Georgetown McDonough recently spoke with Assistant Professor of Management Chris Long about how managers can earn trust among their employees and who he thinks are great leaders.
What prompted you to conduct research on what managers can do to earn trust?
Trust is a central component of positive relationships. Several years ago, I decided to focus on examining how and why managers and leaders build trust because there was (and still is) comparatively little work in this area. We already know a lot about the components of trust and why it is important. However, because researchers have not focused on what leads managers to build trust, we know relatively much less about why managers are motivated to engage in trust-building activities. These things are important to understand because we want to be able to create situations where leaders are willing and able to readily build trusting relationships with their employees.
What did you discover about how managers develop relationships with employees?
First of all, trust is very important to managers and they spend a lot of time working to gain and maintain the trust of their subordinates. Second, that managers often work systematically to build the types of trust they need to foster positive working relationships with their employees.
What are the three forms of trust and how do they relate to certain professions?
Research has repeatedly demonstrated how managers build trust when they act reliably (with integrity), competently (as a leader), and benevolently (with concern and consideration) towards their employees
Regarding how managers work to promote trust, the relationships that I and my co-authors have identified are quite logical when you think about it. Managers who are focused on motivating their subordinates to achieve specific outcomes will focus their trust-building efforts to demonstrating their integrity and reliability to assure their employees that they will receive the rewards they expect and desire when their work is completed. Alternatively, managers who require their subordinates to execute rules and standard operating procedures tend to promote trust by demonstrating their competence. They do this because they are asking their employees to perform their tasks in a certain way and want to increase their subordinates’ confidence that they know what they are talking about. Lastly, managers who require their subordinates to adopt and identify with strong sets of values build trust by demonstrating personal care and concern for their employees. Because they are asking their employees to identify with them or the organizations they represent, they want increase their employees’ confidence that their personal needs and interests will be promoted and protected under their leadership.
How will your research impact the business community?
This research provides insights into how managers can foster more positive working relationships with their employees. In addition, managers who engage in the combinations of activities described in the research not only will be able to more effectively achieve their objectives, but do so in ways that use fewer resources and are, frankly, more enjoyable.
Who do you admire most as a leader?
If I had to pick, I would pick three (not in any particular order). First, Nelson Mandela. That man was simply a gift from God. Through his words and deeds, he taught us all how to summon the “best angels of our nature,” to forgive, work together, and move forward from dark spaces of conflict and disagreement in which we often find ourselves. Second, John Kennedy for the way he was able to motivate and inspire others to do things that they previously thought were impossible. Third, Jack Welch and how he transformed GE through his sheer organizing genius.
While it is important to identify “the greats,” even more important to me is developing an ability to recognize great leaders and leadership in the spaces that surround me every day. Because of this, I am looking for “leadership moments” all the time. I see these moments being generated by my colleagues, my students, by my wife and children. There are things that they are doing to inspire and motivate others every day. When I see those things happening, I try to acknowledge and celebrate them.
For example, my children are going to a new school next year and their principal is an unbelievable leader. There are lots of things about stewardship that this guy could teach many top CEOs. He has created a culture for his staff and students that is generating extraordinary experiences for them every day. He is amazingly inspiring.