How Do I Build Trust? Be Clear!

It may be thought, and generally perceived by many, that trust is a “soft skill.” David Horsager, in his best-seller, The Trust Edge, reveals that this is far from the truth. He states that “… trust is not a soft skill. It is a measurable competency that brings dramatic results. It can be built into an organization’s strategy, goals, and culture.” He goes on to illustrate that, “Trust is tangible, learnable, and measurable. Trust is not simply a dish in your leadership buffet. It is the table holding up the smorgasbord of talent demonstrated by your team every day.”

Trust is a critical skill for a successful business leader or school administrator, yet, for many, the intentional development, maintenance, and protection of a leader’s trust level may remain elusive and intangible. 

People trust the clear and distrust the ambiguous. When academic and achievement goals are clear and understandable, only then are they potentially attainable. When campus or program development visions of the future are specific and well-formed, only then will others be able to embrace and rally alongside the journey to that future. One study of public organizations found that, “…organizational goal clarity, public service motivation, and work impact can increase an organization’s mission valence. Also, the findings validate the importance of mission valence by illustrating its effect on two important human resource outcomes, job satisfaction, and absenteeism.”

For independent schools, if our mission and goal statements include our ethos and core values, clarity in purpose and direction has a direct impact not only on our faculty and staff but also on our students. Does ethical content within a school’s mission statement have a direct impact upon the school community? Yes!

One study endeavored to determine if universities explicitly state their moral values within their mission statements produced students with higher perceived character traits and behaviors. With a sample group of business students from sixteen universities, the study revealed that students graduating universities with ethical statements in their mission statements possessed significantly greater perceived character traits and demonstrated a higher level of moral behaviors than those graduating schools whose mission statements lacked articulated values. This research suggests that schools that explicitly stated ethical content in their mission statements influence student ethical orientation. 

Clarity matters! Words matter! When those words are clear, they have a measurable impact on students and the success of our school’s organizational goals.

To what extent is your school intentionally investing resources, time, and professional development into expanding its level of trust? And especially trust in the school’s leadership? 

Research has shown that the schools (and school leaders) who focus on strategically building their level of trust with the community, with their students, and with their faculty and staff, reap tremendous benefits – including higher levels of teacher and student engagement, greater teacher retention, stronger financial bottom-lines, and measurable mission and vision fulfillment.

©Toby A. Travis, EdD All Rights Reserved.

Recommended Reading:

  • Horsager, David (2012). The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line.
  • Wright, B. E., and Pandey, S. K. (2011). Public Organizations and Mission Valence: When Does Mission Matter? Administration & Society 43, 22-44.
  • Davis, J. H., Ruhe, J. A., Lee, M., and Rajadhyaksha, U. (2007). Mission possible: Do school mission statements work? Journal of Business Ethics 70, 99-110.


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