It All Comes Down to Trust

I used to say to my teams: “If you don’t want to work here, let me know and I will help you.”

I always felt it was my role as a leader to help my employees craft a role they felt motivated in, and expected that by saying this I would open the door to build trust and initiate productive conversations, but I noticed my employees didn’t react to my offer the way I expected. Why? Well, in the companies where I built my career, the pervasive culture was one of distrust. Even when leaders like me had the best intentions, we were fighting an uphill battle to turn a huge ship when it came to building trust.

Low trust = low results

My gut sense was that a competitive, low-trust culture actually erodes business results - and both the research and executive survey results support that. In a PWC survey, 55% of business leaders reported they believed a lack of trust constituted a foundational threat to their company.

Employees are EVERYTHING when it comes to growing a profitable, innovative company. They can be your top promoters, your top source of efficiency, and your fierce defenders when things go wrong. But low trust environments cut off all of these opportunities. Some insights from Deloitte: low employee trust leads to:

  • Low work motivation: think “quiet quitting.”
  • Low customer satisfaction.
  • High turnover, leading to costly efforts to hire/train replacements.
  • Low likelihood of outperforming competitor companies.
  • Bad press, such as Glassdoor reviews and negative social posts.
  • Low likelihood to refer exceptional talent (or business!) to the organization.

On the other hand, the opposite is true when there is high trust. In fact, high-trust companies can actually afford to pay their employees more because they are so effective, engaged, and unlikely to quit (quiet or otherwise). And, on the individual level, people who trust each other make more money than people who don’t. Fascinating!

How to begin building trust and engagement

We have all experienced the leader who says to their team “I want us to be able to trust each other.” Empty words if the follow-through is lacking. Because of the power dynamic between leaders and their employees, trust is no longer assumed. As a leader, you must intentionally invest in changing your own behaviors and attitudes in order to see change reflected in your team. 

In other words: Trust starts with you.

How self aware are you? What kind of relationship do you really have with yourself and your team? How do you know? If you haven’t reflected or gathered data recently, I recommend working with a coach to do so. A solid executive coaching relationship helps you not only prepare to receive feedback and apply it in a productive way, but it also signals that you are invested in your own improvement, which will make team members more likely to be honest with you. Anytime a leader approaches us at Glowe wanting to create culture change and growth in their organization, we include coaching. Relationships matter. Building strong, trusting relationships both internally and externally requires both a sense of true self awareness and human interaction. There is a blend between getting to know ourselves better so we can lead from an authentic place and create teams that want to do the same. The ripple effect here is endless: it will inspire, equip and engage.

How clear is your team on your goals and key priorities? Are you consistent in how you message and measure them? When the destination isn’t clear, conflict and confusion are more likely to arise. It’s hard for a team to work together effectively (or build trust) when they are spending their time debating how they should spend their day, and who is accountable for what. High-trust teams have clear goals and clear roles. This is another thing Glowe works with clients to clarify prior to attempting any change initiatives.

How do you go about giving your team freedom in how they work? We often see leaders telling their employees to use their judgment, and be empowered to make decisions. But then the moment something goes wrong, they take control back. Everything you do sends a signal. Paul Zak shares in his article The Neuroscience of Trust this excellent summary: “Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.”


As for my offer to every team member to help? Not a single person ever took me up on that. While I invested heavily in self awareness and creating trust on my team, the mistrust culture current around me was just too strong, and my team was too afraid to speak up. If I’m being honest, my own mistrust of my peers and other leaders at the organization probably contributed quite a lot.

As a leader, can you inspire if you’re not inspired? Can you motivate others if you’re just going through the motions? Can you bring together a team from survival mode?

The importance of putting people at the heart of your growth strategy is becoming increasingly important for our belief system and our businesses. It’s the human touch that creates the trust to take your business from merely surviving to truly thriving. At Glowe, we work with leaders who want to create the kind of culture I always wished I could lead and work in. Are you ready to inspire performance in a new way? Reach out.

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