A leadership approach to build employee trust in 2024

How leaders can foster trust and transform employee experiences by changing their own leadership approach

According to Gartner, in 2016, 74% of employees were willing to change their behaviour to support organizational transformation. By 2023, that number dropped to 43%. Meanwhile, only 53% trusted their organizations (balanced by the fact that only 63% of organizations trust their people).

When trust is low, it’s a natural response to look to leadership, and leaders have a lot on their plates. In any given year, its up to leadership to role-model behaviour, support their teams and meet the targets their organizations have set.

And 2024 adds a new task to the mix: Earn back the trust of those they seek to lead... 


Exploring the shift in employee confidence in recent years

There are a few things going on that must be examined to better understand why employees feel as they do. On an anecdotal basis (but keep mind that we work with the biggest companies in world so we’ve got a good perspective on what’s happening), the most impactful three that we’ve seen over the last six months are burnout, technical transformation and RTO mandates. 

Employees have been under tremendous pressure for years now. Burnout is higher than it was during the pandemic, (source), and stress levels – different than burnout but no less dangerous – are sky-high. (source). Combine stress and burnout with the ever-present pressure to produce and an on-going skills shortage, and employees are trying to stay afloat in a perfect storm.

“A survey from earlier this year [2023] indicated that 74% of employees felt they were working more hours than they did before the pandemic. This constant professional engagement, coupled with the pressure to perform, has created an absolute perfect storm for burnout.”
Benjamin Goss, “The Silent Epidemic: Employee Burnout in 2023”, in Medium

Technical and organizational transformation
We’re living in an era of disruptive transformation. Many are of the opinion that emerging technologies will have a positive impact on the industry in time, but there is less data to suggest that the rank and file are equally inspired. But even as visionary leaders proselytize the virtues of AI, we recognize that change is change, and it’s never easy.

Former CEO of Insights’ sister tech company, Vidatec points out that these kinds of transformation often fail because organizations forget to keep their people at the front of their decisions.

“It’s fashionable for organizations to speak about their digital mindset, but in reality, it’s not about the company, it’s about the individuals who work there...”   
-Grieg Johnston, “People-first. The key to successful digital transformations"

RTO mandates
Presenteeism grows as trust diminishes. RTO mandates are not popular, yet many upper-level executives insist on a set number of office-days per week (despite their working from home or the cottage themselves), and employees resist, often flying under the radar to do so, further diminishing trust on both sides.

“After promising that we could work from home indefinitely, my company reversed course. Earlier this year, management ordered us to go back to the office two days a month; starting this summer, they've mandated two days a week.
My colleagues are annoyed. Our numbers are good. We're happy. Why is management rocking the boat?”
(an anonymous employee speaking to Business Insider’s Rebecca Knight in a recent interview)

Change is the harbinger of opportunity, and while these stats paint a bleak picture, there is a single positive shift happening that could reverse tough trends on an organizational level and empower leaders to mobilize their people through thick and thin.


Leaders can re-establish trust by leveraging the awareness advantage

When Insights first started talking about the role awareness plays in personal, team and organizational success 30 years ago, we were met with a great deal of scepticism. Not by everyone, of course; the odd forward-facing organization (for example, a house-hold name global tech company that is today ubiquitous with innovation) embraced the message. 
Yet despite influential early adopters, embracing a new kind of workplace, where effective policies and meaningful interaction is built on awareness, has remained frustratingly rare up until now.

One of the key challenges to awareness training is the widely held belief (85-90%) that as individuals, we are already self-aware. But recent research by Organization Psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich revealed that, in reality, less than 15% of people are self-aware.

But even for those executive leaders who steadfastly hold onto this blind spot (and there are many), the burgeoning field of awareness research has introduced new ways of approaching awareness with applicability in the corporate world that’s worthy of a new look.


The awareness research that’s changing how we approach leadership

A ground-breaking study out the University of Queensland in 2021 looked at the relationship between awareness and leadership concluded that, “…for leaders to be seen as authentic and garner support, they need to be seen as aware not only of who they are as individuals, but also of who they are as members of the collective they seek to lead.”

The big consulting firms are also onboard with this message: McKinsey caused a commotion earlier in the year when it announced that self-aware and inspiring leadership was a key trend for 2023 in its State of Organizations 2023 report.

At Insights, we’ve been studying awareness for 30 years, and we’ve identified five kinds of awareness that can transform a leader’s relationship with their people, and the organization’s relationships with its teams:

1.    Self-awareness
An understanding of your personal strengths and potential weaknesses (internal awareness), and how you’re perceived by your colleagues (external awareness).
This knowledge is foundational to a leader’s ability to galvanize their teams, and certainly the most interesting to learners, yet it’s often the most challenging kind of awareness to develop.

2.    Other-awareness
This refers to awareness of an employee’s preferences, needs, hopes and values, as well as their strengths and challenges.
For leaders, it means listening to your employees with genuine curiosity and intentionality. It’s the difference between asking ‘how are you?’ and ‘how does it feel to be you today?’ and listening the answer without expectations, judgements or assumptions.

3.    Situational awareness
This is awareness about the situation that sparked the current situation, good or bad. 
Sure, you know what the main issue is, but is that all there is? 
Keen situational awareness allows you to glean important information about the situation that may not be overtly communicated by your employee. Listen between the lines and you’ll find there’s a lot going on. For example, your employees may be dealing with conflict from other functions of the organization or pressure due to a competing project.

4.    Awareness of performance or goal
This frequently overlooked aspect of awareness focuses on activating each employee’s performance goals.
It’s a powerful way to increase the effectiveness of training e.g. around productivity or communications, because people are naturally primed to pay attention to the training and resources that will be of most use to them.

5.    Awareness of future opportunities 
Seeing beyond your employee’s stated issue and your initial assumptions about how you can help them is a powerful way to build trust and achieve deeper trust with the people you wish to lead. 
This kind of advanced awareness can reveal hidden opportunities, but it requires leveraging a tremendous amount of other-awareness and situational awareness to tease out additional pain points where you can add support and trust.


How leaders can apply awareness in the workplace to build trust

Getting back to the Gartner report, researchers outline three key awareness-led approaches that leadership can take:

Personal: Enabling self expression at work (to better role model)

People: Addressing life’s needs (to better support teams)

Individualized: Managing tailored, flexible workflows (to better deliver results)

Below we’ve compiled a practical exercise you can do for each core leader responsibility mentioned in the report, and an Insights solution suited to leaders focused on each responsibility.


Practical solutions and exercises to empower leaders to build trust

Personal: Enabling self expression at work (to better role model)

Recommended solution: Insights Discovery and Discovering Team Effectiveness
The Insights framework is a simple and accessible four-color model that establishes a common language throughout the organization, making it simpler to recognize – and talk about - strengths and address weaknesses.

Quick exercise to help today:

Learn to communicate better with others

Enabling self-expression in a corporate environment means learning how to address our (and others’) behaviorial preferences in a healthy and authentic way. This is where the language of color energies plays a pivotal role.

1. Consider the key people on your team, whether they be influencers within the organization or your appointed supervisors.

2. Determine which color energy you think they may lead with: 

Good day/bad day Insights Discovery color wheels

Insights colour energies
3. Thinking about each person’s leading color energy, consider what they value and the best way to validate those by adapting your communication style: 


  Cool Blue Fiery Red Sunshine Yellow Earth Green
What they value most





Swift progression

Defined action plans


Finding new opportunities

Alignment with purpose

Being of service to others


Be well prepared and thorough

Put things in writing

Give them time to process and consider the details

Be direct and to the point

Focus on results and objectives

Be confident and assertive in your identified plan of action

Show genuine interest in their lives

Be entertaining and stimulating

Be open-minded and flexible 

Be patience and supportive

Slow down and work at their pace

Ask their opinion and give them time to answer


Be overemotional or exaggerate

Change things without good reason

Be careless or casual about important issues

Overwhelm with too much data

Hesitate or be indecisive

Try to take over

Present too many details

Tie them down with too much routine

Expect them to work alone

Take advantage of their good nature

Push them to make quick decisions

Spring last-minute surprises


People: Addressing life’s needs (to better support teams)

Recommended solution: Thriving Through Change 

Thriving Through Change uses Insights Discovery as a foundation to understand how different people process change in different ways. It helps people understand their reaction to stress, their preferred communication style when it comes to change, how they process information, and what motivates and engages them when change is underway. Thriving Through Change helps people to proactively support each other through tough situations rather than just reacting.

Quick exercise to help today: 

The active listening challenge
Sometimes, seemingly simple tasks can make all the difference. Active listening is intrinsically linked with applied awareness in the workplace, as it’s a critical skill for acquiring Other Awareness. 

For the next 24 hours:

1.    Do not interrupt anyone as they speak
2.    Do not speak when others seem to be done speaking; instead, give them time to collect their thoughts and possibly say more
3.    No questions! Simply reiterate what the speaker has said and how you think they might be feeling

After 24 hours, fill in a log asking these questions:

How did holding space for another person as they shared feel for me?  Did the other person share more than usual?  Was I successful in making the other person feel heard?  Did I learn anything new or unexpected about the other person through active listening? 


Individualized: Managing tailored, flexible workflows (to better deliver results)

Recommended solution: Self-Aware Leader

Self-Aware Leader is Insights’ solution for developing great leaders at all levels of an organization.
Leaders dive even deeper into the empathy, conviction, authenticity, reliability, and self-awareness needed to effectively support and mobilize high-performing teams.

By the time a leader successfully completes Self-Aware Leader, they’ll be fluent in color energies and have the self and other-awareness necessary to fully support the preferences and strengths of each member of their team, empowering employee wellbeing, building trust and balance these with the needs of the organization to produce.

Quick exercise to help today:

Download Insights Five Steps to Transform into a Visionary Leader workbook

The workbook is part of a Leadership Info Pack download, but the workbook portion of this collection is geared toward leaders working in a reactive environment who long to approach their role from a more visionary people-centric perspective.

While prior knowledge of color energies helps, this workbook can be leveraged by anyone at any time, provided their goal is to create a better working environment for themselves, for others, and ultimately, to create more trust in their workplace. 

Continue here to get your Five steps to transform into a visionary leader  workbook