Keys to Building Trust

Leadership is about trust. As a leader in your organization, your highest calling is building and maintaining trust in your circle of influence.  That trust goes both ways. You have to trust your teams and your teams must trust you. This article is about you building trust with your team.

Trust is a fragile commodity and for me, has been a particular area of focus.  I found that it takes years to develop and build, and seconds to completely obliterate. Throughout my career, I have learned some very difficult lessons on repairing, building and maintaining trust.  I know what it’s like to have leader give me his word and have it broken and I also know what it’s like to break my word, even if inadvertently and have to begin rebuilding.

Without trust there is no camaraderie. Without trust, there cannot be growth. Without trust, the organization falls apart. Trust is an inflator. My wife likes to say that trust is an elevator that will take you to the top or down to the basement.

I want to encourage you with a few easy key applications in building and maintaining trust on your team and your entire workforce.

Be consistent. Especially in today’s culture, anyone in leadership lives in a fishbowl that allows others to peer in and see every detail of our life and work. What time we get to work-what time we go to lunch-when we leave at the end of the day-or what pressures we put on others versus ourselves. Are we job hunting or are we focused on the job at hand? Your employees watch what you do and believe me they are taking it all into account. So setting positive, trustworthy examples and patterns consistently is vitally important to gaining trust. Also, do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. And, don’t ask the team to work hard when you are not.

Be trustworthy. In the midst of the recent economic downturn I gathered our team of seventy-eight in a room to discuss the very difficult circumstances. Our organization was facing some difficult decisions because of the revenue trends. I had to face the music. At the very end, one of the employees asked the question “Is my job in jeopardy?” Now that was very difficult for me, because I knew every job was being evaluated. And I had to make a decision right then and there on whether I was going to tell the truth. Fact is people are smart and they already knew the answer. Now this was a test the team wanted to know what kind of leader I was. Was I going to tell the truth? My response was all of our jobs are in jeopardy. That was the truth; everyone’s job was in jeopardy. And that gave me credibility with my group, because I chose to tell the truth. Here is what I do if someone asks me a question that I cannot answer; I simply say, “I am not at liberty to say.” People understand that some things are confidential and while your answer might give away a particular position, it is the truth.

Listen empathetically. What in the world does that big word mean? It simply means listen with the intent to understand. When you’re talking with your peers, your boss, or a mass group, make sure that you are listening with your ears wide open and that your body language displays an attitude of receptiveness. Don’t stand with your arms folded; instead, stand with your arms down at your side or hands gently folded. It is important for people to know that you are listening to them and that you are not wrapped up in your own ideas. I had an employee that called me on the carpet once. We were in a large team meeting and an impact project was being presented.  As the team began to discuss ideas, I disconnected and began writing down ides for implementation. The young lady leading the discussion grabbed my attention: “Ossie, you’ve already made up your mind. Why don’t you just tell us what to do?” Ouch! Don’t just assume that you have all the answers; listen empathetically. It’s key principle in gaining trust.  

Make “yes” valuable. A lot of leaders believe that every idea that an employee brings to them should be implemented. They should say, “yes, good idea, let’s do it”.  They think that they can charge ahead and figure it out along the way. But, I firmly believe that it is important for you as a leader to make any “yes” valuable. No, is not a bad word.  Even good ideas may not have the right timing or an appropriate project. It’s ok and good to say no. Many years ago I had a boss that used this analogy. “To create electricity you need positive and negative energy.” Likewise, in our organizations, we need to balance these two forces. Don’t just say yes because you are afraid of how people might perceive you. Say yes because it’s the right thing to do at the right time. More often than not, most ideas are just fire fodder. Don’t waste their time and yours, say no and make your yes valuable.

The steps for building trust between your peer groups, your boss and your teams.

  1. Create consistency of actions and behavior.
  2. Tell your team the truth, be trustworthy.  
  3. Listen emphatically.
  4. Say no and make “yes” valuable.

When you implement these four basic steps, you’ll find that you will begin the trust factor within your work groups. Your influence can spread fast. Just remember building trust in your organization is key to your success. Take time, be deliberate, and influence your trust factor today.

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