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How To Lead At The Speed of Trust

As a seminar leader, coach and speaker, I'm often asked questions on how to effectively lead others. Many of the questions I'm asked often deal with the ability to build trust. For example, here are some common questions I am asked from various leaders:

  • How do I get others to follow me?

  • How do I connect with my followers?

  • How do I get my team members to hold each other accountable?

  • How can I get others to listen to me?

  • What is it going to take to find committed employees?

  • How do I get my team to challenge each other's opinions?

Trust is the answer to everyone of the above questions. One of the great challenges we have in leadership today is the absence of trust. Almost everywhere we turn, trust is on the decline. Trust in our culture at large, in our institutions, and in our companies is significantly lower than a generation ago. Research shows that only 49% of employees trust senior management, and only 28% believe CEOs are a credible source of information. Because trust is the foundation of every relationship it makes it very difficult to build anything beyond it?

If I want to improve my communication with someone, I have to begin with establishing trust. If I make a mistake and want to move on, I have to own my behavior by being vulnerable so that I can begin to build trust. I want my team to get along and stop competing with each other, then we have to establish trust with each other's intentions and motives. If I want to grow leaders can challenge their thinking, I have to create an environment (safe place to share, listen with positive intent, create healthy rules of engagement, etc.) that is conducive to building trust. Most people don't know how to think about the organizational and societal consequences of not establishing trust because they don't know how to quantify or measure the costs of such a so-called "soft" factor as trust. Stephen Covey once said, “For many, trust is intangible, ethereal, unquantifiable. If it remains that way, then people don't know how to get their arms around it or how to improve it. But the fact is, the costs of low trust are very real, they are quantifiable, and they are staggering.” The inability to focus and build trust within personal and professional relationships is costly. A study conducted a few years ago by Watson Wyatt organization showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%! The good news is that the competency of building trust can be learned, applied, and understood. With some learning in focus, anyone can make a great impact in this competency. Is out until leaders I work with, “You cannot be an effective leader without trust.” As Warren Bennis once said, “leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms." So the question then becomes how does a leader build trust? The goal of any leader is to inspire trust. A follower must see two dimensions of a leader: a leaders competence and leaders commitment. Competence involves a leaders ability to get results, follow through, and have the skills necessary to lead themselves. Leaders commitment involves the ability to make decisions in the best interest of others instead of self, having a high level of integrity, and being willing to serve others. Both of these dimensions are essential to building trust and cannot be overlooked. There are no shortcuts here.

Once a leader is able to display competence and commitment, it is important to create a culture of practice. The greatest motivator in any environment is seeing someone else doing a positive behavior. As the leader models, so the followers imitate. Here are five top behaviors every leader must model in order to build trust:

  1. Be real - say what you mean and mean what you say. Be direct in your communication.

  2. Mutual respect - respect is earned and it begins by the leader modeling the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated).

  3. Keep commitments - never underestimate the importance of following through on what you say you are going to do. When you start breaking commitments, you are giving permission for others to break commitments.

  4. Confront mediocrity - never allow problems to fester and low standards to be permitted. This just fosters a culture of death.

  5. Have a Responsibility Mindset - when you make a mistake, own it. Responsibility is not about blame, it is about the ability to acknowledge and solve the problem.

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