Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Leadership is essential at every level within the organization, especially in regard to teamwork, which is the, “. . . common organizational structure today” (Lussier, 2013, p. 333). Teams involve different types of leadership that can be generalized as either assigned or emergent. Regardless of the type of leadership, effectively leading others involves relationships and relies upon a foundation of trust. Trust is essential to all relationships; it must be developed, earned, and nurtured. Trust isn’t something we have or possess – it is something that we earn based on behavior within a relationship and over time. Leaders must be aware of the complexities involved in developing and maintaining trust – and take a multi-faceted approach focused on the behavior of trust.

Robert Lussier (2013) presents a very simple definition of human relations as, “. . . interactions among people” (p. 4); such interaction results in relationships between and among people. Developing relationships can be a challenge, but is necessary in order to gain trust in one another – and trust is essential to teamwork. The lack of trusting relationships result in a lack of cooperation (creating an uncooperative climate), which results in lack of task cohesion. “Teamwork always depends on trust” (Nemiro, Beyerlein, Bradley, & Beyerlein, 2008, p. 9). Since trust is a complicated issue it is important to understand the different types (or levels) of trust – especially as relating to team leadership – and focus on developing trust, earning trust, nurturing trust, and repairing trust.

Dimensions of Trust

There are different levels of trust. In the book Human Relations in Organizations, Lussier (2013) describes three levels of trust as including deterrence-based, knowledge-based, and identification-based (p. 225). In reference to establishing trust within a team setting, studies have also identified institutional-based trust (which assumes employees already trust the organization and/or leader) and task-based trust (Nemiro, Beyerlein, Bradley, & Beyerlein, 2008). As relationships develop, leaders should be aware of the different levels – or dimensions – of trust and how they can be proactive in their behavior to elicit trust from others; to instill trust in one another.

When teams are developed, or new employees added to an open-ended or departmental team, it is the responsibility of leadership to clearly communicate why each member was chosen for the team. What skills and experience does each member bring to the table that makes them ideally suited to perform their role on the team? Leaders should emphasize the equal importance of every member to the team. Kimble et al. (as cited in Nemiro et al, 2008) states: “Identity plays a crucial role . . . because knowledge of those with whom one works and communicates is necessary for understanding and interpreting interaction styles” (p. 9). A leader must clearly demonstrate the trust the organization has in each member. As a result, members will initially adopt the organization’s trust in one another, building upon the team’s foundation of trust. This is known as “institutional-based trust”, as per Scott (as cited in Nemiro, et al., 2008), who states: “It . . . explain[s] how we are able to trust those with whom we have never had any prior experience or knowledge. Institutional-based trust reflects an individual’s trust in the organization with which the other members are affiliated” (p. 111). This also translates to the potential for initial trust in leadership based upon a foundation of trust in the organization – and emphasizes the necessity for organizations to value and develop trust throughout the all levels of the organization.

Although trust can initially be established by members adopting the leader’s trust in team members through institutional-based trust, long-term trust ensues as a result of members identifying with one another, and from their experiences, as they rely on one another for task completion. Leadership plays a significant role not only in building trust one-on-one with each member, but in fostering trust between and among members of the team. How the leader assigns and manages tasks becomes very important, as reported by Nemiro, et al. (2008), “Trust . . . can be developed from positive, ongoing experiences among members of the team . . . members’ keeping their commitments to each other and therefore making only commitments they can and will keep” (p. 10). This statement is reiterated by Lepsinger & Derosa in the following statement: “Task-based trust is one of the factors that differentiated top performing teams” (2010). Researchers’ recommend task-based trust and convey that trust is a big concept and that it is important to start with small steps, such as individual tasks (Derosa & Lepsinger, 2010, p. 56).

Leadership has a responsibility to aid in the development of task-based trust. Leaders who hold members accountable – who establish timelines and deadlines – create a framework for task-based, mutual trust, and confirm the initial gift of adopted trust, as both members and the leader fulfill commitments and earn the right to be considered trustworthy. Trust results in unity within the team. “Teams that know they can rely on each other to get the job done will have more cohesiveness and be more efficient”, therefore the leader should “ . . . help the team create good practices . . . [which] soon become routine”, once this trust is established, “. . . members can all help to keep each other accountable to the team’s shared expectations” (TechSource, 2008, p. 30).

Lussier (2013) presents the Three Levels and Five Dimensions of Trust (p. 226). The first level is deterrence-based trust, which illustrates the beginning or initial trust due to lack of experience or knowledge of another person. This level is the most fragile and consistency is critical. Behaviors at this level are cautious on behalf of all involved. “The relationship is based on fear of reprisal if the trust is violated. So we try to avoid being untrustworthy; we are on our best behavior when we first meet people” (p. 226). It is during this early stage of relationship that institutional-based trust can be beneficial; as individuals get to know one another it is natural to be guarded. Breaking trust at this level can be very difficult to repair; it can have very long-lasting effects, and can even damage the trust one has in the organization as well.

The second level is knowledge-based trust, which Lussier (2013) describes as, “. . . the most common organizational trust. Trust is based on experience dealing with the other person. Based on our knowledge, we can predict the other person’s behavior. “The better we know people, the better we can predict their behavior – and trust them” (p. 226). Orginizational-based trust differs from institutional-based trust in that it is based upon personal experience, direct or observed, forming the basis of trust, as opposed to adopting the trust that the institution or leader has expressed in the individual.

The next level is identification-based trust. This level of trust is only possible through relationship and, “. . . implies an emotional connection – friend rather than just coworker” (Lussier, 2013, p. 226). Trust has been earned and is expected at this level based on the relationship. Lussier (2013) indicates that the higher the level of trust, the less fragile it is:

               Unlike fragile deterrence-based trust, knowledge and identification-based trust are not broken by
               inconsistent behavior. If we incorrectly predict behavior and are disappointed or taken advantage
               of in some way, often we can understand the violation, accept it, forgive the person, and move on
               with the relationship. (p. 226)

Through relationship we are able to accept minor and/or infrequent infractions because there is a solid foundation that tells us this is the exception to the rule – the mistake was in the one incident, not in trusting the individual. We are able to give them the benefit of the doubt, and as long as the anti-trust does not become a recurring behavior the relationship can be maintained.

Developing Trust

Trust is complex – it is often seen as an attribute an individual possesses (such as when one says another is a trustworthy person); but in actuality this trustworthiness is earned through action and is thus a behavior. Brothers, and Reina & Reina (as cited in Nemiro, et al., 2008) confirm this fact: “Extensive research shows that trust is built behaviorally” (p. 156). Leaders and team members can, therefore, develop trust through relationship by adopting specific behaviors.

“Trust is the positive expectation that another will not take advantage of you” (Lussier, 2013, p. 225). Behaviors that will establish this trust will result in others viewing you as a person of integrity, competence, consistency, loyalty, and openness – which are the five dimensions of trust outlined by Lussier (2013, p. 226). This involves spending time together – for leaders this means you will have to, “. . . get away from the desk or office . . . meet with, spend time with your people . . . build a positive employment culture” (Carpenter, 2010). Leaders also have a responsibility to nurture trust within teams or work-groups. A well rounded approach would include the following: leaders should make every effort to have frequent face-to-face meetings with team members. If there is a specific project the leader should have a meeting focusing on developing or confirming trust in the abilities of team members, clearly demonstrating their confidence in each member’s ability, and their trustworthiness. Once members trust the leader, and the organization, they will adopt the leader’s trust of other members.

Leaders can expedite the formation of task-based trust by establishing timelines with check points, where accountability will elicit trust relationships among members as both the leader and team members fulfill their commitments to one another and the team. The fragility of this initial trust makes it imperative that leaders and team members earn trust through their behavior.

Earning Trust

Earning trust takes concerted effort and thoughtful action. Lussier (2013) presents five dimensions of trust that will help, “. . . develop trust so that you can achieve the identification-based level of trust” . . . the dimensions include:
      1. Integrity – being honest, truthful, and sincere
      2. Competence - having technical and interpersonal knowledge, ability, and skill
      3. Consistency - using the same behavior in similar situations
      4. Loyalty - looking out for the interests of others.
      5. Openness - accepting new ideas and change.
        (pp. 226-227)
Observable actions and behaviors will result in building a trusting relationship with people. Lussier (2013) presents a model of the Five Dimensions of Trust (Figure 1), and notes that integrity is in the center, holding the other four dimensions together. Without integrity, trust falls apart (p. 226).

Figure – 1: Five Dimensions of Trust
 ©2013 Varidyn
“People who have integrity are honest and sincere. Integrity and dependability are the most important dimensions when people assess another’s trustworthiness” (Lussier, 2013, p. 226). It is important, therefore, that individuals who are trying to establish trusting relationships are honest in everything they say and do – especially when they do not think anyone is watching. Sincerity is also important, saying one thing but acting another way can destroy any possibility of earning trust based on insincerity and/or hypocrisy. Treating others fairly is also emphasized – Lussier quotes Joe Lee (CEO OF Darden Restaurants), who says, “. . . integrity and fairness are the important core values to business. Perceived unfairness causes distrust and a desire for revenge, restitution, and retaliation” (p. 226). People are keenly aware of any perceived injustice, or feeling that they have been treated unfairly. At this fragile stage of development such behavior could destroy any chance of building a trusting relationship.

Competence is translated as being capable; having both the experience and the skill to perform. “To trust, respect, and have confidence in you, people need to believe that you have the skills and abilities to carry out your commitments” (Lussier, 2013, p. 226). Competence alone is not good enough, however, you also have to be your best and perform to your potential. Lussier (2013) lists additional tips to illustrate competence:
    • Be conscientious! Do the job to the best of your ability.
    • Know your strengths and limitations. Volunteer to help others when you can, and seek assistance when you need it. Don’t commit to doing something that you cannot deliver on.
    • Admit your mistakes and apologize. Others will think, “I can trust you”
      (p. 226)
In order to identify with other team members, individuals need to trust that each member has the skills to perform their tasks; and that they will follow through on commitments. Technological tools or procedures that are introduced to the team present an opportunity to demonstrate competence, and illustrate members’ expertise by participating and helping train other team members. The interaction in this type of training focuses on those perceived as the early adopters of the group is empowering (TechSource, 2008, p. 28). [Special Note: Rouse (2007) defines an early adopter as, “a person who embraces new technology before most people do”]. As early adopters experiment with the available technological tools presented for use by the team, they can aide in the selection of the most appropriate tools as well as in peer-to-peer experimentation (training) along the way. This communication and open discussion among team members helps build camaraderie and cohesion amongst the team. This type of activity displays competence and goes a long way toward building trusting relationships.

Another dimension of trust is Consistency. Lussier (2013) states that consistent people use the same behavior in similar situations; they are predictable – and he gives tips to develop consistency, which include:
    • Keep your commitments. To trust you, people must believe that you are dependable. Promises made must be promises kept. You’re only as good as your word and commitments, so if you say you will do something, follow through. 
    • Practice what you preach. Walk the talk, because actions speak louder than words. People who say one thing and do another lack credibility.
      (p. 226)
Repeatedly following through on promises creates a pattern that others can rely on in the future. Others know they can count on someone who is consistently reliable and always follows through on commitments. Consistent behavior is also important and illustrates that you are sincere and have values.
Loyalty is how trust is reciprocated. Lussier (2013) indicates that loyalty is interpreted as looking out for the interests of others – and he gives the following tips for creating loyalty:
    • Maintain confidences. When someone tells you something in confidence, that person is being vulnerable in trusting you, so don’t tell others. One time could be your last.
    • Don’t gossip negatively about individuals. If people hear you gossip about others, they may assume you do the same behind their backs. Follow this rule. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
      (p. 226)
Loyalty means you do not take advantage of others or of situations. When one is loyal toward others they prioritize the needs and best interest of others; by displaying loyalty, people know that your motives are honorable and don’t have to worry about by making themselves vulnerable when they invest trust. “Loyalty requires identification-based trust” (Lussier, 2013, p. 226). Thus, loyalty takes time to develop. “Recognize great work and give awards as appropriate” (Carpenter, 2010). Giving others recognition and credit for ideas and accomplishments will also contribute to loyalty and developing a higher level of trust.
The final dimension is openness, which Lussier (2013) describes as being open to accepting new ideas and change, but also being truthful with full self-disclosure and transparency. He gives the following tips in regard to openness:
        Figure 2: Johari Window - a model divided into 4 quadrants
        that represent your self-awareness and awareness from others.
        © 2012 The Start of Happiness

      1. Self-disclosure and the Johari Window. Self-disclosure enhances human relations and is what takes the level of trust to the identification level. The Johari Window was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram, who called it by a combination of their first names. As shown in Figure 2, the window has four regions representing the intersection of two axes: (1) the degree to which information about you (values, attitudes, beliefs) is known to or understood by you, and (2) the degree to which information about you is known by others.
      2. Based on your understanding of self, we select those aspects of self that are appropriate to share with others; we open the hidden self areas of the window. As we self-disclose, we also find out things about ourselves that others know, such as irritating things we do; we open the blind area. The unknown area cannot be open until we experience a new situation, such as getting laid off, because we don’t know how we will behave until it happens. Thus, to develop trust and improve human relations, we gradually share self-disclosure to open the hidden and blind areas of the Johari Window.
      3. Risk self-disclosure. Developing trust through self-disclosure does include the risk of being hurt, disappointed, and taken advantage of. Although people often fear the risk of self-disclosure, the rewards of improved human relations and personal friendship are worth the risk. If you follow the guidelines above, you can minimize your risk.
        (p. 227)
Being open to others requires the giving of trust. Some are threatened by this level of openness, but such openness to other perspectives and ideas results in personal and professional growth. This openness is also important in the development of trust. “Give trust in other people and realize that you do not have a monopoly on the best methodologies. . . . Ask for input and use the best input or use that input to develop an action plan, . . . and encourage individuals and teams to develop new approaches to problems” (Carpenter, 2010). Openness creates a culture for collaboration and encourages innovation and problem-solving – the cohesiveness of the relationships developed as a result create trust that transcends to the identification-based level.

Nurturing Trust

Trust continues to evolve over time. It is necessary to continue the behaviors upon which trust was built. As relationships grow, nurturing trust is necessary by continuing the behaviors that were responsible for establishing that trust in the first place. The Five Dimensions of Trust should be viewed as cyclical behaviors one should make part of their everyday life.

In The Art of Leadership, Manning and Curtis (2012) speak about job satisfaction and recognize the importance of trust in that equation:

               Today it is a recognized fact that people have greater satisfaction and produce more when they
               are involved in their work, when they feel they are doing something important, and when their
               work is appreciated. Both quality of work and quality of work life are greatest when people are
               treated with trust and respect.
               Trust and respect are the key elements of all good relationships. Trust is expressed by openness in
               sharing ideas and feelings. . . . Without trust and respect, human relations break down.
               (pp. 203-204)

Continuing to be worthy of trust results in good relationships and effective leadership. Nurturing trust means taking care and consideration before acting or interacting; listening and staying connected; and respecting others by continuing the behaviors that earned their trust in you.

Repairing Trust

It takes great effort to maintain the trust relationship. Lussier (2013) notes that, “It is much easier to destroy trust than to build it. Years of trust can be hurt or destroyed with one bad act of distrust. For example, if you get caught in a lie, miss a deadline, do a poor job, or are disloyal, you may hurt your relationship and you might not be trusted again” (p. 227). Although it is best to nurture your trust relationships, perfection is difficult to achieve. Having established a good foundation of trust, however, means slight or infrequent mistakes can be forgiven, and the trust repaired.

Lussier agrees, but with caution: “With knowledge, and identification-based trust levels you may be forgiven, but you may not. Your relationship may never be the same again, or it could end. So be sure to always be trustworthy to avoid having to repair trust” (p. 227). This warning is valid but repairing trust should be viewed as an opportunity to exhibit openness and honesty and the behaviors that others have come to expect from your trusting relationship. Admission of the behavior or mistake and taking personal responsibility is an important first step toward repairing trust.

Sometimes trust is broken without intent. Leaders also need to be aware of any trust related issues within their teams. Listening is an important skill to develop. If there is anything that should be addressed and resolved it will generally be illustrated in body language and/or word choices – for example, someone begins to reference us and them as opposed to we – which indicates there is some divisiveness or conflict. Lipsinger & Derosa recommend that leaders listen for members who are openly negative and don’t view others as credible – the leader needs to work out the trust issues that are apparent. They are careful to recommend, however, that leaders “. . . don’t micromanage – [instead they] empower members to make and act on decisions . . . help people manage conflicts, not avoid them . . . [and] model and reinforce positive behaviors” (2010). Proactive and supportive leadership can resolve issues and further develop trust with individual members while helping them resolve issues amongst themselves, with as little interference as necessary. Leaders can also utilize trust building tools in order to identify whether there are any trust issues.
There are tools available that leader’s can utilize to keep a finger on the pulse of the team and identify changes in the trust relationship amongst members. Nemiro, et al., (2008) identify “The Reina Trust and Betrayal Model” as a useful tool for leaders in establishing team trust (p. 156-160).

               The Reina Trust and Betrayal Model focuses not only on establishing trust, but on identifying and
               working through trust betrayal as an essential function of leadership. The three elements described
               in the [Reina] model help simplify the complexity of trust, and include: Transactional trust . . .
               [which is] reciprocal in nature . . . and created incrementally. [Transactional trust is the same as
               task-based trust discussed previously.] There are three factors of transactional trust: contractual,
               [which] involves mutual understanding between people; communication, in an environment with
               strong communication trust, people feel safe to ask questions, honestly speak their minds,
               challenge assumptions, raise issues, give and receive feedback, or acknowledge that they do not
               understand and ask for help; and competence trust, [which] influences the ability to perform job
               responsibilities. (Nemiro, et al., 2008, pp. 157-159)

Leader’s who adhere to the principles of the Reina model help develop task-based trust as the foundation for collaboration and can recycle behaviors of the Five Dimensions of Trust to repair the broken trust.
When trust is compromised with the leader directly, it is of equal if not greater importance to be proactive. Confronting the person with whom trust has been breached, acknowledging the issue, and sincerely apologizing will help diffuse most situations. Understanding that emotions are common when trust has been broken is important – keeping calm and listening without becoming defensive is the best behavior. Lussier explains the simplicity of this process, “It takes only a minute to give a sincere apology; and apologizing can help develop, maintain, and repair trust that is critical to effective human relations” (p. 238). It is easier to destroy trust than to build it. Careful consideration of the other person’s feelings and perspective is important in the continual development of the relationship and re-establishing trust.


Leadership effectiveness is important for every person within an organization – especially considering the frequency of teams that result in emergent leadership by members who are not particularly in a formal leadership position. Human relationships are at the core of successful organizations, and trust is the foundation upon which relationships are constructed. It is evident that it takes concerted effort and time to establish. Initial trust is fragile and results from either observation and work-related experiences or adopted trust based on the trust the organization has in an individual. “Without a relationship of trust in place, it’s hard to ask people to give their best – and even more difficult to have a conversation when performance falls short” (Witt, 2010). Developing trust through the five dimensions (integrity, competence, consistency, loyalty, and openness) over time creates a solid foundation. “When you set up a foundation of trust and respect, you can ask for more from your employees and hold them accountable for delivering on it” (Witt, 2010). Leadership effectiveness and organizational success are linked directly to human relations and this trust relationship.

Lessons Learned

Throughout my career, and especially as I’ve participated within work-teams and small groups for projects, I have valued trust in leadership. Lussier (2013) states that you can’t be a truly effective leader without trust (p. 224). I agree with this statement. I realize how important, as well as how difficult, developing trust can be; how important it is to have a caring and trusting organizational culture; and that it is the responsibility of leadership to nurture trust. In an article titled Employee Relations as a Competitive Advantage, author Scott Carpenter states:

               If employee relations in your organization is excellent then you probably have excellent leadership .
               . . Imagine a company with people who trust each other, rely on one another, communicate freely,
               and exemplify teamwork. That company has an employee relations competitive advantage over
               another company without those traits . . . You may have the best equipment, a top facility, or new
               technology, but it takes people to make these assets work . . . developing excellent employee
               relations will pay dividends through competitive advantage” (2010). It has been my experience
               that trust is a two-sided venture – one must give trust as well as develop trust, and giving trust also
               contributes to the development of trust. “Let yourself open up and trust that others will open up to
               you. (Carpenter, 2010)

In Respect and Trust, Witt identifies with the human relations focus in conjunction with performance as not only possible but desirable: “Many leaders believe that focusing on people versus focusing on performance is an either/or decision. . . . By holding their managers accountable for creating a culture that features trust, respect, and accountability, they drive results and create a culture where people feel cared for”, and he suggests three tips to build a spirit of trust that resonates with me:

               1. Take Time to Connect – Share knowledge as well as personal information about yourself; 
                   create a people-based connection.
               2. Demonstrate Trust – Trust is a key element in any relationship. Cultivate trust by being
                   transparent in your thinking. Demonstrate trust by doing what you say you’ll do. Show that you
                   are consistent and can be relied upon.
               3. Have High Expectations – Expect a lot from your people and encourage them to expect a lot
                   from you in return
                   (Witt, 2010)

I like the simplicity of these three steps in cultivating trusting relationships. Listening and opening up to connect with people is essential as a first step in developing relationships; Demonstrating trust sums up the five dimensions of trust discussed herein; and having high expectations illustrates that people are trusted. I believe firmly in the reciprocation of trust and have never been disappointed when I exhibit trust in others.


Carpenter, S. (2010, July 7). Employee Relations as a Competitive Advantage. Jackson Examiner.

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Lepsinger, R., & Derosa, D. (2010, December 7). Virtual Teams Really are Different: 6 Lessons for
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Lussier, R. N. (2013). Human Relations in Organizations: Applications and Skill Building (9 ed.). New
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Manning, G., & Curtis, K. (2012). The Art of Leadership (4 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nemiro, J., Beyerlein, M., Bradley, L., & Beyerlein, S. (2008). The Handbook Of High-Performance
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