Research

Look beyond the bottom line for trustworthy leaders

Integrity and benevolence are the hallmarks of trusted leaders, and recruiters overlook these qualities at their peril, shows new research from our School of Management.

The three year study of some of the UK’s biggest corporations and organisations, carried out in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), found that trusted leaders show high levels of integrity and a strong sense of concern towards employees and customers.

The research suggests that the recruitment selection and development programmes used by Human Resources departments are as culpable in the corporate trust crisis as individual leaders, by neglecting ‘whole person’ qualities in favour of results driven competence and abilities.

Professor Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of our School of Management, studied 22 significant public and private sector organisations, including the John Lewis Partnership, Unilever, BAE, the BBC and the NHS: all organisations that benefit from exemplary trustworthy leadership.

Professor Hope Hailey said: “The need to rebuild trust as a result of the financial crisis has pressured leaders to overcome widespread doubt and uncertainty felt by people both within and outside these organisations.

“Our research shows that throughout the aftermath of the crisis, through waves of downsizing and restructuring, salary cuts and divestments, there were individual leaders and organisations who kept and cultivated the trust of their customers and employees despite all those around them losing ground.

“Organisations like the John Lewis Partnership, Unilever, BAE, BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, GKN and some senior civil servants and leaders in the NHS demonstrated this ability. Their high levels of integrity delivered tangible business benefits to their organisations but their motivations for the display of that integrity lay beyond the bottom line.”

The research showed that these highly trusted leaders were seen to be ‘intensely human’, showing and sharing their own weakness and vulnerability. This, and a commitment to face to face communication, made others trust them more.

Two-way trust was also identified as a crucial: if leaders minimise monitoring and micromanaging of employees they generate high levels of trust in their leadership.

The research, jointly funded by the CIPD and the University of Bath Higher Education Impact Fund, has produced three reports, the last of which, Experiencing Trustworthy Leaders, will be presented to employers, HR professionals, policy makers and researchers at a conference on Thursday 11 September at the University.

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