Trust is an elusive concept. It’s a cross between an emotion and an act. As an act, we trust that someone will do what they promised and behave honorably. As an emotional response, our trust is based on another’s positive actions, behavior, predictability, and willingness to give and receive feedback. Trust isn’t a given. You can’t gain trust instantly. It happens over a period of time.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, one in four workers say they don’t trust their employer, and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.
When the people you lead trust you, they feel safe and respected. That connection is formed on a deep subconscious level and it extends outward, beyond the group. When team members trust you, they engage with you and the team, their business relationships, and their work. Everything they touch is infused with quality and intent. We see it reflected in their relationships, performance, collaboration, and innovation.
What does trust look like? How do you build trust between yourself and members of your team? How do you know you’re effectively building trust and keeping it? What makes our brains feel trust?
One way to earn trust is to consistently communicate openly and honestly and provide feedback that reflects honesty and fairness. If you speak the truth and firmly believe in what you say, others will pick up those vibes and mark you as being an honest person – until such time that your honesty may be disproven.
Being honest can diffuse or reduce emotional reactions. Others may not agree with what you say or they may not like what you say, but honesty reigns supreme; you are being transparent, telling it the way you see it. No deception. That’s what counts, not necessarily liking what they hear, but knowing it is coming from an honest source: you.
Trust flows both ways. Others trust when they feel trusted. Demonstrate that trust. Always believe that your team members are being truthful. Take a bullet on their behalf. You’re there for them when they need you in a time of crisis. React to their mistakes without “consequences.”
Trust doesn’t just magically materialize. Leaders shouldn’t expect or demand blind trust; it’s earned. When there is an accumulation of actions and behaviors that demonstrate that you are someone to be trusted, you are creating a safe and supportive environment. You are building trust consistently, creating a shared identity, aligning with a strong sense of belonging, mission, and values. By doing so, you earn a “badge” of trustworthiness.
If the people you lead discover that you’re not being honest with them, they can lose their trust in you –and possibly the company – in a heartbeat. Or maybe they never felt they could trust you or the organization from the start.
Each individual learns to trust based on their own comfort level and capability to trust. Some individuals may have preconceived attitudes that predate your relationship with them. They may have experienced being lied to in the past. These negative attitudes can evoke emotions out of which negative behaviors arise. When trust has been broken, you, as a leader, have some challenging work ahead. You must prove through repeated interaction and decision-making that you are trustworthy.
What can you do to build trust? Trust is cumulative and mutual. Exercise your ability to convey trust by monitoring how you:
How do you know your efforts of being trustworthy are working? Some indicators are:
When your team feels trust, they connect with others effectively, solve problems faster, are more innovative, and will continue to seek improvement. Author and Management Consultant Peter Drucker wisely once said, “If You Can Not Earn Trust of Your People, Nothing Else Will Matter.” Trust is the foundation of YOUR leadership.