Trust: not just a multi-academy thing

“What is trust? Is it a belief, an expectation, an attitude or an emotion?” (Simon, 2013)

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a degree-level academic piece; that’s the last thing anyone needs after a long day at work.  However, I feel that Joanna Simon’s words open up an interesting train of thought: what DOES trust mean to each of us? 

For many of us in school administration, whatever our level, there’ll be things we have in common.  We’re on the receiving end of trust in numerous ways: that we’ll enable our colleagues and suppliers to be paid on time, that we’ll do our best to ensure processes are in place to protect the safety of those that use our buildings, that we won’t treat trips’ money as our personal holiday fund, and so on.  In turn, we trust others: that contractors will provide the service requested, that our colleagues will complete a piece of work by the deadline agreed, that Mr X will come back with the cash for the three school sweatshirts we let him take.

But these examples are only one type of trust, transactional trust.  Patrick Lencioni, author of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of Team’ and a leading champion of organisational health, talks about another type of trust - vulnerability-based trust – and this can sometimes be hard to find in a school setting, where there are usually a number of strong personalities!  Vulnerability-based trust requires each of us to reflect on our own behaviours and working practices, and to have the courage to admit that we don’t know something, or that we made a mistake. This self-honesty facilitates, in turn, others being more open with us in a constructive and supportive way. 

Simon Sinek, another motivational speaker and organisational consultant, talks about the importance of good leaders making you feel ‘safe’ - the ability to learn through failure without fear of being punished - and this ties in with Lencioni: trust and safety go hand in hand.  Maybe, when we have a quiet moment, we need to take a step back and reflect on the type of leader that each of us is or aspires to be.  Hopefully our style of leadership includes engendering a feeling of mutual trust, the safety for colleagues and team members to express opinions and ideas in the knowledge that they’ll be properly listened to, and the humility to admit that sometimes – just occasionally! – we’re the one who needs to change.

This type of trust with our colleagues might be painful to begin with but can surely only build stronger teams and relationships for the future, with a firm foundation of trust, accountability and vulnerability; this leads to a more harmonious workforce, greater employee engagement which results, ultimately, to the best possible environment for the young people in our care to learn and develop. 

Now, where’s that 360° feedback template and the flak jacket . . .


Patrick Lencioni Absence of trust

Simon Sinek Why good leaders make you feel safe

Simon, J. (2013). Trust. In: Pritchard, D. (Ed.): Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press. Available online at:


Written by Rose-Marie Smith - @RoSmith67

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