Leadership: It's a Matter of Trust


I am in the process of completing research for my doctorate in organizational psychology. This research calls for me to interview women executives in large U. S. organizations. As I began to analyze these very honest, insightful interviews, I noticed that one word keeps coming up: trust. Many of the stories and insights shared include how these successful women executives create trust with others and why trust is so critical to being perceived as an effective leader. These leaders see trust as a bridge between “the known” and “the unknown” (Boser, 2018).

I guess it’s not particularly surprising that trust comes up so often when you consider that the primary role of a leader is to influence others. That is, to make change happen by inspiring others to engage in actions and activities that they might not otherwise do. In other words, inspire others toward the creation of a “new reality” or a compelling vision of the future (Stedham & Skaar, 2019). It is hard to imagine how a leader could inspire others to create this “new reality” without trusting the leader. This “leap of faith” requires that followers feel that the leader has their best interest at heart and is not acting out of some hidden agenda – that the leader has a clear view of a better future state for an individual, for a team, or the organization and that he or she can see a path or has a plan to create that “new reality”. Research shows that leaders create trusting relationships by acting with integrity, being fair, and by empowering others (Stedham & Skaar, 2019).

Emerging Themes

While my research is still in process, there are already emerging themes related to trust such as:

  • Trust is a two-way street. For others to trust me, I have to trust them.

  • People need to trust that I am not allowing my emotions to cloud my judgment. Balancing my emotions is critical to be an effective leader.

  • I need to make sure that the same person who shows up in one situation, is the same person who shows up in another. And I’m a consistent with how I handle situations.

  • I am genuine and authentic even in situations where the news is not good. And I am secure enough that I can allow others to see my vulnerability.

  • I understand that people connect through emotions and that people need to be able to bring their whole self to work, even if that means showing how they feel.

I’m pretty sure that if I were interviewing male executives, the themes are highly likely to be the same. Whether you are in a leadership role today or are aspiring to be in one, you might start by reflecting on these three basic questions:

  1. Can others trust me? How do I know?

  2. Can I trust that my intentions are in alignment with the greater good vs. self-interest?

  3. Do I allow my biases, previous experiences, or emotions to cloud my judgment and view of the world?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. And, how you answer these today might be different in the future. The important thing is that you reflect on these questions often without judgment and with self-compassion. When you do, you’ll begin to see how you can build and strengthen trust in your relationships.


Boser, U. (2018). The Leap: The Science of Trust and Why it Matters. New York, NY: Amazon Publishing.

Stedham, Y., & Skaar, T. B. (2019). Mindfulness, Trust, and Leader Effectiveness: A Conceptual Framework. Frontiers in psychology10.