Anybody who knows anything about leading others knows that no matter what style of leadership you subscribe to, ultimately people follow and offer up their discretionary effort to people they trust. Servant leaders realize this and proactively work to earn their people’s trust by consistently demonstrating their competence and proving that they are a person of high moral character. Dictators also know that without the trust of at least a small powerful group of people around them, they would soon be ousted.
Whether building trust is used as a force for good or evil depends on the leader’s intentions. Generally, bosses who are looking for some short term perception of trustworthiness to push their agenda are on the lookout for a quick fix, but leaders who are committed to building a solid foundation of trust know that, ultimately, it takes a genuine intention to serve others, backed by consistent action to create a virtuous cycle of trust within organizations.
In today’s post, I’d like to offer up some perspective and 10 actionable suggestions to leaders who are genuinely committed to building trust and are looking for ideas on how to express their commitment. This isn't a 10-step, one-size-fits-all formula, because I don’t know your specific situation, but go over the list and pick 2-3 that resonate with you and practice them consistently. Then revisit this list from time to time, as things change, and repeat the exercise.
If you are interested in further reading on the topic, please check out the links at the bottom of the post.
10 Simple Actions with Massive Trust Building Power:
- Take the time listen.
Go beyond active and empathic listening when you are in a conversation. Make sure your daily and weekly routine exposes you to a broader population of people, beyond those you need to interact to get your needs met, and intentionally get in conversations with them and listen. You’ll be surprised at all the things you will learn that you didn’t even know to ask about.
- Generously share information.
This demonstrates that you trust that others are interested in the bigger picture and not just their piece of the pie, and that they will handle sensitive information appropriately.
- Deliver a clear message every time you communicate.
Don’t water down the bad news. Make clear requests. Clarify your expectations and your commitments. If people wonder what you are trying to say and what you really mean, you are probably not being clear enough.
- Keep your promises.
If you anticipate that you are not able to meet the commitments you have made, communicate as soon as possible and reach a new agreement. If you fail to keep your commitments or communicate, take the time to follow-up and clean it up so that you don’t become known, by others and yourself, as someone who can't be counted on to keep their promises.
- Regularly share genuine positive feedback.
Be specific about what the person did and the value it brought to the team. Be completely present, and not at all distracted, when you are having the conversation and make sure the other person receives the acknowledgment.
- Admit your mistakes and take responsibility for your shortcomings.
Do this without coming across as a victim. Acknowledge what happened and what you could have done differently, then let people know what they can count on you to do going forward.
- Speak up for those who are not present.
Stop negative conversations about others and initiate a more productive course of action. Unless there is a legitimate reason, such as collecting performance feedback that will help the person, your participation in gossip tells others that you also talk about them when they are not present.
- Give others the authority to make decisions, the results of which you will be accountable for.
Show others you are willing to take risks on your personal credibility by giving them the authority that allows them to stretch themselves and grow.
- Develop and demonstrate authentic interest in others as a whole person.
We can all sense if someone is genuinely interested in us as a person or if they are just using us to get what they want. It’s hard to trust a leader when you sense they have no interest in you as a person. There are many gestures you can use to demonstrate your care and concern for people, ranging from initiating conversations on topics of interest, to taking action to guide and support them beyond just what we need from them as employees.
- Learn what empowers others, professionally, and deliver what they need.
You can make huge deposits in people’s emotional bank account by finding out exactly what they need to be energized and empowered, and then intentionally delivering it. For some people, it might be more information, for others it might be the opportunity to develop a certain skill, while someone else may have a need for additional responsibility.
If you view this list as basic tasks and are looking for more sophisticated approaches to building trust, I would caution you to not ignore the power of these actions as a starting point. Depending on the business situation you are dealing with, there will be specific interventions that need to be made, but they will be much more effective if you are already practicing these foundational behaviors.
For additional reading on this topic, I would recommend two books that I believe do a nice job of explaining how trust is built and offer up practical steps to build or rebuild trust. Those books are The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey, and The Trust Edge by David Horsager.
I also have a blog post and podcast on the topic, listed below, that I’d recommend you check out:
Blog Post: Restoring Trust in a Toxic Environment | Podcast: The Surprisingly Simple Key to Building Trust