Table of Contents, Inner Leadership Resources Page Previous Section, Inner Leadership Next Section, Inner Leadership

Chapter 22: Technique 19: Learning to Trust Others

Today, active, dynamic leadership is scarce in society and its institutions. The reason is that today’s workplace is characterized by diverse people and a pervasive mind-set that values individual differences as the basis of forming work communities. This situation and this mind-set tend to pull the organization apart rather than integrate it. And a unified, harmonious culture is essential to any leadership, especially inner leadership. If inner leaders are to be successful in realizing their personal and professional goals, they need to do something to integrate diverse workers into a functioning community defined as a cluster of interdependent coworkers who share values, methods, behaviors, and goals and who trust each other enough to work together.

Given the need for a harmonious culture, the task is to build a trust culture within which leader and led jointly agree to link their efforts in achieving mutually valued goals using agreed-upon processes. This task is complicated by the fact that the leader–follower relationship in the middle of the organization is essentially voluntary. Inner leadership is a problem of integrating workers into a functioning community of shared interests that can meet the needs of both. The task is as much a matter of community culture creation as it is of the inner leader adopting a style of leadership that prioritizes interactive trust. In fact, both are essential to success.


Part of the present confusion about leadership versus management is that analysts have seen leadership in system, control, and structure terms. The conventional wisdom is that to control individuals, leaders need only to change formal structures or work systems. This model denigrates individual workers and treats them as interchangeable parts, cogs in the corporate machine. Workers are asked to change as the organization’s leader sees a need, whether they want to, are ready for, or even are capable of the proposed change. Inner leaders use a more effective model, one that suggests that to change we must change people’s attitudes first and let them in turn change system and structure. Shaping a culture in which members can trust each other enough to work together in this way lets inner leaders create a mental and physical context within which they can lead effectively (Klenke, 1996).

The Impact of Trust on Culture and Leadership

Trust is a critical element in defining inner leaders, as well as the cultures they create that sustain effective leadership (Vanfleet and Yukl, 1989). Trust also is prerequisite to any attempt by leaders to transform (change) their work community’s culture (Sashkin, 1986). Top leaders can function without trust—using coercive authority power. But inner leadership of volunteer followers is successful only in a context of mutual trust based on shared vision, ideals, and values.

The process of gaining trust relies first on having or securing some accurate, real (true) knowledge of the person, thing, or situation trusted. As inner leaders exercise trust in a follower (or a program or event) in the absence of direct knolwledge, that action empowers the follower to change to become what the leader trusts him or her to be. Each successful attempt reenforces that trust. Successive positive experiences with another person cumulate until the leader comes fully to trust that person to be and do what he or she at first only hoped he or she would be and do.

A part of the inner leader’s willingness to trust depends on the work community’s culture—created by the leader. That is, the ambient work culture affects the inner leader’s willingness to trust, and the level of willingness to trust helps define the culture. Without the constraints imposed by the cultural surround, leaders could not exercise trust at all.

The inner leader–created work community’s culture defines trust relationships, their quality and extent. And, the leader’s actions apply it in everything he or she does or says. In fact all aspects of the working relationship are based on the quality of the mid-level leader’s trust—of superiors, peers, subordinates, and all stakeholders. The problem today is not a lack of leaders but a lack of trusting environments within which leadership in the complex realms of the middle of the corporation is possible and without which it is impossible.

Creating a compatible culture in the middle of the organization becomes, therefore, a central task of inner leadership.

Interpreting Trust

We can define trust as reliance on the integrity or authenticity of people or things. It is a logical, thoughtful hope in their reality, their authenticity; in a word, in their truth. The idea of trust implies both an expectation and a personal obligation for both parties to the relationship to be authentic, trustworthy, reliable. It places obligation on both the truster and the object of that trust. It is a risk relationship but a necessary one. It implies proactivity, takes time, and becomes a unifying and coalescing idea essential to any working relationship. Inner leaders base their trust on a given level of truth, not falsity. The trust relationship includes an expectation and a personal obligation to be authentic, trustworthy, reliable, which is provable by ensuing experience. Seen in this light, it is a value supporting the culture that helps define how and in what degree members value others.

Trust is a risk relationship, but a necessary one (And, 1972). When we trust another person we agree to accept as true what we can now only assume is true. In theory, we do not need to trust in situations of absolute knowledge of the truth of a given person, action, or event. In these cases there is no risk, we know. Such absolute knowledge, however, is rarely present. Hence the need for cultures that support trust.

Table of Contents, Inner Leadership Resources Page Previous Section, Inner Leadership Next Section, Inner Leadership