Fearless Leaders Build Trust

Trust is one of the fundamental pillars of organizations that go from good to truly great, and a key difference between LITO (leaders in title only) and effective and fearless Leaders. So what exactly is trust, and how can you proactively build it?

Trust consists of three elements occurring at the same time: knowing the positive benefits of a relationship, evaluating any risks in the relationship, and choosing how to interpret the behavior of the other person. In companies, this manifests as knowing that the people you work with can and will help you meet your personal and professional goals more often than they will not, and knowing why they behave the way they do and not taking it personally.

At work, you will have conflict with the people you work with – partially by design. It is the conflict and tension between groups with divergent priorities that encourages creative solutions and some level of balance. However, if interpreted as a negative in our work relationships, this conflict can erode trust quickly. For example, you may feel pressured by your boss to get her pet project completed, and tend to forget that she made sure you got a decent raise in your annual review. All humans tend to fixate on the negative experiences we have, so it takes many more positive ones to build a positive relationship. For most things in our lives, the ratio we need is 3 positives to 1 negative, and 5:1 in our intimate relationships. So, how can we build trust when our brains are prewired to distrust?

As a conscious leader in an organization, you have the responsibility to build those positive interactions – both for yourself, and for others in whom you wish to inspire trust.   In building your own positive experiences, be on the lookout for what others are doing that is positive, strong and good. What unique qualities does that person bring to the organization? In which circumstances does he shine? By consciously looking for the strong aspects of our colleagues, the negatives can be more realistically weighed and do not overshadow the trust we are trying to build.   To inspire others to trust you, work on creating positive experiences with you for every member of the group. This is not equivalent to being their friend, or sugar-coating the truth, or going easy on them. It is about being honest, fair, respectful, and consistent in your words and actions.

Here are Ten Key Actions for building Trust in your organization starting today:

  1. Trust first.  Building trust with others is a reciprocal activity.  In order to build trust, you must first extend trust.  Give your team responsibility, assume your peers will do the right things, treat everyone like adults. They will tend to reciprocate.  If you can’t do this, don’t expect others to trust you either.
  2. Communicate well and often. Keep your team, your peers, your boss informed about what is going on in the business. What are your current priorities? What has changed in the business, the environment, in your results? Be clear about decisions made and the decision process.  Be upfront about what you do and do not know.  Include the right people in your communication to make sure the messages are shared in the broadest circles practical.  Celebrate team and individual wins as often as possible and communicate them broadly.  Share bad news quickly and keep communicating as plans to manage it develop.
  3. Demonstrate a win-win attitude by understanding the needs of the organization and the individuals who work in it, and advocate for getting both sets of needs met.  Look for ways to make the individuals successful, to build on their ideas, to help them shine – while meeting the business goals.
  4. Truly appreciate others.   As you are looking at the team, find something wonderful, strong, powerful about each team member, and look for that to show up.  Tell them about it, try to find new ways to leverage that strength in the team.
  5. Ask for and listen to feedback – in person.  You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but it is important that you truly understand what others are thinking and how you are perceived.  This means getting eye-to-eye with your group.  Electronic communications cannot completely take the place of meeting in the flesh.  Walk the halls, travel to meet, hold group meetings, retreats and one on ones.  The feedback and relationship-building you get in person will be 10x more powerful than emails and teleconferences.  Trust is built by looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand, and reading their body language when they speak.
  6. Set clear expectations.  Make sure every member of your team knows exactly what you expect of them, and what your process looks like.  How often will you review their work?  What level of input are you expecting to have in the final product?  Which decisions are you expecting will be made by the team, and which do you need to make?  What can the team do when they need extra support?  What is the agenda for your meetings and what preparation is expected?
  7. Walk the talk.  Trust is built in small positive increments.  Find a small win for the team, commit to it, and deliver.  Do it again and again, with ever-larger commitments.  These positive experiences with you (“she really does what she says she will”,  “We can count on him”, “He has our back”) will build trust quickly.  This is about action.  Can others see you actively making the organization stronger and acting for the good of the whole, not just your own career?  That is the foundation of trust, so get out there and make it happen.
  8. Make it right.  When you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and let others know that you are aware, that you are learning, and that you have a plan to prevent the same mistake from happening again.
  9. Hold everyone accountable.  As you take responsibility for your results and your mistakes, ask others to do the same.  Have individuals commit to specific actions in front of their peers, and follow up with the group to verify follow-through.  Ask about what prevented something from getting accomplished with curiosity and have individuals come up with a new commitment, with a plan for overcoming that obstacle next time.
  10. Practice tough love.  Accepting people the way they are and appreciating their strengths does not mean that everyone necessarily belongs on the team.  When performance standards are not met, when accountability and trust measures are violated, neither the individual or the organization can prosper, and removing that person from the organization may be the win-win solution you are seeking.  Call them on their lapses, give them a chance to correct it with support, and then decide if they are able to meet the requirements of the job or not.  Hesitation to remove an unproductive or even disruptive team member erodes trust quickly.

Remember that building trust is not something that happens on a team-building afternoon, or in one meeting or over lunch – although those can be good places to start.  Trust is created in daily habits you cultivate in working with others to build positive interactions and experiences.  Find ways in your daily work to build in good trust habits and set goals for practicing them regularly.

The lack of trust is the definition of fear – fear of harm the other person may do to you, your career, your reputation, your results, your relationships…  Building trust is one of the fundamental elements of the journey to leading fearlessly.