Polling data indicates that the public (in general) doesn’t trust those in elected leadership positions – and this mistrust sometimes (unreasonably) spills into the workplace. Becoming a trusted leader doesn't happen by accident often. Instead, it's a decision made during your think time that will still be an accident unless you plan – and, then execute on becoming a trusted leader.
Just a couple of years ago I heard Jim Kouzes talk at the Fortune Growth Summit in Phoenix about credibility, which he equated to trust. His team tested levels of trust in organizations by implementing a game. One of the interesting outcomes came from giving teams the same exact game, but each game was given a different name. One was titled “Community Game” and the other “Wall Street Game.” The outcomes were significantly different in the level of trust created and expected among team members:
Community Game 70% level of trust resulted
Wall Street Game 30% level of trust resulted
To quote organizational design expert Roger Allen, “We can build our leadership upon fear, obligation, or trust. However, only a foundation of trust results in the collaboration and goodwill necessary to achieve our peak performance.” These words could hardly be more succinct in expressing the central role that trust plays in building and leading high-performance organizations.
With the integrity of our business leaders under such a microscope these days, it’s valuable to take a moment for a refresher on trust in leadership. For integrity, though critical to trust, isn’t the only element of a trust-based management style. According to Seattle-based management expert Stephen Robbins, trust is based on four other distinct elements in your relationship with the people you lead:
At first this may seem strange—after all, can’t incompetent people be trusted? Of course, but not if you want to lead. Leaders are held to a different standard, and part of what your team trusts is that you know what you’re doing. It comes with the territory as entrepreneur, business owner, and leader.
This is one of the most pragmatic elements of trust. If your team knows what you stand for, then they will believe that you will react in a predictable way to certain situations. Over time your consistently expressed values become the shared values of the team. Please note that you can claim any value, but the team will tend to adopt the ones you exhibit. Some charismatic leaders may purposely act unpredictably to “shake things up,” and they may well be wildly successful. But they won’t necessarily be trusted. We teach that Core Values are core to our business success (hence the name core) – this is not a place to be erratic.
To a certain extent, your team can only trust you to the degree you are committed to their success and well-being. Max De Pree, the legendary CEO of Herman Miller and champion of the “servant leader” concept, puts it this way: “The leader’s first job is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” This servant/debtor relationship to your team is one that strongly conveys your loyalty to them.
Trust is ultimately the characteristic of a relationship, and it is through its relationship with you that your team expresses its trust. Openness is a cornerstone of the ability to build these relationships. If your team can’t get to know you, then they probably can’t get to trust you, either. With openness comes the requirement for a certain vulnerability, which includes setting aside ego long enough to admit personal mistakes. In this arena, you will generally have to “go first” by reaching out and creating such relationships or by admitting your shortcomings.
By investing in building and strengthening the above qualities in your leadership, you will be steadily reinforcing your trust relationship with the people who work for you – your team. Those relationships, in turn, become the foundation for building a high-performance organization, and that is the backbone of gazelle-like business growth. This is particularly true in times of change and stress, when team members (read that people) tend to rely upon their personal relationships. If your team trusts you in good times, they are more likely to stand with you when the times turn challenging.
So how do you build trust among peers and team members? I’d love to hear your examples and experiences below.
Keep leading like you mean it! – until next time, Barry.