Great Leaders Invest in Trust
In last month’s article, we addressed how great leaders ignite hope in their people. The most important gift a leader can give to their people is hope- for a better future, for individual or team success, hope for overcoming obstacles, hope that they can accomplish their goals and dreams.
But not every leader ignites hope in those they lead. In fact, many don’t. Many employees see their employers as a source of discouragement. Here are some ways discouraged employees describe their leaders.
Here’s the bottom line: Employees will not be inspired to hope by a supervisor they don’t trust. Can you imagine yourself feeling encouraged to succeed by someone you don’t trust? Of course not. This makes earning the trust of those we lead essential to offering them hope.
These days, it’s as hard as it has ever been to gain peoples’ trust. Here are some principles we must understand if we’re to gain the trust of our teams.
1. Trust cannot be assumed. It must be earned and actively cultivated. We’d like trust in our leadership to be the default setting for our employees. But it’s just not. Everyone has a story of being burned by someone, and this gives us all a skeptical side, even if we’re not often conscious of it. And we naturally have certain needs and expectations that, when they are violated, cause us to lose trust.
2. Trust isn’t earned once and forgotten. It must be maintained. Author Patrick Lencioni asks us to imagine that every member of our team has a “trust jar” on their desk. Throughout the day and week, we are making deposits and withdrawals from their trust jars. We do this through our words and actions, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. The key to maintaining trust is to keep a positive trust balance in the jars. Since we never know when a necessary word or action may be perceived as a withdrawal, great leaders actively make deposits on a regular basis. This requires investments of time, emotional energy, and vulnerability.
3. Employees don’t trust companies, organizations, or brands. They don’t trust ideas, slogans, or philosophies. PEOPLE TRUST OTHER PEOPLE. They judge groups, brands, ideas, and philosophies by the people they know who represent those. We can’t rely on our companies for trust building.
4. Employees don’t simply trust what we say. They trust what they SEE. For better or worse, we have a history with them- a history of trustworthy behaviors or untrustworthy behaviors.
5. A lifetime of trustworthy behavior done in private is honorable, but it doesn’t help build trust as much. It’s the observable behaviors that impact trust the most. Here is a list of leadership behaviors, or observable characteristics, that employees consistently say they trust.
6. Trustworthy behavior is often contagious. When your trustworthy behaviors begin to result in deposits accumulating in their trust jars, team members will begin to feel safe to make trust deposits with each other. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Leaders can destroy an entire corporate culture with their untrustworthy personal behavior.
What trustworthy leadership characteristics are top of your personal list? What do you do to actively model those characteristics for your team?
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Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 30 years. He has a diverse background as a leadership coach, military officer, an appointed state official, and executive leader of Alaska's largest church. Jay has trained over 1,400 leaders in the last five years, from Alaska to Southern California, in various fields from universities to military, construction, product distribution, manufacturing, telecommunications, churches, banks, casinos, and a railroad.