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How do I build trust as a leader?

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Everyone knows that trust is essential for a leader’s success. Building trust within your team has many benefits. Trust:

  • avoids hostility and unhealthy conflict
  • facilitates acceptance of change
  • allows employees to be more receptive to negative feedback
  • increases employees’ loyalty to the company
  • helps employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas
  • boosts morale, improves motivation and nurtures a positive company culture
  • increases productivity and quality work, leading to happier customers.

The benefits are clear, who wouldn’t want to reap them? but trust is a feeling, it’s not a commodity we can buy or bargain for. Even the most trustworthy people don’t automatically win trust. So how do we build it?

New research shows that building trust doesn’t have to take years. We just need to do the right things consistently.

Numerous studies show that people who inspire the most trust are those who exhibit two distinct traits: warmth and competence. We trust warm people, because we believe they care about us, and we trust competent people because they are credible, effective, and efficient. Most people inherently project one or the other. But to build strong, trusting relationships both in and out of the office, we need to project both.

There are also 4 key elements to trust that feed into these traits. When ascertaining whether I trust you or not I will look at the following criteria:

Intent  – What is your intention? Do you care about me?

Disclosure – Are you open and transparent?

Contractual – Do you keep your commitments?

Competence – Can you do what is required?

In order to build trust you need to:

  1. Get to know your staff: Putting in the time and effort to get to know your employees on a personal level is a great way to build trust. Make it a habit of learning about their personal lives, and showing you care. That might mean remembering and celebrating birthdays, sending flowers and a handwritten note to a team member who has experienced a loss, or taking the time to connect personally with your employees. These behaviours demonstrate warmth but must be genuine: if your behaviour isn’t authentic, or isn’t perceived to be authentic (for example, you don’t listen to the answer after you have asked a question), it can backfire and destroy trust.   

    Leaders who only use transactional communication ie. only talking about work tasks never develop deep levels of trust within their teams.

  2. Demonstrate Passion: If you want your employees to be passionate about what they do and produce great work, you need to do the same. They need to trust that you are there for the right reasons and that you care about the company. Demonstrate your passion by being active on the company’s social media, wearing and using company branded clothing and items, and most importantly, participate as often as possible in work-related activities such as after-work outings and company events.
  3. Be open and transparent: Communicate as much as possible about the highs and lows of company and team performance, provide constructive feedback and praise. Admit to errors and oversights – showing that you’re vulnerable can help bridge a trust gap. You might share a personal anecdote in which your human frailties shine through, or admit that you’re still learning the ropes and don’t have all the answers. Good leaders understand the power of owning up to mistakes and rectifying them.
  4. Keep Your Promises: We all know the saying under-promise and over-deliver. Making false promises, even just once, is hard to recover from, for as we said, trust has to be earned, not bought so it pays to be consistent. eg. If you promise to look into a professional development opportunity for your employee, look into it.
  5. Convey competence: On the surface, competence seems easy to convey. Credentials and titles are obvious signs that let others know we’re credible. But even with competence, you can
    Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word credibility.

    project more subtle — and more powerful — cues. “Talking the talk,” or using the right jargon, is one way to do this. By using correct terminology, you demonstrate expertise and that in turn fosters confidence and trust. Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, and Dropbox’s Drew Houston, gain the trust of their tech teams by speaking their language and understanding the challenges they face.

  6. Share Your Knowledge: Being knowledgeable about your industry or product instills trust in your team because it suggests that you know what you’re talking about. This Harvard Business Review article reveals from their findings that employees like to know that their bosses can do their jobs as well as they can do their own, and that they have technical competencies that extend beyond their own. Employees are far happier when they are led by people who have worked their way up. So organize coaching and training sessions to pass along knowledge to your team.
  7. Trust Them: Trust goes both ways. Showing that you have trust and faith in your employees’ abilities, decision-making skills and judgment is a great way to open them up to trusting you. Leadership is not only about you being a great leader, it’s about helping your team become the best that can be. Ultimately, your success is a reflection of theirs. Show employees you trust them by asking them to spearhead projects, lead presentations, propose new initiatives or work from home.

By demonstrating warmth and competence on a regular basis through these actions, you can build trust quickly and reap all the benefits it brings.

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Here’s another article with ideas on building trust 10 ways effective leaders build trust

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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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