Food for thought

A fresh perspective on Trust for leaders part 1


Objectives and rationale

This article is written with a deep respect for your valuable time – it is meant to be read in less than 8 minutes, and to hopefully spark some good reflection and action.

The purpose of this series of articles is to provide concise information on how trust can be established, nurtured and maintained within an organisation. To create an overview of how leaders can do so effectively, we will combine the leader, the team, and the organisational perspective – while the immediate focus is on the role of the individual leader. The role of the leader is particularly important here – the saying is not in vain: “People join companies, but they leave managers.” Let’s work together to help leaders establish more trust so that less people leave them.

Alternatively, let’s see what the founder and CEO of (according to BCG Perspectives) once said on trust. At Davos, Marc Benioff referred to Klaus Schwab’s book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and told the audience that the fourth industrial revolution starts with one very important point – trust. He argued that employees need to realize that customers would not buy a company’s products unless they trust the company. This, he stressed, would be a big change. “You are about to define a new level of trust between yourself and your employees, between yourself and your customers, between yourself and your key stakeholders and shareholders, and … between you and your partners. This is a cultural revolution for organisations that are not built on trust. Because when we talk about trust, talk about growth, and talk about innovation, we have to talk about them in that order”, Benioff said. 

The quality of cooperation of people involved in a business (leaders, employees, all relevant stakeholder groups) massively impacts its results. This applies to current operations and to required innovation and development, both positively and negatively. Unfortunately, most of the factors that help to improve cooperation are not immediately visible. As a consequence, not enough attention is paid to improve the quality of cooperation to achieve desired results. Therefore, the usual direct quantitative measures of productivity provided by controlling and finance departments are more popular when it comes to running an organisation. This fact will give the finance director an important seat at the table in most management teams, since this position seems to control the easy-to-use levers to increase effectiveness. This is true particularly when it comes to managing (i.e. reducing) costs. At the same time, many agree that financial performance indicators (as they are currently used to run businesses) are lagging indicators, not leading ones – therefore we need to focus on other factors to really improve results, one of which is to understand how we can improve interpersonal cooperation. The better our understanding of how enhanced levels of trust in an organisation contribute to improved collaboration and results, the more important the seat at the management team table for those who can make this work. 

Management teams usually focus on four main thrusts to enhance business success:

  • Increasing the innovation performance to ensure that a firm can stay ahead of competition
  • Ensuring the quality of products and service delivery to create a loyal customer base
  • Creating an efficient and highly productive organisation for a competitive cost position
  • Maintaining flexibility and the ability to evolve in response to the needs of dynamic environments

Given my 10+ years of experience as a global executive coach, and my involvement with the movement to help leaders in businesses to foster the development of trust in organisations, I would like to propose, and elaborate on, three essential aspects that will help you to reduce effort to achieve desired results.

  • The climate of trust in your team. It allows you to ensure effective communications, reliable functioning, and strong identification of employees that have a direct impact on organisational, departmental and team effectiveness
  • The individual leaders’ trust profile. The ability to trust others and be considered trustworthy in your environment as it allows you to achieve more with less effort, for yourself and with the people that work with you immediately
  • The psychological (or unwritten) contract. It connects employees with their organisation and quite often has a more substantial impact on engagement (and hence performance) than the written contract and all the job/role descriptions and standard operating procedures that every employee in every organisation works with

The initial series of articles focuses on the individual leaders’ trust profile. This choice stems from the insight that change within an organisation will ONLY occur when people modify the way they deal with one another, or how they perceive one another, or both. Need proof, ask Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Since in most organisations changes are initiated and implemented (and trust has to be built) top down, let’s focus on the role of the leader first. 

The four main individual levers for a leader to enhance trust and trustworthiness are:

The next article will focus on providing an overview of each of these four levers, followed by more detailed articles to describe the essentials for each of the four levers in some detail. 

The content of the article relies predominantly on three sources: 

  • The work by the Trust Management Institute, mostly by Tom Sommerlatte and Jean-Luc Fallou, as laid out in their book “Quintessenz der Vertrauensbildung” (Springer, Heidelberg, 2012)
  • Several thousands of hours of working with senior executives and teams in their quest to improve individual and team effectiveness and reduce effort needed to achieve desired results
  • Many conversations with like-minded professionals who share the same interest

Happy reading – and please do let me know your reactions and questions. Always willing and happy to engage in a conversation!

You can reach me at


Rolf Pfeiffer is a Germany-based executive coach. He is one of the original founders of Leadership Choices, a professional services firm dedicated to leadership development - with European roots and global reach. His clients often say that Rolf effectively helps them to achieve outstanding results by taking on new perspectives on their activities and impact. Rolf has worked as an executive coach and facilitator since 2003, his assignments have taken him to many European countries, the Middle East, the USA and South Africa. He works in senior faculty and coach roles for the Center for Creative Leadership and is member of the executive education faculty of HEC Paris in Qatar. In his coaching work, he draws upon his consulting and business experience (from senior roles with leading firms in their respective fields) and helps his clients to navigate the dynamics of their organisational environment effectively.

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