Leadership and Trust


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Author: Lydia English / Editor: Nikki Abela / Codes: / Published: 19/05/2020

Trust lies at the foundation of any relationship. A relationship without trust is never going to be long-lasting, or at least, a positive one. The same applies with the leader-follower relationship in the workplace. But what is it that makes one human-being trust another human-being?

Research shows that the more people trust their leaders in the workplace, the more productive they are, and as a result, the better results they produce. When you delve into this a little further, you are able to see what factors contribute towards one person trusting another, and how the absence of just one factor can affect the leader-follower relationship. In order to achieve true trustworthiness the following three things must be present in a relationship:

The Trust Based Leadership Equation

Credibility – how credible a follower believes their leader is in their role. e.g. “I believe you are good at what you do and I respect your level of expertise.” (Editor’s note: this is where some leaders fall short in medicine, for example, where to be a good clinical leader, you also need to be an exemplary doctor).

Reliability – how reliable a follower finds their leader. e.g. How reliable do I find you? Do you do what you say you will every single time? (Editor: Think, are you available if someone needs support or to ask you questions, do you follow-up to see if plans have made it through or if they need an added push from someone in a leadership role?)

Rapport – the level of rapport a follower believes they have with their leader. e.g. “Do I get on with you? Do we have conversations about things other than work? Do I feel comfortable speaking to you if I have a problem?”

If all three of these variables are present in any relationship, a good level of trust is going to be present.

As well as credibility, reliability and rapport, there is another key ingredient required to achieve trustworthiness: motivation, or rather, what it is that is driving a leaders behaviors in the workplace. There are 3 types of motivation that lead to any action or decision being carried out in the workplace:

I win This is where a leader makes a decision or carries out an action that involves or affects their team, but will not benefit them and is solely for their own personal gain.

You win Unlike I win, if a leaders decisions and actions are motivated by ‘you win’, everything that they do is with their team in mind and they disregard themselves completely.

We win This is the middle ground motivation. If a leader is motivated by a ‘We win’ attitude, all their decisions and actions are motivated by a ‘I win, you win’ mindset, meaning that everything they do results in a mutual benefit for both themselves and their team.

From the three types of motivation outlined above, the we win motivation is the one that people want their leader to be driving their decisions and actions.

What happens if a part of the equation is missing?

When there is a lack of trust in a leader-follower relationship, we have found that it is because its missing either: credibility, reliability or rapport. Lets see how the absence of at least one of the 3 can affect the trust within a relationship.


When a leader is lacking in credibility but they have high levels of reliability or rapport, their followers see them as more of a friend than a leader. Their followers may not see them as credible because perhaps they are new to the role or maybe they have made mistakes in the past. Their followers like them, and can rely on them, but they dont believe they are credible in their role, and therefore, do not trust them completely. (Editor: This may happen, for example, when a trainee takes on a new consultant role in the same trust where they trained and needs to “prove herself” to the more permanent staff.)


When reliability is the missing variable from the equation, a leaders followers admire their skillset and what they do, they feel they have a good level of rapport, however, they feel like they cannot rely on them and feel like they let them down time and time again. Not having any reliability in the leader-follower relationship is arguably the most damaging to trust. Once a leader has let one of their team down, its so difficult to get that trust back; they see them as a let down.


When the rapport in a leader-follower relationship is missing, team members respect the skillset of their leader, they know that if they say they will do something, they will do it, however, they dont know them, and therefore, just see them as a boss. The relationship between leader and follower is purely professional and no effort is made on the leaders part to get to know their team members. Just because rapport is missing, doesnt mean there is a complete lack of trust, however, it will inhibit it. If there is no rapport, people will feel like they cannot approach their leader about work related and personal problems, as much as they would if rapport was present in the relationship.

The Ultimate Level of Trust

A leader who their team sees as credible, reliable and someone who they have rapport with is in a good position. Their employees trust them. However, it doesnt end there. Obviously, having all three of the variables in the first part of the Trust Based Leadership Equation is great, but the best leaders are those with the We win attitude motivating their decisions and actions. These are the leaders who really drive performance, have their full team behind them and have high levels of trust that start with them and run right through all the people in their team.

In Summary: leaders that are credible, reliable and have high levels of rapport with their employees are going to have good levels of trust with their employees. If this is underpinned by a we win motivation, then, in theory, they should have the ultimate level of trust with their employees. If a leader can strike that balance, they are ultimately a trusted leader.

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