Trust is the gel that sticks relationships together. Without trust anything beyond a very basic interaction would quickly fall apart. We talk all the time about how important trust is in leadership but how do we actually build trust as a leader?
The traditional way of thinking about building trust implies it take a lot of time and effort to build and that it can be destroyed in an instant - a bit like a forest. But is this actually how trust functions? I can think of lots of situations where we are choosing to trust in a very quick and "in the moment" manner.
For example, when I ran in the recent Around the Mountain Relay, a complete stranger asked if he could take my car to the end of my leg for me and I immediately handed my car keys over, without hesitation. It was only when I was on my run that I realised I had been so quick to trust him, I didn't even explained how he could start the car! I made the decision to trust him in a matter of seconds. Of course this decision was situation-specific - similar to how I trust my dentist to work on my teeth but not to fix my car.
Trust is situational and specific. We choose to trust or not to trust in a given moment. This is partly because of past information, but regardless, the decision happens right there in the moment.
Keeping this in mind, I have broken down the essence of what trust is so you can better communicate to your team that you are trustworthy, that you trust them, and that the work environment is a safe and trusting place.
Trust is about: Relationships
Trust is not a one-sided thing - it is a relationship between two people.
When I was in my 20's, I managed this large bar and restaurant, which the owner gave me a lot of responsibility of. Often when I would put hours into to organising and planning events and then, at the 11th hour, he would rather anxiously check and make changes to what I had planned. I found this very demotivating and ultimately left the position. This is a great example of how trust is not a one-sided thing - it is a relationship between two people: the person who takes the risk and the person who is trustworthy. If either side falls down, trust disappears.
A leader is the person who takes the risk first. Sometimes even before there are any signs we should trust this person. Leadership is a willingness to express empathy before anyone else, and inspire others to uphold that vulnerability.
In my coaching work, this seems to come up quite a bit where clients are 100% trustworthy and would do anything to support a colleague or help out a friend, yet struggle to be vulnerable - to ask for help, support, to trust.
If you can’t do this then how well are you fulfilling both sides of the trust relationship? How well are you inspiring others to be trustworthy?
Trust is about: Consistency
To be continuously awful is actually better for relationships than to be "sometimes great" and "sometimes awful".
One of the main drivers of trust is consistency - we trust people who are consistent.
Sure this makes sense but perhaps a little twisted is the fact that we even trust people who are consistently awful. In fact, to be continuously awful is actually better for relationships than to be "sometimes great" and "sometimes awful". (Not that I am suggesting we all start behaving badly all the time, I am just trying to make a point about how detrimental it can be to inconsistent in your behaviour as a leader.) It sort of made me think of President Donald Trump - how he says the most ridiculous and insulting things that seem to have no bearing on the trust of his supporters. Why? Because he is absolutely consistent in his behaviour.
Stress and the stress response can greatly affect our ability to build an environment of trust around us; our behaviour when we are stressed can change dramatically from approachable and friendly to absent and distracted. What changes in your behaviour when you are stressed? In the long term, how is this affecting the relationships around you?
Trust is about: Alignment and Caring
Trust is an emotion and doesn’t necessarily make any logical sense.
We trust others that are like us; that align with our values and interests.
The other day I went to a Zumba class. And while I love Zumba, I haven’t been for months. While it was the first time I have attended this particular class, I was struck by how inclusive it was, ironically in a very exclusive way. I knew a couple of people at the class from simply crossing paths with them before; we had never really spoken. But these women (it is very rare, unfortunately, to find any men at Zumba) gave me a warm welcome. I felt trusted, safe and supported. I was immediately invited into a very intimate conversation; I was immediately trusted.
This reiterated for me that trust is an emotion and doesn’t necessarily make any logical sense. I was suddenly trusted by this group because they realised I shared the same values and interests as them.
As a leader, how well are you communicating your values and what you stand for? Is this visible and obvious to others? How could you make this more obvious in your actions?