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Leadership and trust

Leadership and trust

Trust is key to a healthy culture – the beating heart of every school. It underpins effective communication, collaboration, employee commitment and efficiency, building stronger working relation

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator - an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in schools and creator of Welbee a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, winner of the ERA 2022 Wellbeing Award and GESS Awards 2022 ‘Judges’ Commendation’  discusses the importance of leaders building trust into school culture.

 Effective teams are more creative and innovative, and generate solutions that deliver better results. Improved staff engagement and greater job satisfaction, means higher staff wellbeing, improved retention and a lower rate of staff absence.

Conversely, a lack of trust in leadership has a detrimental impact across the whole school. Staff may feel insecure about a leader’s ability to achieve goals or feel unsure about their role and responsibilities. There may be misconceptions or a lack of transparency about how decisions are made, and poor communication can lead to perceived unfairness or unpredictability. All these factors can lead to dissatisfaction, gossiping and cliques. Distrust can create suspicion about a leader’s agenda, motive, capacity or capability. Employees in low-trust environments are more inclined to just do the minimum required to fulfil their role.

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of trust is - ‘Having a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone’.

According to Stephen M R Covey, author of ‘The Speed of Trust’ (2006), trust comes from both character and competence. Character is built based on integrity, motive and intention; and competence is recognised through an individual’s capabilities, skills, results and track record. Both are vital to establish, grow, extend and in some cases restore trust between all stakeholders in an organisation, and is therefore a ‘critical competency of leadership today.’

Ohio State University (2021) added an additional element, communication – ‘the willingness to share information, tell the truth, admit mistakes, and maintain confidentiality.’ 2 This means regularly engaging in one to one conversations with staff; sharing clear expectations, modelling and praising the behaviours you want to see, and holding staff to account when performance or behaviours are not up to standard.

Trust is reciprocal. There is an expectation that two parties will act in a way that is mutually beneficial, so as a leader you must trust your team members if you want their trust in return.

Having a positive reputation as someone who delivers results really does matter. It gives you credibility and means people are more likely to trust you.

And the good news is that trust is a learnable competency.

To be trustworthy you must consistently model behaviours that you expect from others:

•    Behave in a reliable and predictable manner

•    Deliver on promises and demonstrate commitment

•    Talk respectfully about others and never behind their back - use the same language and comments when discussing an individual’s performance as you would if the person was in the room

•    Act with integrity, honesty and fairness when making decisions

•    Acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility for addressing them

•    Act with humility and actively seek to praise others

•    Keep the confidences of others

•    Display positive intent – for example supporting a team member who is underperforming

How is trust built?

Previous performance is largely responsible for an individual’s reputation - their perceived trustworthiness. However, levels of trust are dependent on the current time and actions being taken now. When a school faces challenges or changes, levels of trust can decline.

Your reputation and the trust others have in you may have taken years to build, however, it can be quickly lost. Past performance is not the deciding factor, so we must recognise the importance of consistently delivering results.

Four steps to delivering results

1.  Identify clear goals and outcomes with prioritised actions and timelines in which to achieve them. Once the goal and outcomes are outlined, allow staff to have some autonomy about implementation and how they achieve the goals. Trusting leaders give others space and understand how to provide support from a distance.

2. Ensure that others understand your intent – the reasons behind your actions, ‘why’ you made that decision or are pursuing that goal – and that your reasons are positive and beneficial to others.

3. Be confident, and create a climate of high expectations. Confidence also means admitting and accepting when mistakes happen - reflecting on them and developing a new understanding. This ‘intellectual humility’ shows you are open to other opinions and perspectives and willing to compromise. This fosters more positive relationships and encourages others to follow suit and be open and share their views. With more ideas being considered, there will be more creativity and engagement.

4. Communicate clearly with all staff. Ensure everyone is informed and hears ‘the same message’, so your intentions are not misconstrued. Give staff the opportunity to ask questions so any misconceptions can be addressed.

The best way to improve performance is to turn a skill into a habit or become unconsciously competent.

Trust is underpinned by your behaviour and having confidence in others. It sits at the core of our relationships and is just as important in work as it is in our personal lives. If trust is a lived value and central to the school culture, staff will enjoy their work, collaborate more effectively and be more efficient and creative. Tasks get done quicker, and are more likely to be completed with greater accuracy and fewer avoidable mistakes, and staff will take responsibility to solve problems. Staff feel secure and wellbeing and retention increases, alongside student outcomes.

For further information, support and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact

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Notes to editors 1 How the Best Leaders Build Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey @ LeadershipNow 2 Building a Culture of Trust | Lead Read Today | Lead Read Today (