The Link Between Trust and Achievement Levels

People trust leaders who are skilled in their area of work, and they trust organizations, schools, companies, and products that deliver results. What is fascinating about the research in the area of trust levels and the impact it has upon individual performance is that if an individual is working for someone they highly trust, then their level of performance and contribution increases! Also, the research shows that even when individuals utilize materials and tools associated with a trusted leader, company, school, or brand, their performance level improves when they use those materials or tools.

For example, some surprising and rather amazing research demonstrates benefits to students’ performance when they have a high level of trust in a school’s brand – and the utilization of a trusted product brand. Four separate research studies have concluded that when an individual struggles with a challenging task or event and utilizes tools associated with a trusted brand, it helps their performance. The studies also show that utilizing a trusted brand enhances self-efficacy feelings, which can also result in a higher level of achievement. One study revealed that “Students scored higher on difficult Graduate Records Examination questions when they took the test using a Massachusetts Institute of Technology pen and showed better athletic performance when they drank water from a Gatorade cup during strenuous athletic exercise.”

That’s amazing! They weren’t even drinking Gatorade – just water from a Gatorade branded cup! You see, not only does a high level of trust in the competent brand bring loyalty and commitment to the brand, but it also results in a higher level of performance. This research is similar to other studies which reveal that when an educational leader or a school is known for a high level of competency, not only does that high level of competency endear trust in the leader or the school, but it also results in the individual who is placing that trust in the leader or school to perform better themselves.

Hundreds of studies have come to similar conclusions over the past decades of research – all identifying trust as the essential element for school improvement and higher levels of student achievement, as well as the key indicator of the most successful leaders of all time. Yet, very few schools, companies, organizations, or their leaders, invest in the critical work of developing and intentionally increasing their level of trust. The level of trust in a leader and the level of trust in a school can be quantified, assessed, and measured – and then, through the use of intentional and deliberate strategies and methods, the level of trust can be improved. But it takes an intentional commitment of professional development time, focus, and energy for that to happen.

Research has also shown that a lack of trust is the biggest expense for schools, companies, and organizations (and their leaders). When trust is lacking between administrators and teachers, faculty and staff retention rates go down, school improvement initiatives do not move forward, and workplace morale is low. When trust is lacking between teachers/administrators and parents/students, engagement in learning is minimized, and student achievement is negatively impacted.

However, when trust levels are high – schools, companies, and organizations excel in every area! For example, when schools and school leaders are highly trusted:

  • Teacher retention rates go up.
  • Higher quality faculty and staff are attracted to the school.
  • School programs are financially efficient.
  • Parent satisfaction is high, and most importantly…
  • Student achievement levels out-perform those schools with low trust levels in every discipline (i.e., academics, athletics, and extracurricular). Every time!

School leaders should not underestimate the impact and importance of maintaining high trust levels in their leadership and the schools they lead. Assess it. Develop it. Restore it if necessary. Then maintain it and watch the impact it will have upon all school stakeholders.

©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved.

Recommended Reading: 

Park, Ji Kyung, and John, Deborah Roedder. (2014). I Think I Can, I Think I Can: Brand Use, Self-Efficacy, and Performance. Journal of Marketing Research 2014 51:2, 233-247.

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