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The Power of trust (in leading teams)

Trust – What is it? (THE WHAT)

  • What is the anatomy of trust?

  • What is it about trust that makes it important? ….

  • And how can we be intentional as leaders in cultivating trust (in multiple contexts)?


I spent over 30 years in educational organisations, and now coach leaders in many different educational settings…. And the issue of trust often arose in my time in schools, and comes up in many coaching conversations.

I’ve learnt that trust is vitally important in building relational capital, both in my own leadership experience, and with those I now coach.

Indeed, Stephen Covey suggests that organisations (and by inference - Teams) progress ‘at the speed of trust’[1]. And so, as leaders work with and through others, building strength of connection through relational trust is an important part of the leader’s skillset.


  • But what is trust and how can leaders cultivate it?

It turns out that there is an anatomy to trust, at least according to Brené Brown[2]

She cites Charles Feltman in coming to a definition of Trust, which is:

‘Choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else’.     

Additionally, she references the acronym ‘Braving’ (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgement, Generosity) as a scaffold to exploring Trust.

Many educational leaders I work with as a coach find the Trust Quotient particularly helpful in this space too.

In many ways the elements ring true to the experience of those I work with as a coach.  For example, many leaders I coach talk about colleagues they trust because they are good at what they do (competent and credible) and ‘deliver’, and also because they tend to be dependable (they are consistent and reliable). 

Where there is a depth and warmth in professional relationships, leaders often reference ‘chemistry’ and rapport (‘Intimacy’ element of the quotient).

Lastly, discussions often reference the level of trust is either amplified or eroded by the level of ‘self-orientation’ ie those that tend to consider others tend to have an amplified level of trustworthiness.

An abundance or lack on any of these 4 elements will influence the level and nature of trustworthiness within a relationship.


But …. SO WHAT?

Well, if you can take a more granular approach to cultivating trust as a leader, you can then apply a more focused and intentional set of behaviours in areas that develop levels of trust more effectively. 

For example, I have worked with leaders that recognise that in order to build deeper levels of trust they want to focus more of getting to know their colleagues better (and so enhance levels of rapport).  Others reference building the capacity and competency of colleagues in their team through mentoring and coaching and professional learning (ie enhancing the credibility element of the quotient).


  • The Team ecosystem

Educational organisations are dynamic and complex. 

They are sometimes classified ‘human intensive settings’ given the wide range of educators, leaders, professional support staff, community liaison groups, parents and the wider community that work within and sit around a school setting.

Additionally, much of the work around complexity[1] and ‘complex adaptive systems’ reinforces the value of learning, developing understanding and collective endeavour that can be cemented through trusting relationships.

To frame it another way – the consequences of the absence of trust can be very telling and Patrick Lencioni (2002)[2] seminal work on the dysfunctions of teams notes Trust (or lack of it) as foundational in creating dysfunction.

Building on this, research shared in Harvard Business Review citing work from ADP Institute 2019[1] notes that employee engagement is enhanced by being part of a team.  This is amplified further when there is trust in the team leader.


So, there is plenty of research that tells us trust is really important in building effective relationships and in developing highly effective teams.

It is likely that our own experience as leaders in schools tell us this.

  • So ‘How can we be intentional in developing trust as leaders?’

Researcher John Gottman Quote indicates that trust is built incrementally, as well as intentionally.

‘Trust is built in very small moments which I call ‘sliding door’ moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting …’

  • As a leader, what might those ‘moments’ be?

Recently, a school leader I was coaching came to the realisation that they had scheduled in many interactions, and ‘systemised’ much of this.  Whilst helpful to a degree, they committed to developing both ‘formal and informal’ opportunities to connect and build trust – both are intentional strategies.

Another approach it to utilise the granular nature of frameworks such as the Trust Quotient.  This will enable you to be more focused in terms of a) being intentional in building trust (being Trustworthy) and b) being diagnostic when trust needs to be further developed.

Additionally, these questions may be helpful to consider:

  • Know where you are now – what does the team do well, and not so well?  A strengths focused approach builds connection and reinforces the ‘credibility’ and ‘intimacy’ elements of the Trust Quotient.

  • Know your people well and allow them to know each other deeply.  This builds relational trust and rapport.  Research from Google on psychological safety[1] and MIT (sociometrics) indicates that this supports open and effective communication.

  • Enable enhanced communication within the team, particularly informal communication opportunities as interaction builds trust incrementally .


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