Build Trust As A Leader
Trust is an essential foundation for effective teamwork. It is equally important, however, for the team to be in alignment on the direction in which it is going, and on the outcomes it is aiming to achieve. Lack of trust is the biggest barrier to achieving alignment. How then do you build trust as a leader? Trust comes from earning the respect of your colleagues. Respect comes over time often through collaboration. Ultimately, trust comes from building relationships.
Being trustworthy on its own does not build trust. Behavior builds trust. Both trusting and being trustworthy require us to make conscious, daily choices to invest in relationships.
For many of us, we hold company off-sites and run team-building activities. Informal lunches, monthly social get-togethers, and one-on-one meetings are part of how we build relationships and trust. Through chance or by design, we find ourselves in these “moments that matter.” It is these moments of human interaction, engaging with people while exposing our true self, that open the door to trust.
Looking back at my personal career I’m reminded of many team-building activities. We spent significant sums, tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, on team building.
One off-site team-building event took place at Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York. The consultant we had hired convinced my boss that after the morning hike, we should rappel off the cliffs of the mountain. After hiking up the mountain, breathless and triumphant, I then followed my colleagues out to a terrifying overhang of rock. We were encouraged to lean back and let go, as seen here (yes, that’s me). My mind said, “you are attached to the cables and cannot fall.” My emotions, speaking even louder, said “this is crazy. I don’t want to be on this team anymore!” After some (actually much) trepidation, I leaned back, my heart pounding, and mustered the courage to take the first steps to rappel down the cliff.
What did this event have to do with teamwork? It demonstrated for us that courage is not the absence of fear. It’s just the mastery of fear. Through that shared experience of rappelling off the cliff, each of us individually, and as a team, pushed the boundaries of our comfort zone and trusted the team. We all made it down fine, and we had built trust as a team through this shared experience.
These team-building activities often accomplish worthy goals for the organization but are they effective for building trust beyond the day of the event? Is that feeling of triumph and teamwork sustainable in the following weeks and months? It can be lasting trust if the right behavior follows everyone back to the office.
Behaviors for trust to be developed and sustained
- Reliability – doing what you say you will do.
- Congruence – practicing what you preach and saying what you really mean. Following through on commitments can be a very effective way to build trust.
- Openness – being willing to listen, really listen, to other’s ideas and to share your ideas and opinions.
- Communicating – the intent behind your actions means being open about why you’re saying something, and why decisions are made. Intent is such a primary part of trust.
- Acceptance – accepting people for who they are; being non-judgmental.
- Vulnerability – demonstrating vulnerability as a leader, with your weaknesses and mistakes, shows your capacity for empathy. The more empathic you can be, the more likely you will be trusted.
Being Trustworthy Is Not Enough
Everyone knows that trust is important. What many people don’t understand is that being trustworthy does not necessarily build trust. People make judgments about how trustworthy their colleagues are based on their perception of what they do, not on what they say, or what they intended to do. It is behavior that builds trust.
Behaviors are this collection of moments that matter that form an impression of who we are as a leader – specific, remarkable moments that create impressions of us that stay with us forever.
Team members can be trustworthy, honest and ethical. Yet other team members will not trust them because of differences in behavioral style, and different strengths and weaknesses exhibited by their behavioral style. To increase effectiveness in building trust, team members need to take personal responsibility for their behavioral style and understand how it can affect the levels of trust other team members have for them.
Trust is a two-way street. Relationships are formed as trust develops. When trust diminishes, relationships become more distant, often leading to conflict.
In short, trust is not rapport. Trust is not team-building. Trust is not about getting people to like you. And it’s not about getting people to feel good about you or the company.
Trust is your intention and behavior. It’s making clear why you’re doing something. Being honest about it. Then following through with it. If you’re not vulnerable during those moments, your team won’t trust you. If you don’t follow through on your commitments, your words ring hollow.
Regardless of what is going on outside your organization, make a commitment to double down on building a culture of trust inside your organization. Invest in relationships. You will create those positive moments that matter.