Leadership Barometer 62 Level of Trust

August 20, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Level of Trust

Good leaders create a legacy of trust within their organization. I have written elsewhere on the numerous hallmarks of an organization with trust as opposed to one that has no trust.

Is there a quick and dirty kind of litmus test for trust? Think about how you would know if an organization has high trust.

You can do extensive surveys on the climate or call in an expensive consultant to study every nook and cranny of the organization, but that is not necessary.

All you need to do is walk into a meeting that is going on and observe what you see for about 5 minutes. You can get a very accurate view of the level of trust in what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “thin slice” of a few minutes watching a group.

Look at how the people sit. Are they leaning back with arms crossed and rigid necks, or are they basically leaning either in or toward the other people next to them?

Observe the look on the faces of people in the meeting. Can you see pain and agony, like they do not want to be there but are forced to endure the agony till the boss adjourns?

Listen to how people address each other. Is there a biting sarcasm that seeks to gain personal advantage by making other people in the room look small, or do the people show genuine respect and even affection for each other?

See how individuals interact with the leader. Is it obvious that everyone is trying to help the leader or are they trying to trip him up or catch him in a mistake? Do the participants show a genuine respect for the leader?

Is there a willingness to speak up if there is something not sitting right – for anyone, or is there a cold atmosphere of fear where people know they will get clobbered if they contradict the leader? In other words, is there psychological safety in this group?

If there is work to be done are there eager volunteers or does everyone sit quiet like non bidders at an auction?

Is the spirit of the meeting one of doom and gloom or is the group feeling like masters of their own fate, even when times are rough?

Do the people focus on the vision of what they are trying to accomplish, or do they focus on each other in a negative way.  The former is an indication of a high trust group while the latter is how low trust groups interact.

These are just a few signs you can observe in only a few minutes that will tell you the level of trust within the group. That trust level is an accurate reflection of the caliber of the leader.

I used to tell people that I could tell the climate of an organization within 30 seconds of watching a meeting. You can actually see it in the way people interact with each other.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.