What most managers don’t know about trust

The issue of leadership and trust is broadly discussed and written about, which may be proof that there is a real problem. Apparently, there is a general awareness of the lack of trust between either MT and executives, Boards and management, or between team members. Despite this awareness we don’t seem to know how to approach this problem. Answers are often only well-formulated but no action is taken.

Solutions are sought in greater transparency, in walking the talk, but in practice it doesn’t lead us anywhere. It’s easier to return to the hassle and stress of every day life.

Moreover, you can see that companies think they can solve the problem by performing an employee satisfaction survey, which, to be frank, doesn’t do much to improve the situation.

In this blog, I would like to introduce the link between the brain and trust, and what you, as a manager, can do to increase trust.

Neurosciences and trust

Neuroscientific research shows that people function less well in an atmosphere of mistrust. That is why it is so important to embrace trust into your company.

What happens in the brain when your employees experience trust? Trust activates the reward centre in the brain. This reward centre is a part of your basal ganglia, located in your brain.

By activating this reward centre, hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin are released. High levels of dopamine make us feel good. Additionally, dopamine improves our concentration.

What happens in the brain in an atmosphere of mistrust? In particular the amygdala, the stress centre, is activated whereby stress hormones are released. Stress hormones reduce the productivity and creativity of employees and increase distraction.

The solution

Trust and an active reward centre are like the chicken and the egg. What came first? Trust provides an active reward centre and an active reward centre provides trust.

That’s why the solution is so simple. The first thing to do is to re-frame. Reward and trust are also embedded in the brain. Hence, managers should continuously wonder: how can I keep the reward centre of my employees activated?

This can, for that matter, be easily demonstrated and experienced. In an environment where the trust centre is activated, there is a constant flow, and, consequently, there is trust.

So, we know that when we wish to cultivate trust within a company, we must focus on, among others, activating the reward centre. How is this done?

  1. Friendly face. The best known way to promote trust through stimulation of the reward centre is to show a friendly face. Show someone a smile, make sure your facial expression is open. This may seem simple but the way you look at someone determines to a large extent whether or not the other person trusts you. You can see this in movies too. The bad guy and the good guy can often be recognized by their faces.
    There are many managers who literally don’t show their faces at all, they hide behind their tablets. A huge miss.
  2. Right culture. In a blame culture it’s hard to established trust-based management. The brain flips into survival and stress levels soar. The right culture for trust-based management is an open culture, where it’s okay to make a mistake, provided that you learn from it and discuss it.
  3. Value driven leadership.

Social values such as respect, the feeling of belonging, appreciation and collective responsibility activate the reward centre. When such values form the foundation of your leadership, you activate the reward centre of your staff. Values per se aren’t specifically leading. Consider which actions reflect the values you hold dear, and then execute them. Trust will follow all by itself.

(The opposite of value driven leadership is leading through control and fear. If your leadership is based on control and fear, you activate the stress centre instead of the reward centre. Then, trust is a scarce commodity.)


Leadership is co-defining for an atmosphere of trust within a company.
Present-day leadership styles often discount trust. Therefore, we need a different sort of leadership. When you approach trust through neurosciences, you make it possible.

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