It may not come as much of a surprise to hear of a connection between leadership and trust. The need to trust leaders features in many a staff room conversation and is perhaps seen as a self-evident truism which is desirable but rather ill-defined. Much research in the UK and elsewhere has revealed trust to be a fundamental issue, not just a vague commodity. It has been found to have tangible effects in terms of leadership, school improvement and even student outcomes.
The building of trust in relation to school leadership has both a personal and organisational dimension. A range of studies have shown that it is clearly associated with the particular personal characteristics of school leaders and their interpersonal expertise in fostering positive relationships. Trust also features as a vital ingredient in establishing positive school ethos and it makes an integral contribution to school performance. In her extensive research into trust in the United States, Seashore-Louis (2007) demonstrated a reciprocal relationship between trust and performance, concluding that ‘trust in leaders both determines performance and is a product of organisational performance’ (page 4). Such organisational trust plays out in a delicate combination of leaders meeting both individual and group needs:
Trust requires a balance of individual and collective needs . . . a sensitive balance between the freedom of expressions of individual . . . and the claims of the collective.
Seldon, 2009; pages 26–27)
Day (2013) has shown that there is a similar fundamental and reciprocal relationship between trust and conditions required for promoting distributed leadership. Trust also forms one of 10 ‘strong claims about successful leadership’ which emerged from a three-year investigation (Day et al, 2009). This showed how trust was clearly associated with a positive school ethos, improved conditions for learning and teaching, an enhanced sense of teacher autonomy in the classroom and sustained improvement in learner behaviour, engagement and outcomes. Indeed, in terms of learner outcomes ‘trust remains a powerful and strong predictor of student outcomes’ and so ‘school leaders need to pay careful attention to the trust they engender in teachers, students, and parents if they wish to improve organisational performance still further’ Letihwood, Harris, and Strauss, 2010; pages 244–245).