Trust is a multilayered term because it incorporates both logic and emotion. The word traces its origins back to the Old Norse “traust,” which incorporates concepts of help, confidence, support, and protection.
On the emotional side, trust requires some exposure of vulnerability while believing others will not take advantage of it. Logically, trust is based on having weighed the risks of an interaction and calculating that those risks are worth taking. It’s little wonder that having one’s trust broken is so emotionally devastating.
In my executive leadership coaching work, I have spent considerable time and effort helping my clients strengthen and build the trust of those they lead, and it makes all the difference. In fact, building trust creates a foundation for all the other amazing things that great leaders accomplish.
Building Trust Should Be a Primary Goal of All Leaders
For one thing, when people trust and believe in your leadership, they’re more committed to doing their part to help the organization reach its goals. For another, when you consistently demonstrate your trustworthiness, you set a tremendous example for team members to do the same, and this strengthens their trust with each other. When your team operates on a healthy level of earned trust, when your team places their trust in you, and when you demonstrate consistently that you have earned it, you have the conditions for phenomenal growth.
How to Build Trust with Your Team
Demonstrating your trustworthiness is the bedrock of building trust within your team, but there are many specific things you can do to strengthen trust. One of the most effective things you can do is simply get to know people. You don’t have to know everyone’s entire life story, but you need to know their names, what their roles are, and something personal about them whenever possible. Knowing that Kate is a Cubs fan and Carl went to the same university you did is good collateral for positive interactions and reinforcement of mutual trust.
Additionally, transparency and honesty are mandatory. When people face an informational void, they can fill it with the most imaginative, outlandish conjecture, and few things erode trust more quickly than a busy rumor mill. Obviously, there will be data you cannot share, but sharing what you can – even when it’s not great news – helps maintain trust. People know that bad things will inevitably happen, and they won’t trust you if they know you never tell them difficult news.
Know how to gracefully accept blame when you make mistakes and know how to share credit for good things with others. Few other things you do will go so far to demonstrate that you are all ultimately on the same team, working toward the same goals. Likewise, don’t play favorites with team members. It’s inevitable that you will like some team members more than others, but you must treat everyone with as much fairness and respect as possible. Favoritism can destroy teams.
Finally, you have to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. If this requires that you learn new skills or attend continuing education classes, then so be it. If it requires executive leadership coaching, understand that this can be an investment with tremendous ROI. Being great at what you do while maintaining the trust of those you lead means you’re headed in a positive direction and can expect growth to follow.
How Trust Drives Growth and Improvement
A team that trusts each other and trusts its leadership is going to be engaged and invested in what it does. An engaged workforce is a productive and growth-oriented workforce. Employees who are engaged in what they are doing are likelier to recommend their company (both in terms of the company’s products and services, and as a place to work), and they’re far less likely to be looking for another job. A recent Swedish survey of 41 service sector companies found that those with the most engaged employees have the highest rates of growth and the highest profitability, so you’re not just investing in a “feel-good” phenomenon, but real, bottom-line results.
I have seen a lot in my more than three decades in executive leadership coaching, but there are some strong common themes. One of the most important is that great leaders earn and maintain their team members’ trust. The benefits of an engaged workforce that trusts each other and trusts their leadership are simply too important to ignore.