Trust as Vulnerability
Is Trust an Essential Leadership Behavior?

Trust and Organizational Structure

Sweeny, et al, in Trust and Influence in Combat, point to the impact of organizational structure on an Army leader’s effort to instill trust in those he or she leads. The factors in such an organizational structure could be regulations, cultural norms, and standard operating procedures. They say adding the factor of organizational structure broadens the scope of any model of trust due to its impact on “influencing leaders to behave in a trustworthy manner” (p. 240). In the Army there is an explicit norm that expects leaders to “promote and protect the welfare of their soldiers”. During my years as an aircraft commander in the Air National Guard I experienced that sense of obligation and it is easy to see how this will play out in environments where leadership has a life or death potential. But what about the more mundane world many of us work in?

This notion of organizational structure is also alluded to in Lencioni’s work (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) as the development of group norms. And there are a multitude of studies in social psychology focusing on group norms. As an example - “Group Norms and the Attitude-Behavior Relationship”. I must admit that organizational structure had not been on my list of factors influencing the development of trust on a team although during our many years of working with teams using our Team Checkup we always began with the creation of behavioral ground rules or agreements for acceptable team behavior. And these, of course, are team norms that are part of “organizational structure”. But they are not as structured as that referenced in Sweeny’s article. The military makes it imperative that leaders are trustworthy. I now wonder if other organizations do this.


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