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Being a great leader takes many qualities, but high on that list is trust

The Most Trusted Leader award is sponsored by TU Dublin Graduate Business School. Its head Colin Hughes explains its importance

Colin Hughes: “Where trust exists, people don’t spend time second guessing each other’s abilities or motives – they spend their time focused on achieving the vision.”

Colin Hughes: “Where trust exists, people don’t spend time second guessing each other’s abilities or motives – they spend their time focused on achieving the vision.”


TU Dublin Graduate Business School is a key sponsor of the Great Place to Work awards and this year, it will sponsor the Most Trusted Leader award, the winner of which will join a distinguished list of past winners.

Colin Hughes, head of the Graduate Business School, TU Dublin, City Campus, tells us why this is a very important award to win.

“The best organisations are characterised by high performance and high levels of trust – the two go hand in hand. The TU Dublin Graduate Business School believes in acknowledging leaders who can balance both, while also recognising and celebrating the work of employees. Our mission is about advancing managing practice and we see this award as an exemplar in showcasing the best leaders in Ireland,” he says.

This year’s winner joins a cadre of eight leaders from Irish and international organisations, which are role models for many and whose own careers have blossomed while they have continued to develop the next generation of leaders. Hughes explains why trust is one thread linking all of them.

“Trust is often referred to as a lubricant, something which enables speed, collaboration and information-sharing. Where trust exists, people don’t spend time second guessing each other’s abilities or motives – they spend their time focused on achieving the vision. Conversely, low trust or distrust can be extremely damaging to organisational performance. One only has to look at the difficulties associated with managing change in the absence of trust, where employees constantly second guess actions and underlying motives and are unwilling to commit fully to the change process,” he says.

On that note, Brexit is a fine example of how not to lead. How central has trust been to this situation?

“Brexit provides an interesting case study for both leadership and trust. While there were many factors at play prior to the referendum, one view shared by many was that only the UK could be trusted to have the UK’s best interests at heart – a matter of care and concern towards the country and its citizens. This led to concerns about equity and control and, for some, a breakdown of trust in the EU – where trust exists people don’t tend to worry too much about controls. Throughout the Brexit process, issues of ability and integrity surfaced – with questions from citizens, businesses and politicians about the ability of UK political leaders to deliver a successful Brexit and concerns about the integrity of the political leaders on all sides, including the tactics and promises featured during the pre-referendum campaign. As such, trust, be it in the EU or politicians, is at the heart of Brexit and there are many parallels in business.

‘Setting a clear vision’

“Leadership is essentially about setting a clear vision and then influencing people to work towards its achievement. However, employees will only follow a leader when they trust in their ability to develop and execute an appropriate vision, and when they believe that they will do this with integrity and have their employees’ best interests at heart,” he says.

Hughes explains that there is no “cookie-cutter” approach to leadership – the best leaders take inspiration from other leaders in all walks of life.

“Leadership is a personal mosaic of sorts and everyone’s individual tiles will be different. That said, there are certain actions and behaviours which are consistently linked to trust. For example, high-trust leaders tend to foster open and honest communication with employees, they are consistent in their behaviours – in other words, their actions match their words – and they focus on developing employees, showing concern for their future success,” he says.

At TU Dublin, the focus is on applied, practice-based learning. “We prepare graduates for the workplace by equipping them with the skills required at present and also imbuing in them a curiosity and ability to take responsibility for their own development as the demands of the workplace change