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Trust and Leadership

Trust is one of the best but sometimes the most fragile of human emotional states.

Most people have a tendency to want to trust others, unless the situation indicates otherwise. The same person will have more trust in a situation that 'feels like home' rather than one that 'feels strange or tense', e.g. in a conflict zone.

We can easily trust someone or another party on a transactional basis. For some people it is very easy to be 'trusting', for others much harder. For example, buying something online involves a certain level of trust that the purchase item will be delivered. So long that the transactions continue to be performed as promised we continue to place trust in the other party. When the transaction is not performed, we feel stressed, we lose trust and we are more cautious about placing trust in the other party. For people who place their trust easily, it is also possible to abuse this trust, just look at the number of scams performed daily, whether in person or on-line.

Creating and nurturing trust in order to build personal relationships is a collaborative effort. The leadership spiral in the diagram below shows how many people build trust in leadership. For some types of transactions or situations, the trust spiral is relatively flat, meaning we easily build up trust and leadership. In other situations, the trust spiral is very steep, meaning it takes a lot of effort to create trust and leadership.

When is the spiral likely to be flatter? Usually the first time we start building a trust relationship, or when the outcome at stake is small.

When is the spiral likely to be steeper? When the outcome at stake is large, for example when a persons career or future work is at stake.

When is the spiral likely to be steepest? When one person in a relationship betrays the trust of the other person. The outcome may not actually be the driving force for disappointment, it may actually be the impact on the emotional state of the person affected.

A typical example is unfaithfulness of a partner in a marriage. Another is when a manager at work fires a person or fires many people (their polite term is right sizing, which is just their own personal way of trying to assuage their own guilt, particularly when their profit motive overrides a humanistic motive). For many people in an enterprise, as soon as a manager or nominal leader fires people, the trust is lost and never regained by the people remaining. Because those people know that the manager's values and behavior is oriented towards profit over people.


How to use the Spiral.

Investigate and capture the way that each part of the spiral is done.

  • How do we communicate?
  • What common information do we share?
  • How much joint knowledge do we need? What is that knowledge?
  • How will creating common knowledge lead to shared understanding?
  • How does shared understanding create empathy? What do we agree on?
  • How does empathy lead to collaborative behavior?
  • How does this drive shared values?
  • What elements of the spiral create trust?
  • How do we lead when we establish trust?
  • How does dynamic leadership, servant leadership or autocratic leadership impact trust, values, behavior, empathy, understanding, knowledge, information and communication?

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