Building Trust As A Leader

The Most Effective Ways for Building Trust as a Leader

6 min read
Zoe Brankin
Zoe Brankin

Trust is a crucial part of the puzzle when getting people to follow your leadership and look to you as an example. You may feel that you intuitively build trust as a leader, but are you spending valuable time and resources on the wrong things?

Holding informal company lunches, days out, or social events is common to build trust for many organisations. We don’t deny that these are great ideas, but there is more to it.

Here we look at the six most effective ways to inspire trust in your leadership and how incorporating them into your day-to-day leadership style will boost team cohesion and productivity.

The importance of trust in leadership

It’s one thing to say that trust is essential in the workplace. But do you know what impact it has?

Professor Paul Zak spent a decade finding out. He conducted a range of neuroscience experiments in the workplace, and his research revealed the following. Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout

Pretty compelling, right? Trust underpins effective working relationships. If your employee trusts a colleague, line manager, or team member, they are more likely to work effectively together and cooperate.

It also helps organisations run smoothly by increasing positivity, improving processes, engagement and retention, and driving performance. And it inspires team members to contribute ideas. The ability to build trust is something every leader should be trying to master.

We decided to get our CEO & Founder, Luke Fisher, to give his take on this, and here’s what he had to say: 

“When people brand themselves as trustworthy, this is often blurred with integrity or consistent behaviour. This is called predictability-based trust. This type of trust is about knowing how someone will react to your actions or you to theirs regardless of the situation. The other type is vulnerability-based trust – this is not about airing your dirty laundry or crying at work but about opening yourself up to risk. By asking for help, sharing something new you learnt, and even sharing weakness, but ultimately show that you are human. This type of trust creates connection, commitment and motivation.”

Trust vs Psychological Safety: What’s the difference? 

When building psychological safety within teams or any group context, it’s vital to foster and maintain trust. Trust and psychological safety are often confused with each other. However, there is a clear distinction between the two. The two concepts are related but not interchangeable. Trust between colleagues and their leaders contributes to this safety, and vice versa.

Psychological safety is a shared feeling that it’s ok to be open and honest in a group. However, leaders must recognise that this outcome isn’t the result of everyone simply being friendly. When managers and employees inauthentically support one another’s ideas just because they want to be polite, they miss out on an opportunity to communicate and learn from each other.

This artificial lack of challenge will limit how people grow and improve. It also causes people to keep their mouths shut when they have legitimate concerns and cover for their colleagues.

A study conducted by Google found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave, and more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their team and bring in more revenue. When teams feel safe, they’ll feel more empowered to face challenges. We know your org chart is full of potential, so all you need to do now is give your people a safe space to reach it!

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Six Ways to Build Trust as a Leader

Building trust as a leader isn’t about buying the morning coffee or planning a great team-building exercise. It’s something you have to commit to every working day. Here are a few practical strategies that will help you build trust and reap the rewards of a happier and more motivated workforce.

1. Listen 

Employees will have their ideas and viewpoints, so why not ask them to speak their minds and listen to what they say? Listening is the foundation for positive workplace relationships built on trust and mutual understanding. 

Make an effort to ask your employees questions and encourage them to elaborate more on their points so you can truly understand what they are trying to get across. Try it out in one-to-one meetings by asking employees questions about their work experience, how they’re feeling and what you as a leader can do to improve their experience. 

If you need some help structuring your one-to-one questions for this purpose, here are a few ideas: 

  • What’s on your mind this week? 
  • Do you have any questions about the recent changes involving [X] (this could be an announcement from a manager, team, etc.)? 
  • How aligned do you feel with where the company is going?
  • What feedback do you have for me?
  • What progress have you made on your career goals this week?
  • What are two or three new skills you’d like to learn on the job? 
  • Last time we spoke, you said [X] was a challenge. How is that going? 

2. Show Vulnerability

Strength and the appearance of infallibility might have been cornerstones of old leadership styles but don’t resonate in quite the same way today.

We like leaders who show vulnerability — who can own up to their mistakes and demonstrate accountability for their actions, who don’t pretend that they have all the answers all of the time. By sharing work-related problems and challenges with your team, you get their buy-in and input.

When working from home, separating home life from work life is easier said than done. If you’ve had a difficult night’s sleep because your kid was ill, be honest. Tell your colleagues you won’t be much use in meetings that day. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re weak or submissive. It implies you dare to be yourself.

Remember that distant, professional leadership won’t win hearts and minds. So make an effort to have difficult conversations with employees, empathise with them, and ask for help when you need it.

3. Be a Good Role Model

It’s hard to trust a leader who tells you to “do as I say, but not as I do”. Very few people can get on board with unfairness and hypocrisy.

Leaders have to model the behaviour and mindset they want to see in their employees. Demonstrate integrity, respect confidentiality and work as hard as you expect from your team.

Also, remember that if you want to see a change in your employees, you must first focus on your own behavioural change.

4. Show Appreciation and Gratitude

According to McKinsey, workers feel undervalued by their organisations and their employers. So much so that over 50% of them say this is why they plan to switch jobs.

Showing appreciation for your employees helps with engagement and retention, partly because you’re building trust as a leader as you offer praise. You’re creating small (but significant) positive moments that help you to foster a stronger relationship with your team. So how do you deliver recognition that packs a punch?

Make it regular, specific and personal. You could also follow the lead of forward-thinking managers by using team recognition software to celebrate your successes.

5. Be Honest and Transparent

When employees feel they’re being kept on the outside, all the hard trust you’ve worked to build can quickly come down.

It may not be possible to share every sensitive company detail with your employees but do make an effort to be as transparent as possible. Let them know the rationale behind decisions — yours and those of the organisation. Explain your thought processes and take on board their thoughts and ideas.

An open, two-way conversation is essential for building trust as a leader. Because when you trust employees enough to be transparent with them, that trust gets sent back your way.

6. Follow Through on Commitments

Predictability, reliability, dependability.

Not the most exciting words in the dictionary, but these attributes are a sure-fire way to get your team to trust in your leadership. Trustworthy leaders aren’t fickle or flashy. They say what they mean, and they follow through on their commitments.

You can still be a visionary leader with the power to inspire your team, but the goals you set and the promises you make have to be based on reality. When a team finds you predictable and believes in what you say, they’ll find it easy to trust in your leadership.

Building Trust as a Leader: Key Takeaways

  • Trust is crucial in leadership. It impacts employee well-being, engagement and productivity significantly – as shown by research findings.
  • Building trust involves distinguishing between predictability-based trust and vulnerability-based trust, as well as fostering psychological safety within teams.
  • Six practical strategies for inspiring trust in leadership include active listening, showing vulnerability, being a role model, showing appreciation, being honest and transparent and following through on commitments.

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