The Slovenia Times

A major issue in most organizations: The lack of trust

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By Dr Pierre Casse, IEDC Professor and Elnura Irmatova, IEDC Research Assistant

It is so easy to fade into mistrust and it is so hard to gain trust. Do we think about the importance and essence of trust enough?


Mistrust is a natural biological trait that has presumably helped humankind in its evolution. There is a good chance that it saved men and women from risky endeavors. Before jumping on a very tempting prey, the hunter checked first if the lion was not around...right?


Trust is an attitude or predetermination that leads to certain opinions and behaviors i.e. feeling good about some people, being bold, relying on some individuals, being open and sharing sensitive information, taking risks, etc.

One can identify two major types of trust:

  1. Trusting yourself is all about believing in your ability to perform and achieve a set of decided upon objectives, face a challenge, grow, be happy, solve difficult problems (you know you can do it!)
  2. Trusting others is when you can rely on the information people give you, you feel they would not take advantage or abuse you, and you know they can cover your back when necessary. 

Trust is critical

No team, organization, or society can function properly and ethically without a minimum of trust. It is a must so that people can work effectively, enjoy their roles, perform well, contribute to the success of the organization, and feel free to grow on the job. On top of it, trust is a binding element in a healthy organization. An organization that is experiencing mistrust and fear ends up being just "sick" 

This is particularly obvious in a crisis time when the leadership decisions are scrutinized very carefully by the people who are going to be impacted by them.

A couple of illustrations: Can I trust my Medical Doctor, my Banker, and Financial Adviser, my manager at work, my Parents at home, the Media people, the politicians...

Three critical factors 

Many leaders tend not to pay enough attention or even ignore the three following conditions for trust:

Factor 1: Credibility

Basically, credibility is about people believing the leaders when they make statements, clarify the team responsibilities, present the new plans and objectives of the organization, or assess people's performance. Trust is built on the basis of giving credits to the information shared by the leaders who have a worthy reputation of the truth-tellers who are standing behind the words they claim ("We trust her because we know from experience that she does not lie!")

Factor 2: Reliability

Reliability relates to the fact that people know that their leaders deliver on their promises. Even if something goes wrong and the team faces a failure, people know that they have been fighting to make it happen ("We trust him because we know that he has been doing his best to achieve what he promised").

Factor 3: Ego drive

Ego can be a positive leadership factor if it is not purely self-centered and selfish. The "me, myself, and I" is not very effective in creating a trusty environment. A sense of fairness in the distribution of work and rewards at the end of a successful piece of work is vital for a trusty climate ("It all for him or her")

Elnura Irmatova, IEDC Research Assistant

Overall Diagnosis

Our teaching, consulting, and research work has led us to conclude that a lot must be done in many organizations to create the minimum of trust required to have a healthy environment. The lack of trust can be obvious and unfortunately ignored by many leaders. For instance, we can see how people:

  • do not speak up in meetings,
  • never challenge or contradict their leaders,
  • do not volunteer ideas on how to improve the team or the organization,
  • retain information that can be critical,
  • criticize their leaders behind the scenes,
  • adjust their views (even if wrong) to their leaders',
  • opt for a "wait and see" position after decisions have been made.

We have also seen leaders missing the 3 key qualities connected with trust: lack of attention ("It is not important"), weak empathy ("I do not have a trust issue in my team"), and poor caring ("It is their problem")

Tentative conclusion

Trust is difficult to build and can be lost so easily. One wrong word and trust is gone. Getting it back is a real challenge. It should be nurtured patiently and carefully. It is a leadership must.

Flash survey

We asked Dr. Iztok Seljak (Chief Managing Director of Hidria Holding d.o.o.; IEDC alumnus) to share with us his opinion on the points he agrees and disagrees with and what additionally could be interesting to consider:  

Dr. Seljak agrees that "in principle trust as such is an important element, an important issue impacting organizational success. But, it is not created per se and does not stand alone on its own. It is a result of many other elements, processes, and behaviors. Trust is the result of very many factors coming (or not) together properly. So I would integrate it much more into the overall context of "where does it come from/or does not". Is it really "only"/or predominantly about credibility, reliability, and egodrive? What else, how much?"  

He explained that he disagrees with the statement "the lack of trust is a major issue present in most organizations" and noted that:

"Yes, in the below-average performing companies/organizations very likely, but there are very many other factors, more important, that are causing the organizations being below average, that are actually yet consequently causing mistrust. In the average organization even so much more so. And, just the opposite, in the over average successful organizations, it is the high level of trust that makes them successful in the first place."  

As a final comment, Dr. Iztok Seljak pointed out that it could be interesting to uncover "the underlying concept/framework of elements and processes that are (and how) contributing to building and sustaining trust. We should be able to move further from two levels of trust, trusting oneself and trusting others, to the level of (inter) organizational trust, as this is what we are after in the companies, after gaining and sustaining a high level of (inter) organizational trust as a precondition for thriving."

If you missed first article from Dr Pierre Casse


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