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Is This What Employees Want Most From Managers?

Why trust makes such a difference.

Key points

  • An untrustworthy manager can make a good job an unhappy experience.
  • One study found that managerial trustworthiness can be more important to employees than competence.
  • Not only is employees' lack of trust in management demoralizing, but it is common.

As I neared the end of a long corporate management career, I had an insight. Having worked for many different types of people over the years, I determined that I would much rather work for someone who was tough, demanding, and even difficult but fundamentally trustworthy than for someone who was "nice" and not as demanding... but couldn't be fully trusted.

Asif Taimuri/StockSnapio
Trustworthy managers lead to productive employees.
Source: Asif Taimuri/StockSnapio

This became a firmly held opinion that I have to this day. It was on my mind recently when I read a Fast Company article by Microsoft's head of human resources, Kathleen Hogan, titled, "The One Thing Employees Want Most From Their Managers in a Hybrid Office." Her conclusion? "The micromanager is obsolete and the modern manager runs on trust."

I'd take this observation a step further. It's not just in hybrid offices. Hybrid, traditional, or fully remote... my own perspective is that trust is king (and queen too for that matter).

Is trust more important than competence?

Over the decades, I've reviewed more than a few studies examining the attributes that comprise managerial effectiveness, and one thing I can say with confidence is that "trust" is nearly always at or close to the top of the list.

One notable study from a Polish organization indicated that trust was far more important than management competence. Think about it: Respondents were essentially saying that it's less important that a person knows how to do his or her job well than it is that he or she can be relied on when the chips are down to do the right thing... and not abuse managerial power like a snake in the grass.

Admittedly, that's a pretty low bar. But if you don't trust your manager, that's simply not a comfortable place to be spending long hours of your working life. The best managers invariably want to develop their employees and see them grow and succeed. Employees don't want to be constantly looking over their shoulders concerned that a manager may somehow obstruct or derail their career. I've spoken to many employees about this issue over the years, and the sad reality is that lack of trust in management is as demoralizing as it is common. In a bad situation, distrust can infuse all aspects of one's working life. Just as a great manager can make a bad job tolerable, an untrustworthy one can make a good job an unhappy experience.

All of which is kind of a long way of saying to Microsoft's Ms. Hogan: Yep, I 100% agree with you. The modern manager does indeed run on trust.


Hogan, Kathleen (2021). "The one thing employees want most from their managers in a hybrid office." Fast Company.…

Krot, Katarzyna & Lewicka, Dagmara (2012). The Importance of Trust in Manager-Employee Relationships. International Journal of Electronic Business Management.…