How Leaders Can Foster Trusting Workplace Relationships

boss training employee
Topic(s): leadership, trust
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2008)

Article: Antecedents of coworker trust: Leaders’ blessings.
Authors: D.C. Lau, R.C. Liden

Reviewed by: James Grand

In the workplace, the competitive nature of limited resources, promotions, and firings can easily promote a sense of distrust. However, as work has become increasingly complex and tasks increasingly more difficult to manage, the faith we place in our coworkers to help us succeed at our jobs has likewise become paramount. So how do we balance these two competing forces?


New research (Lau & Liden, 2008) sheds some light on the issue. The authors found that leaders were key linchpins in the development of trusting relationships among coworkers. Importantly, coworkers tended to place more trust in fellow employees who were more trusted by their leaders than those employees whom the leader did not trust as much. Furthermore, the relationship between leaders’ trust in their subordinates and coworkers’ trust in each other was greater when the work unit’s performance was weak, indicating that trust becomes even more salient and important during the “tough times.”


For organizations, these findings suggest three important implications. First, leaders have a strong impact on the attitudes and beliefs of their followers. These important individuals must be cognizant of the message they are sending to their workplace and behave as though “someone’s always watching.”

Second, during times when performance is low, it behooves leaders to establish clear norms for trusting capable team members. Lastly, the authors found that helping behavior was positively related to coworker trust, suggesting that coworkers who offered a helping hand to others were generally perceived as more trustworthy by their peers. To help develop norms of coworker trust, leaders can therefore encourage helping behavior through informal or formal incentives.

Lau, D. C., Liden, R. C. (2008). Antecedents of coworker trust: Leaders’ blessings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(5), 1130-1138.