Which is More Important? Trust? Or Content Excellence?

“The level of trust in business relationships… is a greater determinant of success than anything else, including content excellence.” – Charles H. Green

“85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.” – Carnegie Institute of Technology

What does this research mean for educators?

Research repeatedly demonstrates that although a school may pursue high levels of excellence in academics, athletics, or fine arts – the value of trust between those they work with and those they serve is of even greater importance than its programs’ quality. Despite decades of research that continually reminds us that the number one indicator of successful schools is the level of trust in leadership and teachers, how much time, resources, and energy do schools invest in developing, initiating, and maintaining trust in those relationships?

Schools expend countless hours and dollars supporting a wide variety of initiatives that are part and parcel of providing a quality educational program. Research has also revealed that if schools are not dedicating time and resources to professional development that supports increased trust levels, they are missing the key factor for establishing loyalty and commitment from their faculty and staff, their parents, their students, and the broader community.

For the small independent school leader, the above finding is very good news. Often in leading a smaller school, the leader lacks the resources to compete with other schools in everything from compensation levels to attract highly-trained faculty to provide the best educational resources for their sciences, arts, and technology programs. But that does not mean their schools cannot experience the same, if not greater, levels of success as other well-resourced schools. Why? Because trust possesses a greater value than “content excellence” every time!

When schools invest, develop, and engender a high level of trust in their leadership, faculty, and staff, they increase their value in their stakeholders’ eyes. Even if their extra-curricular programs and academic disciplines lack some areas, they will still see and experience a highly satisfied and supportive school community. It is also true that schools with high trust levels attract the highly-trained and qualified (without necessarily providing high levels of compensation). Schools with high levels of trust are often the recipients of generous donations by community businesses and others to provide the educational resources and technology which may be lacking through limited school budgets. 

Also, the vast majority of parents who enroll their children into faith-based schools do so for the values and the worldview and principles to which their children will be exposed. Thus, often parents will accept the reality of the school having a less-than-ideally equipped music or science program because they are placing their trust in the school to provide something to which they place a higher level of importance (i.e., their desire for their children’s educational environment to be distinguished by eternal values).

Holding a higher value on students’ moral and ethical development over academic development does not mean that faith-based school leaders should not be constantly and continually pursuing high levels of excellence within every discipline of the school. But the number one indicator of successful school programs, and the most effective school leaders, is not their level of content excellence – but rather their level of trust.

©Toby A. Travis, EdD All Rights Reserved.

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