Fredmund Malik, Austrian economist with focus on management science, says: “If a manager managed to win and preserve the trust of his employees and colleagues, then the corporate culture is fundamentally good. On the other hand, if there is no trust base, then all our efforts are worthless.” Malik claims nothing less than that we can only talk about the good culture of an organization if the leader has managed to establish and maintain a trust based culture.
There are three basic types of trust: personal-, expert-, and structural trust. Personal trust is based on a person’s integrity. This is a basic trust in the broadest sense, where we rely on when we share confidential information or when we share ideas that are private. We put our trust in a person and don’t expect him to let us down. In organizations, personal trust is formed through shared experiences and the knowledge of each other’s personalities and characters. If we are new in an organization, we quickly would like to find out who we can trust and count on.
We often fall into the trap of sticking to relationships based on personal trust even when we need deep, specific knowledge. In such cases, we need another type of trust. Expert trust is relying on a person’s skills, abilities, and/or experience of a specific topic. In many cases in everyday life, we rely on expert trust. For example, when we board a plane or undergo a surgery. In organizations, leaders build expert trust through close cooperation where we check the level and proficiency of a skill. If we don’t have personal experience with people with the right skills, we rely on their reputation. It is important to emphasize that, in contrast to personal trust, expert trust is limited to a specific area of content.
Less well-known is the concept of structural trust, or even if we understand its meaning, its significance may not be clear to us. We can hear of the loss of trust between people who used to have a high degree of personal and expert trust in each other. Often this is the result of ambition or longings where the other becomes a competitor, instead of a partner. For example, they both have become candidates for the same high position, or only one of them can receive money for his dream project. To withstand the feeling of envy or competition, we have to trust someone bigger than ourselves or the situation.
A good example is Abraham (Genesis 13:2-18). When Abraham and Lot, who had been on a long journey together and trusted each other, had to face the situation that the water and land became scarce. Their shepherds started to fight with each other. But Abraham did not start to fight with Lot to take his part of the pie. Instead of fighting he offered Lot to choose the part of the land he liked the most. Abraham could only do this because he trusted God as the source and giver of his blessings, and of everything.
When pressure comes, we can only give trust if we ourselves can trust in a higher authority. The key question for us as leaders is: ‘do we trust God in every matter and do we dare to entrust ourselves to God for our well-being, life and business?’ The ground-word of faith is trust and not doctrine or truth. Faith in a good God, is the key for a long lasting and proven trust that creates a good culture.
Dr. János Tomka – Electrical engineer and engineering teacher, PhD degree in management and organizational sciences, habilitated doctor of theology. From 1993 to 2014 he worked at KPMG in senior management positions. He is a college professor at the Pentecostal Theological College, head of the Department of Management Studies; executive mentor and moderator of workshops. He is a member of the Knowledge Management Working Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Hungarian Academy of Engineering and the National Association of Managers. He is a member of the Association of Christian Leaders and Businessmen (KEVE) and president from 1994 to 2004. He has given numerous lectures, written articles and books on the relationship between the Bible and leadership, among others. Elder of the Reformed Church of Pesthidegkút. He is married to an architect and has three adult children and three grandchildren.
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