Leaders occupy positions of authority in our workplaces. They need to make decisions, resolve conflicts and provide direction for the people around them.
But authority is not enough for leadership success – we need more. Another ingredient that is so important in leadership is trust. We need our teams to trust that we act with the best interests of the people, the team and the organisation in mind.
Why Is Building Trust So Important?
Trust matters because without it, all we have is authority, which will only get you so far. Authority will get your people to do what you say, but they won’t necessarily believe in it.
Building trust helps you to gain the commitment of your team, which means that people believe in the direction you’re setting, and they buy into it. When someone is committed, they are more likely to stay the course, push through obstacles and put in discretionary effort to get the job done.
When people trust you, they trust that you’re considering them when you make decisions and doing your best to provide a good outcome for them. This means they are more likely to be committed to your direction, because where you are going is likely to be good for them, too.
When the direction is clear, logical and well explained, it’s easy for people to follow. For people to follow when the future is ambiguous, unclear and uncertain, they need to trust you.
They need to trust that you know what you’re doing, that you have their best interests in mind and that your direction will get them to a better place.
The Key Ingredients to Building Trust
The trust equation from Trusted Advisor explains the key ingredients very well, and they are shown in the figure below.
Credibility is straight forward. Credible leaders know their stuff and have a track record that shows they can do a good job.
Reliability is about consistency and showing up the same way each time. It means doing what you say and being dependable, without surprises.
Intimacy refers to people’s feelings of safety and security when they deal with you. When people confide in you and trust you with information, this is intimacy at work.
Self-Orientation speaks to self-interest and an inward focus. If a leader is always looking out for themselves ahead of others, they have a high degree of self-orientation.
As you can see from the equation, self-orientation is the factor that will reduce trust in your leadership. If people perceive you as being in it for your own gain or trying to protect yourself at the expense of others, you’ll struggle to build trust.
Trust Building Actions You Can Use Every Day
Over my career, I’ve seen many different examples of leaders building trust, and damaging it. When people start to doubt the motives of their leaders, this is the start of a downward slide.
But building trust isn’t rocket science. In fact, it can be the small, consistent actions that we take every day that starts to build and reinforce trust with our teams. Below, I’ve highlighted a few of my favourites.
1. Be Present
Years ago, I used to have a manager who was constantly preoccupied. Often when I would talk to him, I could see his eyes glazing over as he started thinking about something else. When I saw this happen, I received a clear message – what I was communicating was not important.
Over time, it became clear that the real message was “You are not important to me”. Sometimes, it’s the small signs that give it away.
So let’s get practical.
When someone is opening up to you, confiding in you or communicating something important, stay in the room. Close your laptop, put your phone face down on silent mode and look them in the eye like they are the most important person in that moment.
Related: The Power of Paying Attention.
2. Keep Your Individual Meeting Appointments With Team Members
Nothing shows that you just don’t care like continuously rescheduling or cancelling appointments with your team members. Especially when you cancel them to spend more time with your boss or someone else outside of your team.
I believe that the support leaders provide team members is an often underrated aspect of leadership, because it is somewhat intangible.
The benefits of being available to support your team are not going to show up as a line item in a financial report.
However, keeping your appointments to provide individual support to your team members is tangible. Because they can see you right there, sitting and spending your time with them.
Time is our most precious resource, so spending it on your team sends a powerful message.
3. Communicate Constructive Feedback and Bad News
Communicating good news and good feedback is easy. Telling somebody that they didn’t get the promotion or that their work needs improvement is not.
Some bad or unexpected news will naturally be communicated, because people will seek answers. But passing on constructive feedback is often avoided. Instead, some leaders choose not to have the conversation.
Giving your team members an early heads-up on some pending bad news is also a smart idea when you aim to build trust. Let them hear it from you first, rather than waiting for the grapevine to do it for you.
Communicating tough messages is a good way of building trust because it shows respect. It shows respect when you look people in the eye and tell them something they don’t want to hear.
Sure, they might not like the news or the feedback, but you might find they respect you more for it.
You can’t see or touch trust, but it’s an important leadership resource all the same. Building trust is an effective strategy to improve relationships in your team and gain commitment to your direction.
Building trust might just be the factor that makes someone go over and above for you one day. So take some practical steps to start building trust today.
What are some other practical ways of building trust with your team members? Leave a comment below and let me know!