To be effective, a leader must be able to build trust. Trust is never a given and must be actively earned. Yet perhaps more importantly, a leader must also be able to regain trust when it is compromised.
After all, you will make decisions that some people won’t like and at times this will cause people to question your real intentions.
You will make mistakes and sometimes a mistake will cause others to call into question your competence as a leader.
You will say things with sincerity and at times your actions might be perceived as contrary to your words.
All of these things can quickly create a trust gap between you and those you lead.
Mistrust can also be systemic, having nothing to do with you personally. Perhaps the person in the position before you damaged people’s trust and you've inherited that mistrust. It can even be cultural. Mistrust of leaders is, after all, on the rise in our world.
3 simple steps to greater trust
Here are 3 simple steps to build trust with those you lead. These same steps apply regardless of the current level of trust or lack thereof.
1. Ask for feedback
and demonstrate that you listened
Asking for feedback or suggestions can seem like a double-edged sword because, while you may genuinely want to hear what people think, you can’t possibly act on everything you hear. The good news is you don’t have to act on, or even feign agreement with everything that's been said.
In order to build trust, you must ensure the people on your team feel that they've been heard. You can do this simply by reflecting back to people what you heard (absent your opinion about what you heard). If you act based on feedback you request, you can further demonstrate you listened by sharing again what you heard and how it informed your thinking, a decision or a plan of action.
The bottom line is you can disagree with what people think or say and still leave them with the experience that they've been heard and that they matter.
Trust is built when people experience that they have been heard.
2. Make a promise and keep it
There are some promises a leader cannot make, such as the lifetime employment promise from long ago. The kind of promise I'm referring to here, however, is actually far more basic.
For example, tell someone you'll get back to them in 2 days and do it.
Say you're committed to increasing communication and will send a newsletter to your team on the 3rd day of the month and do that.
You might be surprised at the extent to which people pay attention to the little things you say and do. Make no mistake about it — the little things count, especially your consistency in tending to those little things.
Beware of the tendency in corporate culture to give the promises you make up the chain of command a higher priority than those you make to your peers or the people on your team. Those choices can become moments of truth in your leadership legacy, for better or for worse, so choose wisely.
The bottom line is, keeping your promises builds trust.
3. Walk your talk and own it when you don’t
People will notice the extent to which you walk your talk or not. Their observations directly inform their trust in you.
This is not to say, however, that you have to be perfect. Since you're human, you will falter. Often it will be unintentional. The key is to recognize your own inconsistencies and own them.
People don’t expect perfection, but they do demand honesty. Belief in your honesty is perhaps one of the most valuable currencies you have when building trust. Owning your missteps will increase the value of that currency.
Building effective leadership one step at a time
Effective leadership is executed one simple action at a time. Put these simple steps into practice consistently and you will be well on your way to building a foundation of trust strong enough to sustain you and your team through the big challenges and drive success as you pursue your vision together.
Your turn: What other simple steps can leaders take to build trust through their everyday actions?