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I came across a study the other day that stopped me in my tracks. It proclaimed that 37% of employees trust managers less today than in the past, and that only 8% trust their leaders “to a great extent.”
I don’t know about you, but that number disturbs me. Here’s why: For most of us, our boss is one of the people who holds the most influence over our well-being. So, I think it’s a problem that our well-being depends so heavily on someone that most of us don’t really trust. Don’t you?
I think we could all agree that higher trust almost always equates to better team and individual performance, not to mention lowering stress, creating greater job stability, and just making our workplace a more pleasant place to be.
Granted, there are (unfortunately) leaders out there that cannot be trusted. They fit the definition of a selfish leader and will undoubtedly throw anyone under the bus if it suits their agenda. If that’s the type of person you work for, I suggest that you start looking for greener pastures. If that’s the type of boss you are, I urge you to consider whether that really is the most effective way to run your team. In many (perhaps even most) situations, selfless leadership rules the day as not only the most pleasant way to lead, but also the most effective.
If you are the type of leader that sincerely cares for your people and believes that building them up and focusing on teamwork is the best way to lead, read on.
The simple truth is that when we trust and respect those we work for and with, we are more engaged in the job at hand and work harder. In Stephen Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he asserts that high trust equals high speed and low cost. Likewise, low trust generally equals low speed and high cost. He includes a couple of great example of this, including one to which we can all relate…
Before 9/11, getting to the airport a half hour before our flight boarded was plenty of time. Why? We had a high level of trust in the security of our airports. These days, if you fail to arrive at the airport at least an hour and a half before your flight boards, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it. The high cost of post-9/11 security is reflected not only in long security lines, but also in the price of our ticket. The added security might be necessary to our safety; but the decrease in trust has clearly resulted in low speed and high cost.
Ok. So, as a leader, cultivating trust will most likely result in faster results at a lower cost. Fine. But, as a leader, you are also responsible for ensuring discipline and providing tough constructive feedback when necessary. How does one build trust while giving a poor performance review or shooting down someone’s “good” idea? There’s no doubt about it. If you are in a leadership role, there will be times when you have to make difficult decisions that your subordinates won’t like. And, you’ll have to stand your ground, even when you suspect that they perceive you as self-centered and authoritative… and perhaps a bit untrustworthy.
So what are you to do? Consider starting with these steps:
- Be deliberate about developing trust. In most cases, it’s really not that difficult to build trust. But it’s much, much easier to lose it. As a leader, you must hold yourself and everyone else on your team accountable to say what they mean and do what they say. The second you let this one slide, your organization takes a hit.
- Demonstrate Commitment to the Vision of your organization.When your vision is truly compelling, it is the most powerful tool in your toolbox. It can attract new talent and motivate everyone at every level of the organization to stay the course, even when doing so is challenging. Demonstrating commitment to that Vision with your actions, not just your words, provides hope and inspiration that everyone’s hard work is for a good reason. When we doubt the commitment of our leaders to the very reason our organization exists, it becomes very difficult to trust them.
- Live your values. In other words, be a person of Character. This one speaks for itself. We all automatically trust those who walk the walk and distrust those who merely talk the talk.
- Continue to improve your own competence. It’s difficult to trust someone whom we suspect is incompetent in his or her chosen field. This certainly doesn’t mean that we have to know everything. It only means that we invest in our own professional development and commitment to never stop learning and improving.
- Choose to be a selfless leader rather than a selfish one. Self-centric leaders are only interested in furthering their own goals and tend to take much more than they give. In contrast, selfless leaders don’t view their employees as a means to an end; rather, they believe that their employees’ happiness IS the end. They believe there is value in putting their people and their organization first. The selfless leadership style naturally generates a much higher level of trust from those around them, and in the long run, creates more successful teams as a result.
Earning the trust of those whom we are charged to lead is not simply something that is nice-to-have. It can literally make the difference between success and failure. Being intentional about building trust is a concrete way of ensuring that your team is functioning at it’s highest potential.