Skip to main content

Building Trust and Respect in the Workplace: The Cornerstones of Effective Leadership

How do you measure trust? Is it something created from nothing, or is there a baseline that must be nurtured to establish itself fully over the years? Similarly, what about respect? Does it need to be earned, or is there a foundational level that can be further developed through honourable actions and nurturing existing relationships? In the relentless race to success within the fast-paced business realm, leaders often navigate a challenging terrain: fostering trust and respect within their teams.

In his transformative book Good to Great, Jim Collins underscores the pivotal role these values play in transforming a good company into a great one. Yet, in the hustle and bustle of daily operations, these can sometimes be overshadowed. In this blog, I delve into the essence of trust and respect in the workplace, unravelling the nuances of their significance and providing actionable insights for leaders to build and sustain these vital elements of organisational culture.

    Determining the Trust Deficit: A Prelude to Change

    As leaders engage in critical conversations about job performance, project feedback, interpersonal dynamics, and other pivotal aspects, they often encounter a litmus test for trust. The telltale signs of a trust deficit emerge when employees, sensing a lack of support, withdraw, shift blame, or respond defensively. These reactions, though natural, signify a deeper issue that leaders must address head-on.

    Prescriptive Leadership: The DNA Approach

    Prescriptive leadership is akin to grabbing an extinguisher to put out a fire. It involves a step-by-step approach to address trust issues in the moment. The absence of responding in such a way is akin to chucking water on a grease fire; perhaps the intentions are in the right place, but the results can be catastrophic. The DNA approach serves as a compass for leaders navigating these critical conversations:

    D (Decisions):

    Leaders must acknowledge their preconceived decisions, biases, and ingrained thought processes. Understanding the “stories in our heads” that influence automatic responses is the first step to dismantling trust barriers.

    N (New Information is available):

    Embracing a growth mindset, leaders should resist immediate judgment when confronted with new information or challenges, seeking to learn and understand, irrespective of alignment with existing decisions. This opens the door to constructive dialogue and is where the best innovation and collaboration can flourish.

    A (Ask questions, Adjust, Act):

    The final steps involve a commitment to asking questions, adjusting decisions based on new insights, and taking decisive actions. This iterative process not only resolves immediate issues but also contributes to the broader goal of building trust.

    The Crucial Role of Trust: A Leadership Imperative

    Leaders profoundly influence workplace culture and, by extension, establish trust. It’s a dynamic interplay—leaders impact emotions, which drive people and, in turn, performance. The workplace becomes a stage where the leadership script directly influences how comfortable, open, and motivated individuals feel. Paying close attention to the culture evolving around you is an excellent way to build respect and trust, demonstrating your investment in your colleagues’ happiness, wellbeing, and collective success while benefiting from company values, culture, and vision alignment.

    Preventative Leadership: Nurturing Trust Before the Storm

    Enter preventative leadership, the proactive counterpart to the reactive prescriptive approach. Preventative leaders prioritise trust-building before any conflicts erupt. Consider this the equivalent of having a fire extinguisher by your side before you can even see a flame. Their arsenal comprises qualities that lay the groundwork for a trusting environment, boiling down to having a decent level of emotional intelligence (or EQ):


    A cornerstone of preventative leadership is empathy. Leaders attuned to their team members’ experiences, challenges, and aspirations lay the foundation for a culture of understanding.

    Active Listening:

    Proactive leaders actively listen, creating an atmosphere where new information is welcomed and celebrated. This genuine interest in diverse perspectives fosters collaboration and mutual respect.

    Acceptance of Differences:

    Recognising and embracing individual differences is pivotal. Diversity, in all its forms, is a wellspring of innovation and creativity—a fact that preventative leaders leverage to fuel organisational growth.


    A collaborative ethos permeates preventative leadership. Leaders who foster collaboration create a sense of shared responsibility, reinforcing the idea that everyone is in this together. It’s been proven countless times that those involved in decisions are much more likely to invest fully, providing their best efforts and being a real cheerleader for the business.


    The foundation of trust rests on respect. Lack one, and the other will suffer. Preventative leaders cultivate an environment where every team member feels valued and respected, irrespective of their role or position. Leaders who view themselves as “above” their team members will struggle to obtain respect, as usually, this must be given and received as equals.

    In short, there are seven tenets of preventative leadership. There are numerous ways you can do this, and how you approach building trust and respect will slightly differ depending on the industry, company cultures, the cultural fit of employees, and individual communication styles. However, when armed with the principles of preventative leadership, leaders can proactively shape a workplace culture where trust thrives.

    Here are seven actionable strategies to consider:

    1. Establish Company Values:

    Company values serve as the bedrock of a positive culture. More than mere words on a poster, values should guide actions, decisions, and interactions. Regular evaluation ensures alignment between stated values and actual behaviours.

    2. Get to Know Your People:

    Proactively understanding employees on an individual basis fosters trust. Leaders who invest time in learning about motivations, stress factors, and working preferences create a supportive environment.

    3. Give Your Feedback Story

    Transparently communicating the intention behind feedback transforms it from a critique to a constructive tool for development.

    4. Engineer Your Culture

    Leaders must align their words with actions, setting an example for the desired organisational culture. Consistency is paramount—employees observe the last action, not the last intention.

    5. Create Certainty

    Ensuring your team feel safe, understood, and valued contributes to a positive workplace culture. Leaders should be thoughtful about what to share and when and always establish whether the benefits outweigh any negative response.

    In simple terms, treat people as equals. Think about how you wish you had been treated before your days of leadership and constantly aspire to be the leader you wish you’d had. Trust and respect can be hard to gain and easy to lose, making them invaluable cornerstones of effective leadership.

    6. Determine whether you’re under-leading or over-leading:

    To maintain trust, leaders should adapt their leadership style over time and manage employees at their appropriate level of development. Under-leading means that you provide minimal guidance and supervision to a team member. Over-leading implies that you’re more controlling and watchful – perhaps even as far as micromanaging.

    Few things are more frustrating to an employee than being new to an organisation, learning a new task, and not having enough direction or input. Meanwhile, a highly experienced, knowledgeable, tenured team member doesn’t need someone peering over their shoulder and holding their hand. Note – leaders tend to under-lead when it comes to leading during change. When something is new, more direction is needed, not less.

    7. Become a master of WHY:

    In the same way that preventive leaders should ask questions of others, they should also be tolerant of others’ questions. This willingness creates a safe environment and increases trust. For someone to understand what they’re doing, it is often helpful to know why they’re doing it. A leader will struggle with a climate of trust when their people aren’t willing to ask questions because they feel like they’ll get offended if they do or are afraid of getting shut down after asking questions. People need clarity and consistency to do their jobs well, which comes from asking questions in an environment built around trust.

    Ensuring you can not only diagnose a deficit of trust, but also find ways to improve the issue throughout the team. Step by step. In doing this, you will create an enduring legacy which long outlasts the transient noise of daily operations.

    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

      Fantastic! Give us your details and we'll call you back

        Enquiry | Scaling Up Master Business Course