Building Leadership Trust is Not a Fluffy ‘Soft’ Skill

Image: Building Leadership Trust is Not a Fluffy ‘Soft’ Skill

Trust is Important to Leadership

Leading people is not easy; it takes additional effort and commitment by the manager. As soon as you are responsible for ensuring team goals are achieved, you are responsible that the individuals who make up the team achieve his/her goals. Once upon a time, a leader might ensure that the team met its goals by using criticism, reprisal, discipline and other fears of negative consequences. However, as our understanding of modern workplace psychology and motivation theories advanced, leaders were encouraged to use positive mechanisms to encourage individuals to meet their goals through collaboration with others. One of the beliefs that team members must have is that the leader knows how to support individuals to their full potential. Team members must have trust.

Defining and Building Trust

Trust has to be defined well enough into behaviours that leaders can demonstrate. It is not good enough to give a leader feedback stating ‘you need to build more trust’. Both parties have to be able to say what that means and how the leader needs to demonstrate it. It might be the case that the leader is not showing one of the following five characteristics:

  1. Reliability/Consistency: your team members can count on you coming through with what is needed.
    • We often hear team members complain about this factor in a leader. Behaviourally it can be seen by leaders not answering emails in a timely fashion, not giving feedback, canceling one-on-ones, not meeting their own agreed upon deadlines.
  2. Capability: demonstrating your own best work.
    • There is perhaps nothing worse than a leader who states that s/he has high standards or holds team members accountable to a level of perfection that s/he doesn’t demonstrate.
  3. Openness: sharing all relevant information
    • When team members feel that they are not in the know, they get nervous. That nervousness translates into doubt that the leader has their best interest at heart. Also, the doubt makes team members nervous that they will not be able to achieve their goals as effectively as possible. These circular negative emotions are the antithesis of what is needed for people to be productive. They spend more time worrying than focusing on work.
  4. Confidentiality: Guard information shared with you privately.
    • Naturally, it should be clear to all, including leaders, that you shouldn’t share any information that a colleague asks you not to share. But this rule applies to how you might share opinions as well. In a session, a participant said that he loses trust when an opinion he shares with a team member or colleague in an email is then forwarded to others. He said that had he known how the information would be shared, he would have written that email differently or provided greater context.
  5. Compassion: Care about each other’s interest and promote each other’s well-being.
    • This is part of a leader’s emotional intelligence. Leaders have to be able to understand the aspirations of the other team members and what their everyday life looks like. The little acknowledgments, encouragements and congratulations go a long way.

Building ‘trust’ is a definable, measurable activity. Leaders that build trust have one of the key components to creating a productive culture.

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