Trust: The Cornerstone of Relationships and Leadership

Trust is the key to meaningful leadership, relationships and influence.

Most of us know this, but how do we develop trust in the workplace and at home?

CoachStation: Trust, Leadership and Influence

Source: pmtips.com

It is fascinating to see people grow and develop. Like many in my industry, I do what I do because of a deep need to contribute and make a difference when coaching and mentoring. This continues to hold me in good stead as a coach, mentor and consultant. However, developing trusted relationships was also a core belief when I was leading people directly. Now, my goal is to help others learn why and how to apply these skills and attributes to influence and lead their team members.

One of my favourite and most effective tools relates to helping my clients understand their personal values. The process of prioritising an extensive set of value statements and words down to 20 primary and ultimately, 7 core values is always interesting.

A continuing trend is that trust forms a part of the vast majority of people’s primary values.

Based on many other personal and professional conversations, I am confident this is a consistent need for most people. Elements of trust that are identified throughout these discussions show that most people can feel whether trust exists. Fewer can explain specifically how it is built or established. At the end of my Personal Values workshops or coaching process, I ask participants to reflect and act upon several questions. One of the most important is:

How well do you establish and maintain a culture where most people get to fulfil this need most of the time? This is important if trust is so inherently important to so many people, including members of your own team. 

I also ask that they reflect on all core values in a similar way. How regularly and effectively are your core values being met at work and at home? The answers to these questions can provide great insight into why things ‘feel’ as they do…both good and bad, positive and negative. Critically, it is what you do with this new learning that matters. However, trust is strengthened or weakened readily depending on your behaviours and demonstrated actions. What you do, what you say and how you say it has a bearing on how well you connect with people.

Connections with purpose and meaning build trust.

  1. Do What You Say You Will Do: This is the ultimate way to gain people’s trust. It means following through with what you say you will do.
  2. Trust & Nurture To Develop: To gain trust we need to trust others. It is a two-way street. We need to be patient and give them the time to grow and develop instead of forcing the issue.
  3. Do The Right Thing: Regardless of whether or not anyone is watching you, integrity cannot be compromised. It takes many years to establish your credibility, but it only takes a few minutes to ruin it.
  4. Care For Your People: Before we ask our people to do something for us, we must appeal to them and touch their heart.
  5. Serve Your People: When we serve our people, we ensure that their interest is taken into consideration. By doing so, we don’t focus on who gets the credit. Our focus shifts to getting the job done. (1)

When employees are not having their core needs and values met, they may look elsewhere.

A powerful way to establish trust is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity. If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy for and willingness to cooperate with you will increase. (3) It is much easier to do this when you have a natural affiliation with someone. It may be a shared history; aligned values; similar belief systems, or other form of alignment. This link is key, but don’t think it can be easily faked.

People can see and feel any superficiality a mile off. Even if they can’t explain it.

Sometimes this is described as ‘just not feeling right’. When their is alignment is it often stated that it ‘simply feels like a strong connection’. This cannot always be easily explained or articulated. Yet, the feelings we have about others is powerful and drives many of our decisions, particularly surrounding our relationships.

First, leaders that place people ahead of profit (which leads to more profit, imagine that!) will work hard to promote trust. That means that they create an environment where risks are taken, where employees feel safe and motivated to exercise their creativity, communicate ideas openly, and provide input to major decisions without reprimand. Because there is trust there. But trust is a two-way street. So leaders trust and believe in the people that they lead as well. And when you value people by trusting them, you treat others with dignity and respect.

But trust in this social economy remains a baffling stigma. In 2014, the American Psychological Association published the findings on their Work and Well-Being Survey.

Nearly 1 in 4 workers say they don’t trust their employer and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them. 

While almost two-thirds (64 percent) of employed adults feel their organization treats them fairly, 1 in 3 reported that their employer is not always honest and truthful with them. But the great news is that workers who feel valued by their employer are more likely to be engaged in their work. In the survey results, employees were significantly more likely to report having high levels of energy, being strongly involved in their work, and just plain happy about what they do. Ninety-one percent were likely to say they are motivated to do their best (versus 37 percent who do not feel valued) and 85 percent were likely to recommend their employer to others (versus 15 percent of those who do not feel valued). (4)

It’s clear that a culture that feels valued, that promotes openness, honesty, transparency and trust are key to high-performance. 

When considered as a sum of its parts, the Trust Equation (highlighted below) has much merit. I like the idea that the model highlights the four elements of who we are: words; actions; emotions; and, caring. Once understood there is greater potential to apply these elements and establish greater levels of trust in practice. Check yourself against the four criteria and see where you might be able to strengthen your trust-building skills.

CoachStation: Building Trust in Leadership

Source: Building Trust – Kristin Anderson. 2015

Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies using its Employee Work Passion Assessment has found significant correlation between positive work intentions and a leader’s ability to build trust, use coaching behaviors, and create an engaging work environment. This environment includes high levels of Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Growth, Fairness, Collaboration, and Feedback, along with six other factors. (2)

I see trust being taken for granted in many workplaces. As with any relational aspect, it takes effort to develop trust.

I regularly state to my clients, “whether you like someone you lead is not the point”. As a leader you have little choice in making it all about who you like or dislike. In your leadership role you are obligated to influence, develop and assist your team members. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is seeing improvement and growth in those who initially you may not have affiliated naturally with. Trust is built on many things. Moving beyond likeability to deeper traits such as respect and honesty influence trust more than simply being liked.

The Inc article highlighted in this blog makes several great points about engagement and trust. It is worth reading in full. I particularly appreciate the final paragraph which summarises the essence of valuing employees and building trust, described as the ‘most counter-intuitive part’.

More studies are coming out saying that if you trust and believe in your people first, and in return they reciprocate by believing in you as a leader, they will give their best work.

In other words, although conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, in healthy organizations, leaders who put high emphasis on meeting employees’ needs are willing to give trust to them first, and they give it as a gift even before it’s earned. Now that’s valuing people. (4)

As highlighted earlier, the question really is a simple one. Does the environment and culture you are building as a leader foster and develop trust in others and to be trusted yourself?

Take on the challenge of reviewing where trust sits for you. Reflecting on this is one great way to understand yourself and your team members better. It will also be a meaningful way to develop a deeper sense of trust and relationships in practice.

 

Resources:

  1. Will Lukang – Leadership Digital
  2. David Witt – Blanchard LeaderChat
  3. David Desteno – Harvard Business Review
  4. Marcel Schwantes – Inc.

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