Leadership and trust

What makes employees loyal to their employer? Competitive salaries? Lavish benefits?

OK, those things definitely don’t hurt. But some new research suggests that trust also plays an important role.

The study, a collaboration between researchers from Peking University’s psychology department and Nankai University’s business school, found that employees who trusted their supervisors felt more emotionally attached to and invested in the organizations they worked for.

Moreover, the relationship between trust and commitment seemed to be driven by authentic leadership. That is, supervisors who were more trusted tended to have more authentic leadership styles in general, which led to greater emotional commitment from employees.

Authentic leadership is an approach to leadership that involves building honest relationships, being transparent, having guiding ethical principles, being self-aware, and promoting fairness.

Employee trust may not be the only way authentic leaders strengthen their organizations. A study of nurses’ attitudes to their work published earlier this year found that authentic leadership can also promote job satisfaction and feelings of empowerment, which cascade into other positive effects on workplace culture and morale.

Taken together, these results clarify some of the benefits of authentic leadership, a topic that has been unexpectedly controversial. Ironically, previous research on authentic leadership has suffered from allegations of scientific misconduct and ethics violations. For example, some articles on the topic were previously retracted from journals after their findings turned out to be statistically impossible.

The latest research, however, suggests that if you want to build an organization where employees feel connected to the work they’re doing, you should put a premium on honesty, transparency and trust.

In other words, being real with your employees and treating them with respect isn’t just something to do for the sake of being nice to them – although being nice never hurts! Rather, it fundamentally changes what kind of workplace culture you’re building and what kind of relationship your employees have with the organization they work for.

Image: FreeImages.com/Pierre Amerlynck