Office of Culture and Experience

Trust: The Cornerstone

September 26, 2016 • OPD, Values

A cornerstone is usually the first stone laid in the construction of a building. It is essential and indispensable since it unites the walls of a building at an intersection. Leadership is based on relationships, and an essential building block in any relationship is the cornerstone-trust. Trust is the bond that holds an organization together. Leaders are responsible for building trust block by block, laying the foundation and establishing trust at all levels of the organization.

Through my experiences, I have learned that to engender trust in an organization requires establishing a culture of leadership and developing leaders with character. Developing trust in an organization is largely based on how leaders make decisions and influence others to accomplish the organizations’ mission (leadership), and who they are as individuals (character).  It falls on those in leadership roles and their daily interactions with members of the organization to establish trust. Trust must flow throughout the organizational structure and the informal networks of the organization.  To build trust, trust must be extended by both leaders and employees alike. Workers are more willing to exercise initiative when they believe their leaders trust them. They will also be more willing to exercise initiative if they believe their superiors will accept and support the outcome of their decisions. Organizational members’ trust in their leaders is critical for effective team performance. Leaders must engage in behaviors that maintain team member’s confidence in them [1].



To correctly model behaviors that engender trust, leaders have to be developed to do so through the development of a leader’s character. Organizational programs can support leader character development, and the organizational culture can reinforce the behaviors expected of leaders.[2]  Character shapes how leaders make decisions, and how they engage with their peers, superiors, and direct reports[4]. Leaders with character stimulate trust in those they collaborate with and lead. They accelerate the speed of trust. Stephen Covey writes “Trust is a function of two things: Character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.” [5]  This view on trust is supported by the character-based perspective that focuses on the follower’s perception of the leader’s character in a hierarchical relationship. Character dimensions such as integrity, humility, humanity, and judgment have effects on the behaviors of followers. In this context, trust, or lack of it, is a positive or negative influence and can affect outcomes [6].

In my observations, just because a leader goes through a development program does not mean they have become a leader of character. The character of individuals and leaders is developed and reinforced through the formal and informal interactions between leaders at all levels of an organization. Introducing coaching is a way to enhance leader character development and can develop trust between the leader as coach and the coachee.  Leader coaches are committed to the organization, and when used as part of a development program, coaching can help individuals make sense of and learn from their experiences to improve both their individual and the collective performance of their department. Coaching can support the development of leaders by enhancing the learning process so that leaders can positively influence others to achieve shared goals.  This is a generational approach to leader development-developing current leaders with generations of future leaders in mind. For organizations to be successful, to thrive and not just survive, the importance of trust must be reflected and embedded in organizational systems and processes. This includes, but is not limited to, performance management and professional development programs. Values have no meaning unless they are reflected in the behavior of all members of the organization.  My commitment to UNTHSC is to build experiences that support the growth and development of leaders all levels of our organization.

-Jonathan Silk



[1] De Jong, B. A., Dirks, K. T., & Gillespie, N. (2016). Trust and team performance: A meta-analysis of main effects, moderators, and covariates. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(8), 1134-1150. doi:10.1037/apl0000110; 10.1037/apl0000110.supp (Supplemental)

[2] Schein, E. (2010).  Organizational culture and leadership  (4th ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

[3] O’Hara, C.Proven ways to earn your employees’ trust. Havard Business Review, (June 2014), 02 September 2016.

[4] Seijts, G., Gandz, J., Crossan, M., & Reno, M. (2015). Character matters: Character dimensions’ impact on leader performance and outcomes. Organizational Dynamics, 44(1), 65.

[5] Covey, S., M.R. (2008). The speed of trust (Free Press Trade paperback ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

[6] Dirks, K. T., & Ferrin, D. L. (2002). Trust in leadership: Meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 611-628. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.87.4.611