Earning trust as a leader

“The first job of any leader is to inspire trust.” – Stephen R. Covey

Scan the headlines and in minutes we can form the opinion that trust in leaders is in short supply. What about you? Do people trust you? You’re only truly a leader when other people want to follow you. Trust is essential to earning the respect and commitment of followers. Take a look at the 10 ways to earn trust below, and as you do so you may want to assess yourself. Where are you already earning trust, and where may you have some work to do?

1. Be credible

Do people actually believe what you say? Do you follow words with actions? The key to being credible is to honour your commitments: do what you say you will. Warning: you may need to take a reality check before promising your new team that you will the leader who – finally – turns things around. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

2. Be purposeful

Leaders earn trust by defining and reminding the team of their purpose – their ‘why’. The most trusted leaders articulate purpose in ways that followers can understand, identify with and commit to act upon.

3. Be clear about expectations

Communicate – in writing, when speaking – with complete clarity and simplicity. Set out expectations. Lack of clarity can be interpreted as being vague in order to deceive, or fudging an issue because you just don’t know the answers and won’t admit it. Obfuscation will cause confusion and erode trust.

4. Be consultative

Trusted leaders seek the input of team members on major developments and subsequent decisions. They give fair hearing and listen well to what their team members say and give credit where it’s due when members’ contributions are adopted.

5. Be available

OK, maybe not round the clock, nor to molly coddle people; but at least be clear on when you are available and not. People can soon lose faith in a leader who’s nowhere to be seen, or constantly closeted in mysterious meetings. One of my best bosses, respected by clients and employees alike, was known for ‘being available’. He had a habit of saying, “I’ve got five minutes now / in an hour / this afternoon” – and he meant it. In return for his time, we soon learned that clarity and brevity were required.

6. Be accountable

Leaders who walk their talk don’t just hold team members accountable for their actions – they hold themselves accountable too.

7. Be realistic

Positivity is generally a good thing in a leader – being around a pessimist can spread fear. But don’t dress it up if things are bad; that’s a shortcut to losing trust. Be honest about the situation and realistic about what can be achieved.

8. Be considerate

Showing consideration for people’s opinions and feelings, accepting that they may be very different to your own, will help earn followers’ trust. Whether someone’s simply having a tough time and needs compassionate leave or counselling, or they’re looking to boost their skills, you’ll build trust when people know they can count on your support.

9. Be consistent

Followers won’t trust an inconsistent leader. If you agree to a brave suggestion from one team member on Monday and immediately reject another from them on Thursday, you’ll earn a reputation as a leader who is unpredictable and changes with the wind. In the same vein, having favourites is a sure-fire way to lose the trust of those you lead. If you want to play Machiavelli and manipulate people you may recruit one or two ‘lieutenants’ who will follow you (to a point), but you will never earn the trust of your whole team, or indeed the wider organisation.

10. Be trusting of others

Once you’ve communicated the team’s purpose, clarified expectations and accountability, trust people to do their best. If you’ve been clear with others, you’re not trusting blindly, but wisely. Set the tone by trusting others and in so doing, you’ll earn their trust.

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” – Harold Macmillan

Want to read more?

Check out ‘How Smart Leaders Build Trust’ by Theodore Kinni for Stanford Graduate School of Business.

You may find this blog post useful: ‘Sports Teams and Work Teams – same or different?’

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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