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Memo to managers: Employees shine when they feel trusted

By Holly Brower ('83) Associate Professor of Business

In a recent study published in the Journal of Management, we confirmed what several previous studies have shown — that it is important for managers to earn the trust of subordinates. More importantly, the research extended our understanding of trust at work by showing that employees shine when they feel trusted. (Read more from Holly Brower in Yahoo! News.)

We found that trust from both sides of the relationship is vital for managers who desire employees to perform well and extend pro-organizational behaviors beyond just doing their jobs. In fact, employees in trusting relationships are more likely to choose to stay with their organizations. That is, managers need to:

Be Trustworthy Be Trusting
Tell the truth Delegate
Follow through on promises Share decision making
Be committed to the best interests of subordinates,
even over self-interests
Refrain from micromanaging
Go to bat for subordinates; break through barriers to their progress Ask for feedback and suggestions — and use them!
Demonstrate ability and knowledge of the business Exchange information, even sensitive information

Caveat: This is not to say that managers should extend trust before employees are ready or before managers have had the opportunity to assess employee trustworthiness (not only ability but integrity and benevolence). But, when appropriate, the more a leader demonstrates that she/he trusts a follower, the more likely that subordinate will behave in a way to earn that trust.

In the meantime, leaders always should behave in trustworthy ways, because when they earn the trust of subordinates, they experience followers who perform well and even go above and beyond the call of duty — and those followers prefer to stay with the leader. After all, it is far more difficult to repair broken trust than to earn it and keep it in the first place.

Holly Brower is director of internship development for the Business and Enterprise Management Program at the Schools of Business. She is co-author of “A Closer Look at Trust Between Managers and Subordinates: Understanding the Effects of Both Trusting and Being Trusted on Subordinate Outcomes.” (The Journal of Management, March 2009).

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