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trustThe Power of Trust

How often do you consciously think about trust?  It’s something we rarely give attention to until we’re on the receiving end of a breach of it or, when the penny drops that a lack of it is sabotaging what we’re trying to do. Yet for many of us, it’s a core value and it’s fundamental to the health of our personal and professional relationships. Trust is why, at the deepest level, we build bonds with some people and not with others; why we share information with some people and not with others; why we give over what we value, be it our time, our money, our resources, to some people and not to others; why we buy from some people and not from others.

As a leader it’s vital to give conscious thought to how you build a climate of trust within your team, department, division, company.  Why?  Because lack of trust directly impacts collaboration and the performance of teams; it prevents the sharing of information and resources; leads to political game playing; sabotages change initiatives and prevents honest reflection of strengths and the ability to proactively address organisational weaknesses.  That’s at the organisational level, but what about the personal level?  What happens when a leader isn’t trusted?  Amongst others things they become silo’d, divorced from a business reality no-one wants to share with them, creating a “tell them what they want to hear” culture. They develop blind spots as no one feels able to give them open, honest feedback. They have to rely on a short term win “command and control” style of leadership as they haven’t got the relationships that enable the collaboration needed to implement vision, strategy and sustainable change.  Eventually they can derail.

How can you build trust as a leader?

Understand your own philosophy

Your philosophy on trust has a huge part to play in the climate you create. Do you give trust until it’s broken or does someone have to earn your trust?  Each creates a very different climate. When you give trust you empower people, you encourage people to do the right thing, people feel supported, able to try their best, they’re willing to collaborate and they’re open to sharing what’s working or not working.  When the message you put out is that people have to earn your trust – it has the opposite effect and it puts people on the back foot – it puts people “one down”. This is compounded by the fact that leaders who say trust has to be earned, often can’t articulate what someone has to do to earn it or they make it a moving goal post, but until you trust someone it’s unlikely they will trust you.

Explore your own philosophy. Where does that come from? What beliefs does it cause you to hold? How well do those beliefs serve you personally and professionally?

Be trustworthy

In order to build trust you need to be someone who is trustworthy. This means walking your talk, being a positive role model, being authentic and consistent and acting with loyalty and integrity. We inherently distrust people who are not consistent in their behaviour or who say one thing and do another.

A foundation to this is knowing yourself. Is trust one of your core values? How much do you say one thing and do another? Are you consistent in your behaviour and with everyone or do you behave very differently across seniors, peers and direct reports?

Build your emotional bank account

This is a great Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) idea for building trust. It’s a metaphor for the amount of trust you’ve built up in a relationship. You make deposits into the bank account through your behaviour - listening, keeping commitments, offering support, sharing information, investing time. In this way you build up a reserve. If you make a mistake or need to call on me for help, the bank account can stand the withdrawal as the reserves are high.  If you don’t make the deposits - you don’t honour your commitments, you don’t keep your word - the reserves are low and there is little to draw on. Or, if you keep withdrawing through continuous mistakes, lack of respect, taking not giving then the reserves are depleted.

Think about your key stakeholders. What is your bank account like? Is it flourishing or overdrawn? Think about your personal relationships too. We often take the people we care about most for granted, slowly eroding that emotional bank account.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. It’s vital a leader creates a climate of trust and collaboration in order to sustain long term success.


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