• Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Leadership Trust and Goodwill: What No One Is Talking About

Leadership trust is to an organization like blood is to the human body. It is for the most part invisible, keeps us moving, and supports every aspect of life. But leadership trust is not something to ignore. Besides staffing shortages and rising operational costs, CEO trustworthiness is now at an all-time low. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, leaders face an epidemic of failing trust. Being trustworthy takes credibility that is not inherent to being a leader. Research demonstrates that goodwill is a vital element to credibility in workplace relationships.

Leadership Trust Defined

Being considered a trustworthy leader is something that is earned. Trust is the currency of successful business relationships. Without trust-based relationships, leaders and businesses can't succeed. Being trustworthy brings out the best in others and the workplace.

Trust is a reliance on character, capability, or truth. Trustworthy synonyms include reliable, dependable, honest, and ethical.

In the following video, Simon Sinek breaks down the impact of trust and being trustworthy as a leader.

Leadership Trust and Credibility

Trust-based leader-follower relationships are based on credibility, reliability, transparency (intimacy), and humility (self-orientation).

  1. Credibility has rational and emotional aspects related to an individual's content expertise and personal presence.

  2. Reliability is based on the frequency of interactions with someone and the consistency for them to behave as expected.

  3. Intimacy requires being personal and the willingness to have a courageous conversation.

  4. Self-orientation relates to the amount of focus placed on oneself versus the emphasis placed on the other person. A High degree of self-orientation creates significant distrust with others.

Take the Relationship Trust Quiz

Leaders that want to improve the quality of their relationships can measure their trustworthiness using the following free Relationship Trust Checker.

Scores of 10-30 indicate you have a high degree of relationship trust, 5-10 indicate you have a moderate degree of relationship trust, and scores of 1-5 indicate you have a low degree of relationship trust.

When you are a senior leader or own your own business, it is inevitable that at some point, you will experience a situation where you have responsibility for leading but don't have a deep understanding or technical expertise for the specific work. While these situations do negatively impact your source credibility, it doesn't necessarily mean you are not perceived as trustworthy.

According to research, power and influence increase with a leader's perceived ability to possess and display knowledge and skill. A leader's ability to influence is directly affected by follower perceptions. The more source credibility a leader possesses, the greater their influence and ability to lead.

How to Build Credibility as a Leader

Research into the concept of credibility reveals that the leader's knowledge, competence, and goodwill are the primary drivers of followers' perceptions. As a leader of leaders with broad downline responsibilities, business understanding and technical competence become more challenging to clearly define. Although, knowledge and expertise are essential factors of perceived credibility.

There are many ways to think about business knowledge and technical competence, and there is some overlap between them. For example, there is a knowledge of the business environment, knowledge of content such as details about company operations, and knowledge of a job or functional specific areas like accounting or finance.

Although leaders are not expected to be all-knowing and possess the competence to perform the tasks of every job in a company, a leader can enhance the perceptions of others through training, education, and experience. A critical blind spot for many executives is the importance of their knowledge and technical competence in the areas they lead.

What is Leadership Goodwill?

Goodwill is an underrated leadership behavior that no one is talking about outside of the research on credibility. Maybe it's too easy, or it's taken for granted. It's not because of a lack of supporting research findings.

Studies suggest that leadership goodwill may be the most crucial element of credibility, especially among leader-follower relationships with frequent interactions.

Leaders display and create goodwill by being:

  • friendly

  • helpful

  • cooperative

  • and taking an interest in followers' well-being.

Most simply stated, goodwill is being authentically nice and having their follower's best interest at heart. There are a couple of important nuances to clarify with the concept of being nice. First, building mutual goodwill is not trying to be popular but authentically caring for followers and the organization. Second, being nice means being willing to have a difficult conversation and exit a colleague from a job where they are underperforming.

"Your smile is a messenger of your goodwill." ~ Dale Carnegie

A leader can build their goodwill capacity by developing their emotional intelligence, helping followers, and spending time establishing high-quality relationships.

Goodwill Leadership Behaviors

Practicing goodwill in the workplace consists of three leader behaviors:

  1. Empathy is the ability to be aware of, feel and take on the emotions of what another person is experiencing.

  2. Compassion is an empathic understanding with a desire to help another person.

  3. Selfless Love - to desire and put into action the will for the good of another ahead of your interest.

Offering internal or external coaching programs are a great way to encourage employees to develop empathy, compassion, and selfless love. Also, integrating coaching programs into your organization can significantly increase employee retention rates.

How to Put Goodwill into Action at Work

Leaders can enhance goodwill with simple actions without having to expend much energy, such as:

  • Saying thank you

  • Sending a digital or handwritten thank-you note

  • Asking questions to get to know your followers

  • Using a reinforcement survey to learn what they find rewarding. A reinforcement survey is a series of questions to learn about activities and situations a follower finds reinforcing, such as hobbies and how employees spend their free time.

  • Recognizing special dates such as birthdays and work anniversaries

  • Scheduling one to one meetings and treat them to a drink of their choice

Key Summary Points

  • Being trustworthy takes credibility that is not intrinsic to being a leader. Being credible is something that followers rationally and emotionally perceive.

  • Trust-based leader-follower relationships are based on credibility, reliability, transparency, and humility.

  • Research into the concept of credibility reveals that the leader's knowledge, competence, and goodwill are the primary drivers of followers' perceptions.

  • Leadership goodwill may be the most crucial element of credibility, especially among leader-follower relationships that have frequent interactions.

  • Leaders display and create goodwill by being friendly, helpful, cooperative, and taking an interest in followers' well-being.

  • Leaders can enhance goodwill with simple actions without having to expend much energy.

Visit our executive coaching page to learn more about how we help you achieve your personal or professional goals or partner with you to craft a solution specific to your organization's context and challenges.

Getting started is as easy as visiting www.organizationaltalent.com or contacting us via email info@organizationaltalent.com.

Organizational Talent Consulting utilizes proven, simple, and transformational personal and organizational development solutions to help our clients learn, change, and apply tools in ways that benefit their unique needs and corporate culture.


Cameron, K. (2012). Positive leadership: Strategies for extraordinary performance. Berrett-

Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion: Psychological studies of opinion change. Yale University Press.Koehler Publishers, Incorporated.

Maister, D. H., Green, C. H., & Galford, R. M. (2000). The trusted advisor. Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2010. Leadership in organizations. (8th ed.) Pearson.

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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