“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” –Steve Jobs.

Take a moment and reflect on the forward-thinking philosophy of a man who propelled the world into the future and built a legacy that continues to impact business and consumer behavior more than a decade after his passing.

While brilliant in many ways, it’s well documented that Jobs had shortcomings as a people leader—in fact, he’s remembered as an extreme micromanager. So, why use this quote? Because these words reflect a wisdom that every leader should embrace, even if the man who spoke them struggled to do so.

At the core of leadership lies a profound understanding of human potential and the dynamics of effective teamwork. Trust, autonomy, and collaboration resonate deeply with those who have answered the call to lead. Let’s take a deeper look at the value of the trust advantage.

The Trust Advantage

Trust forms the bedrock of all successful relationships, whether personal or professional. As leaders, we must cultivate trust within our teams by demonstrating confidence in each member’s abilities, judgment, and expertise. By entrusting individuals with autonomy, we acknowledge their capabilities and spark a sense of ownership and accountability.

Trust is foundational to effective leadership, and numerous studies corroborate its significance in driving organizational success. Harvard Business Review supports the idea that trust is essential for building cohesive and high-performing teams. According to their article, The Neuroscience of Trust, those on teams with higher levels of trust “are more productive, have more energy, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer…” than those without trust. According to the article, those afforded more trust at work have less chronic stress and are happier, thus causing the author to conclude that “these factors fuel stronger performance.”

In 2002, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis conducted a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Their scope of work included a quantifiable assessment covering several decades of empirical research on the impact of trust in leadership. They found a steady correlation between trusting leaders and employee job satisfaction, commitment, and performance.

With trust comes autonomy—the fuel that ignites creativity and drives innovation. When people are empowered to make decisions and chart their course, they are more likely to contribute their unique perspectives to the collective vision.

A century of combined research indicates that our role as leaders is not to micromanage but to provide guidance, support, and a clear sense of purpose, allowing our teams to thrive in an environment of autonomy and self-direction.

One such peer-reviewed study, published in the National Library of Medicine in 2022, found that “empowering leadership,” characterized by delegating authority and providing autonomy, enhances an employee’s sense of belonging and loyalty. It further highlights the link between autonomy and innovation, demonstrating that allowing individuals to make decisions fosters an overarching culture of creativity and problem-solving.

What do all these academic studies have in common? They highlight our pivotal role in fostering trust, and they directly connect our actions to engagement and productivity. Leaders must demonstrate confidence in the abilities of their team members and give them the decision-making authority to thrive. Doing so empowers the people we serve to contribute their best work and propels our organizations toward sustained success. This is the epitome of the trust advantage.

Promoting Psychological Safety

Innovation thrives when we encourage individuals to challenge the status quo, think outside the box, and pursue unconventional solutions. As leaders, we are responsible for creating a culture that celebrates experimentation and empowers those we rely on to take calculated risks. We must unleash this creative potential by providing resources, support, and encouragement.

Accomplishing this requires a focus on psychological safety. Popularized by Harvard Business School’s Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, the concept emphasizes the importance of creating an environment where individuals feel safe to take interpersonal risks, such as speaking up, introducing new ideas, and expressing concerns.

This requires a culture where team members are allowed to fail. Wait, shouldn’t we discourage failure? Absolutely not. Nothing sabotages innovation and progress like the expectation of perfection. When people are comfortable failing, they’re more likely to take risks; this sets the stage for brilliance and breakthrough. Edmondson’s research proves that teams built on psychological safety often engage in learning behaviors and experiment with new approaches that drive innovation.

Humbling Pursuit

As leaders, we must recognize that innovation flourishes when individuals are free to explore, experiment, and create. After all, our goal isn’t simply to lead but to inspire greatness in those we serve. Like most, I often turn to quotes for some added inspiration; let’s add the timeless words of Steve Jobs to that collection. Although he was certainly not perfect in terms of leading others, his internal drive reminds us to always pursue excellence, even if it’s a humbling pursuit without end, much like trust.

In the long run, the trust advantage is always a worthwhile investment.