Leaders, like everyone else, are a sum of their experiences and knowledge. They are who they are and they lead like they lead, as a result of their beliefs, of course. In addition, leaders are also influenced by what work they have been involved in, who they have worked with, how they were led and how they process and internalize all of these factors. Lessons are learned by both positive and negative experiences. It is these lessons that affect how we trust others and how we get others to trust us.
When we ask ourselves why we follow a person there are a good number of answers. The most common reply I hear is “trust.” Trust reassures. It makes us feel safe. Think back. When we first learned to swim, ride a bike or try anything new, it was made easier when we trusted the person helping us.
Why is trust important?
How people work and interact with each other is directly affected by trust. Most of us won’t work with people we feel we can’t trust, or if have to work with them we give the bare minimum. It is a two-way street. Others won’t want to work with you, unless they feel they can trust you. They don’t give their all. No trust creates a pathway to mediocrity at best.
Trust is essential to relationships and relationship building. Relationship building is an essential skill of the effective leader, and especially the leader trying to affect change. We know that our productivity is affected by trust. Trust brings good communication. Good communication means knowledge sharing. Effective knowledge sharing leads to more effective application of information. All of these lead to a more successful organization.
“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Stephen Covey
What is trust?
Trust is both emotional and rational. How often have you heard someone say, “I am going to trust my gut?” We process the actions of others through emotional filters. It is also emotional because when we trust others, we open ourselves up for disappointment at best, and at worst, career or financial damage.
It is rational because there are characteristics we can look for in others that increase the probability of a trusting relationship. When we observe these traits plus monitor the outcomes of our working with this person, we make a prediction that it is worth the risk to trust them.
What should we look for?
If you are looking to identify a leader or a co-worker you can trust, look for these characteristics. Just as importantly, if you want to establish yourself as someone who can be trusted, then practice and develop these characteristics:
Honesty: Honesty, like trust, needs to be nurtured. When it is betrayed, building it back up can be difficult if not impossible. When people start a conversation with, “I am not supposed to share this, but…,” it is an indication they can’t keep a confidence. They were not honest with the person that shared with them. They probably won’t be honest with you. Look for people who are honest, even when honesty isn’t the convenient or popular decision.
Humility: A spiritual advisor once told me that humility is knowing your strengths and accepting them and knowing your short-comings and accepting them. Showing no arrogance in your talents and not beating yourself up over your shortcomings. Use your talents to help others and work on your shortcomings to better yourself. Look for people who ask for help and provide help, who admit mistakes and forgive mistakes, and who take responsibility for their actions and empower others to take responsibility.
Gratitude: There is nothing like being thanked for your work, for being recognized for your achievements. When we let people know we are grateful for all they are doing, it contributes to them trusting us. Look for people that demonstrate gratitude not just with words, but in their actions as well.
Generous: An administrator told me about somebody they were trying to help at work. At one point that person asked the administrator, “Why are you helping me? What are you going to get out of this?” The administrator’s answered, “I see potential in you and someone once helped me, so I am paying it forward.” Look for people that give freely with no expectation of getting something back. Look for people that share power, share information and invite people into the process.
Consistent: One of the more unsettling characteristics of weak leaders is inconsistency. One day they are accessible and open to sharing ideas; the next day walls are up and they have no patience. Their inconsistent reaction to situations and people creates an unsettling and unsafe environment. People don’t know what to expect day to day and therefore trust can’t be built. Even if someone’s responses are always angry or uncooperative, that is better than responses that change day to day. Look for people that provide clear and consistent expectations to others. Look for people who are consistent in their dealings with others.
Protective: Leaders should be their team’s strongest advocate. There may be times that leaders may not agree entirely on how something was done, but they are willing to praise the work, effort and outcomes. They support and protect their team as it searches for answers and solutions. When their people make mistakes, they are standing side by side with them to take responsibility. Look for people who aren’t just there to take credit, but are also there to extend their protection when things don’t go right. Look for people who work to help others get back on track.
Trust is a valuable commodity that must be constantly nurtured. Trust can be the glue that holds people together. Likewise, distrust is a cancer that spreads and destroys.
When people trust their leaders and each other they cooperate with each other. They go the extra mile to make sure goals are reached, if not exceeded. For most people working in a trusting environment, it is worth as much or more than money. It brings peace of mind. The energy that would go into dealing with lies and manipulations can now be directed to reaching goals and finding success.
When we trust someone, we are telling them they are important to us. Ultimately, trusting someone is a compliment. It says, “I respect you. I am willing to follow you. I will put myself on the line for you.”