and environment of your business. Your communication is the critical link to your business that creates understanding and drives action. If you fail to communicate others will do it for you, this is when rumour and conspiracies start. Ensure you communicate regularly, on multiple occasions for sensitive issues and invite feedback to confirm the right message is coming across.


Without openness, there can be no trust, as, without trust, we are not open to others. A lack of transparency creates a paradox of people desiring to be trusted but not willing to trust others themselves. Distrust is often a direct result of misunderstanding a situation or misreading the intentions of another. When we are not sure what is happening, we tend to become distrustful.

That is why in a closed environment, there tend to be many rumours. The only way to bring light into the dark room is to open the door. Organisations can vary significantly in their levels of openness – there is a considerable difference in the intent of seeking to consider why something should be shared compared to why something shouldn’t. It’s the difference between knowing what you need to know, and knowing.

Openness creates a sense of belonging, being part of something and having skin in the game. A greater appreciation for challenge and difficulty provides for greater opportunity to be creative and to know and push the boundaries.


Actions speak louder than words! People pay attention to what you do, being consistent not only builds credibility it also creates psychological safety — a critical requirement for good performance. If you are inconsistent, it is a behaviour that will show up throughout your organisation. In all parts of a business, consistency builds performance, brand and safety-critical attributes.

Trust is an asset in a business, one that leadership creates, builds and maintains.  It is lost in an instant and part of the reason why leaders must be self-aware enough to both understand their actions and demonstrate their leadership calibre in the most challenging situations.

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