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Why Some Leaders Have Their Employees' Trust, and Some Don't

Why Some Leaders Have Their Employees' Trust, and Some Don't

Do your employees trust your company's leadership? Probably not.

In fact, just one in three employees in Gallup's global database strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization.

Levels of trust differ greatly among organizations, though. Some organizations are on the high end of the continuum, with seven in 10 employees who have high trust, while others are on the low end with only one in 10.

Consider the consequences that come from these two different types of organizational cultures:

  1. High trust: Employees who trust their leadership are twice as likely to say they will be with their company one year from now.

    High-trust organizations also have an enormous advantage in the speed with which any new initiative will take hold. And even when there are periodic mistakes in decisions or communication, employees will give leaders the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Low trust: When people don't trust leadership, they're already planning their exit and have no interest in making a new strategy work or creating new customer initiatives. There's nothing in it for them; they've already mentally checked out.

In today's age of social media, what happens within an organization also spreads quickly outside the company, ultimately affecting the employment brand and the ability to attract star employees. Who wants to join a company with leaders that people don't trust?

Even when there are periodic mistakes in decisions or communication [in high-trust organizations], employees will give leaders the benefit of the doubt.

So, what causes people to trust their leaders in the first place?

As Gallup's workplace analytics team dug deeper into our database of 4 million work teams, we found this: The spread in how organizational leaders are perceived -- across teams within the average organization -- was nearly as wide as the variability in teams across all organizations.

Even though teams within organizations have the same leaders, the teams perceive those leaders very differently.

This finding mirrors a discovery reported in Gallup's bestselling book First, Break All the Rules: There is wide variation in the engagement of teams that are in the very same large organization.

Same company; vastly different team experiences.

A major challenge for leaders of large organizations is that there is no common culture -- often even in prominent, highly regarded companies. This is true regardless of those organizations' lofty mission statements that are written to bind all employees toward a common purpose.

Most of the differences in how people perceive organizational leaders across teams within the same organization are determined by how each team perceives its front-line manager. Of course, leaders' consistency, clarity and ethics play a big role -- but in large organizations, leaders have minimal direct influence on individual employees.

Leaders can build trust with a lot of employees through the right network.

Sociologists have found that there are limits on the number of allies people can maintain in a group. So, for a large organization to function, leaders need loyal friends who also have loyal friends, and so on.

It is only through second- and third-degree connections that your networks become influential. A leader's success depends on their reputation extending beyond their closest confidants.

Gallup workplace research supports these sociological discoveries. There is a ripple effect in successful organizations: The engagement of leaders extends to the engagement of managers, which then extends to the front line.

Much like engagement, trust passes through these same channels. But engagement and trust don't happen if they're simply left to chance.

So, who ultimately fosters trust in all levels of the organization? It's the manager. Perceptions of your organizational leaders are filtered through the experiences of your managers.

And while there is no common culture in most organizations, there can be if organizations develop great managers.

Learn more about creating a culture of trust through your managers:


Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist, Workplace for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Wellbeing at Work, It's the Manager, 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. His research is also featured in the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, First, Break All the Rules. Dr. Harter has led more than 1,000 studies of workplace effectiveness, including the largest ongoing meta-analysis of human potential and business-unit performance. His work has also appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in many prominent academic journals.

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