Emotional Trust in Leadership


Emotional Trust in Leadership. “Leadership and coaching are emotional trust relationships” – Steve Nash (not the NBA player).

Our modern workplaces have a problem … well not just one. Low employee loyalty plagues our systems where people would rather leave and find a new job than confront what is wrong. Workers and team members are disillusioned with leaders and their lack of leadership skills. One the other side of that coin, leaders, supervisors, and managers are fixated on performance and output. But they are also disconnected from their employees and teams.

The solution is to establish an emotional trust relationship between leaders and team members.

Trust – Trust is one of the key fundamentals of leadership. Limits and boundaries of an individual’s leadership are defined by the extent of trust that they can develop with their team and team members. The value of the mission, the business proposition surrounding pay, the value of the “great cause” and even the influence of formal authority, will only go so far. Charles Feltman’s Thin Book of Trust outlined four elements or distinctions in trust: Competence, Sincerity, Reliability and Care.

Emotional – Leaders need to connect with people at an emotional level to establish, develop and sustain trust. A main function of all leaders is to inspire and direct. Establishing the vision, the mission and breaking down the tasks so that all can understand their place in the machine, enables the fire of inspiration that is “purpose.” This begins to fulfill Feltman’s distinction of competence within trust as this is what a competent leader would do. But we must add coaching to that mix. Leaders need to coach the development of the individual (and ergo the team) through the accomplishment of the tasks. Developing skills, enhancing knowledge, and even providing training and certifications that enable advancement within the performance of delineated tasks, is coaching. It demonstrates care as part of trust. Now, leaders have connected with the individual, and connected the individual with the mission on an emotional level. But remember, it is a relationship.

Relationship – All relationships take work!! Seeing our leading and coaching interactions as part of relationships allows us to elevate the conversations above the binary exchanges about performance and outputs. Putting in the time to develop these relationships directly translates into performance. Leaders need to communicate often, listen mostly, and all in an honest and frank two-way exchange. Leaders need to hear good and bad information. Above all they must set the conditions of safety and acceptance so that people will share the information they have. Leaders must value people who tell them what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear. Leaders who take responsibility for their role in that relationship, while holding themselves and the team accountable for mistakes, will demonstrate Feltman’s next two distinctions of sincerity and reliability and thereby continue to build trust.

So, how do we know we have established “emotional trust?”

  • Employees/team feels:
    • connected to the team, vision, mission, and goals (and by extension is invested in their own tasks),
    • personally connected to the leader,
    • that the leader is invested in individual employee goals, and development, and
    • that leaders have the skills to execute, and the leadership skills to follow through on the vision and mission.
  • Leaders feel:
    • Connected to the people/team,
    • Trusted by the team to direct and lead them,
    • Invested in individual and team development, and
    • Invested in team success.

I think the world needs better leaders and coaches. Establishing emotional trust as part of leadership of a team is a key skill to being a better leader and coach!

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Scott Clancy
Major General (ret) Clancy served in multiple squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the Canadian Armed Forces as a tactical helicopter pilot. As a Director General on the RCAF staff his responsibilities included all personnel, operations, logistics, infrastructure and strategic planning for the entire RCAF. His last years of service saw him as the Deputy Commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region and finally Director of Operations for all NORAD in Colorado Springs. His 37 years of military experience leading and mentoring multi-faceted teams in the US and Canada have resulted in a book entitled Developing Coaching Leaders. Since retirement from the RCAF, Scott served as a senior mentor on courses delivered to senior officers of the RCAF and is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He has been featured on CNN Morning, AC 360, CBC News and CTV News.