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Leading For Trust

A short article by Jocelyn Phelps, Programme Director, Leadership and Organisation Development at Société Générale.

Leaders have so much on their plates: digital transformation, pivoting cultures, crisis management. Why talk about leadership and trust? Yet strengthening trust is one of their most frequently expressed goals.

Cultures of trust bring obvious benefits: a healthier environment, better performance, innovation, information sharing, and more.

Yet so much gets in the way of their trust-building projects: natural wariness; organisational silos; and competition, which when badly managed, undermines trust. Finally, there is the leader’s role in enabling mistrust while calling for the opposite.

I suggest that trust is not so much a muscle to be developed as it is a connective tissue: if it becomes stiff, then the entire organism suffers when its parts try to function together. How can we gain more suppleness? Rules like giving feedback and sharing information are a good place to start. Next, look at the organisation’s processes. How much “fair process” is embedded in them? Fair process means that the steps, components, people involved, and roles are all clear from the outset and are respected throughout the process. Then, even if the outcome is not what one party wanted, it is perceived as fair, and it and the deciders involved are seen as trustworthy. Trust is a product of a predictable process.

By developing shared expectations of how a process works –budgeting, pivoting a project, or even firing – leaders promote a sense of fairness. Having integrated fairness into the processes – the connective tissue of the organisation – leaders will find that practices like feedback (or feedforward, using past data to focus on the future we want) are more effective.

A culture of trust is not an end state. Trust is simple; building and maintaining a culture of trust is a long, thoughtful process.

Jocelyn will be also speaking about Leadership and Talent Management in a Post-Pandemic World at our upcoming 8th Annual Strategic HR Summit: Leadership Development, Talent Management & Recruitment, on 19th-20th May 2021 in Berlin.


Jocelyn PHELPS, Programme Director, Leadership and Organisation Development at Société Générale is a specialist in HR and organisational development. As a coach she helps individuals, teams, and groups reveal their greatest potential to reach their objectives, linking development and transformation interventions to core business activities. She has worked in these areas at Hay Group (now Korn Ferry) and Société Générale. Prior to those experiences she helped develop new markets for the INSEAD MBA programme and ran her own technical translation business. Jocelyn attended Princeton University (A.B.) and INSEAD (MBA). She is an American living in Paris and working with individuals and teams across all geographies.

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