Trust is at the center of all organizational success. Great companies have high trust leaders. If
your company is stuck maybe it’s time to assess the level of trust your managers enjoy from
their staff. Trust is earned. It is never bestowed. Therefore, effective leaders enjoy trust and
effective ones do not.
Give some thought to the six key characters that high trust leaders employ to build a culture of
trust with their employees.
1) High trust leaders are honest people. They understand that their words matter. They tell the
truth. They are frank, plain spoken, and direct. Yet they speak with respect. Their employees
begin to place a high value on their leader’s words and their meaning because they have proven
themselves over time to be reliable. This is much harder than in it sounds. Why? Because it is
so easy to over promise and under deliver with your employees. For example, an unhappy
employee is in your office. They moan and groan about a change that they think needs to be
made. You do not agree but you are tired so you tell them you will do it. But your heart is not in
it. Your motivation was merely to make them go away. That conversation was important to them
but not to you. You used words to manipulate and not to have an honest discussion about the
issue and why it can or why it can’t be done.
Countless examples can be offered. Leaders’ promise raises, promotions, time off, job changes,
new office or cubicle locations, expanded work responsibilities, better working conditions but
then fail to deliver. The team loses trust with the leader because they no longer view them as
worthy of their trust. They now question every word because some of those words were lies, or
at the very least obfuscations. As the trust evaporates performance slows. Mind your words.
They matter. Speak and then deliver or explain to them why you can’t.
2) Transparency is a rare virtue. Too many leaders are guarded with information. I advise my
clients to be transparent to a fault. Your employees, especially your best ones want to know and
understand everything that may possibly impact their ability to perform. Will there be an
inventory shortage? Make sure the sales reps know so they can communicate with their
customers. Did a defective product get shipped but we now have resolved the issue? Make sure
customer service knows so they can put a plan in place to address it with customers effectively.
Too often our employees feel blindsided because we know but they don’t. We are too busy. We
fear and want to avoid the backlash that will eventually come anyway. When in doubt share
more not less. When transparency exists a strong culture built on trust is more likely to emerge.
3) Strong leaders are comfortable with clarity. They understand how important it is for
employees to understand exactly what is expected of them. Our firm recruited a plant manager
who was gifted at this. As he walked the plant floor he would stop and ask at random employees
a very simple question. He asked them, “What’s your job?” His teaching goal was that the
answer was so clear to them that they could answer without thinking. Answers like “my job is to
cost effectively package our product so they arrive to our customer undamaged.” another may
say “my job is to assemble our product as quickly as I can do it with excellence.” What if I
walked your plant and office floor and asked the same question of your employees? What would
their answer be? Would their response be crisp, clear, and to the point? If not why? The answer
to that question is a leadership issue.
4) Consistency is another hallmark of a strong culture company. Great leaders lead with
consistency. They build a striking resonance among the team because just like the drums in
orchestra they set the beat or rhythm for the players. Imagine trying to follow a beat that
changed often with a confusing unpredictability. Similar to point 3 in our list, an employee may
believe he is clear on what the boss expects but then the boss altered the expectation and
changed it again. All without explanation or notification. A lack of clarity and consistency will
freeze performance in its tracks. Employees take on a deer in the headlights look and begin to
wait to be told what to do next. Effective leaders enjoying high performance from their team
even when they are absent because their employees follow a steady clear rhythm. Their job is
clear to them. They follow the beat even when the conductor is not present.
5) I love the concept of failing forward. The idea of failing forward conjures up so many positive
traits on the part of the leader. First it implies humility. Humble leaders recognize they make
mistakes too. They take advantage of mistakes and use them as coaching opportunities. A
leader who allows employees to fail forward is gracious. In other words, imperfection does not
have to be punished. One of my clients says he wants his leaders to have redemptive attitudes
toward employees. It can be powerful when an employee commits a grievous error and fears
the loss of their job only to be met with a spirit of grace. When a leader supports their team the
team is more productive. High trust exists when leaders turn failure into opportunity.
6) Finally, no one said you needed to be perfect so quit acting like it. Be real. Be genuine. Be
authentic. When you screw up admit it. Apologize and move on. Own your responsibilities.
When something blows up don’t blame a subordinate. Own your part. Your employees don’t
need you to be perfect. They do need to trust you. In your striving for perfection you will try to
build a ridiculous image of yourself that your team will feel compelled to tear down. But when
you become real they will sit with you. They will talk to your and you will learn more because
genuine people are approachable people.
Be human. Be kind. Say please and thank you. Ask. Don’t demand. Model the behavior you
expect from them. Your genuineness can serve as a catalyst to create a warm spirit of humanity
among the team. Your genuine spirit gives others permission and power to let their hair down a
bit. Walls come down. Communication improves and productivity follows.
The fact that trust exists among team can be reliably traced back to the leader. These 6 key
components are all behaviors the leader can learn and choices they can make. The good news
is trust that is broken can like the mythical phoenix emerge and fly again. But the leader must do
the hard work of earning it.