Building trust in leadership

It may not come as a surprise but nevertheless, it’s somewhat depressing to know that the level of trust people have for leadership remains low.

From industry to government, the picture is pretty much the same. This years’ Edelman Trust Barometer, a study on credibility and trust, found that two thirds of people in the UK believe the country is on the wrong track, while 59% say the Government ‘does not listen to people like them’. According to the report, CEOs are also dipping in trust, with less than 40% of people in the UK citing them as a credible source of information.

The truth of the matter is that people are expecting more from those that hold positions of great influence and impact - 62% of employees from the same study cited that during challenging times, they look to their CEO for leadership.

In a world dominated by claims of fake news, corporate scandals and political uncertainty, the stakes and responsibility of leadership have risen.

As a leader, trust is fundamental – leadership is hard, if not impossible without a level of trust. Consider Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister; while there were several reasons for her downfall, lack of confidence and trust in her ability to lead the country through Brexit, led to many of those of her own party deserting her during the most challenging times.

Trust is a business issue which many leaders fail to realise can impact performance. So, what can leaders do to turn the tide?

Building trust as a leader

  • Be transparent:

In his book “The speed of Trust”, Steven Covey discusses the importance of leaders inspiring trust. Transparency and openness are critical to those seeking to earn and inspire the trust of their employees. This doesn’t mean sharing every detail or confidential strategic information – it’s about being open with the truth.

Start by thinking about how you communicate bad news as a leader. Inspiring trust means not hiding or sugar-coating bad news but positioning what you know in a respectful and informed way. Communicating bad news early, with as many facts and details as you can, is far better than waiting until you are left with no choice, because the informal rumour mill is rife with misinformation.

Transparency and openness shouldn’t be reserved only for bad news. Providing clarity and being visibly engaged with your people is vital. By communicating openly with your employees, you are letting them be part of the big picture. The more you communicate, the more they will trust you. 

Start by organising regular company-wide meetings or sit-downs with different departments and lead a discussion about the business’ direction, new initiatives, achievements, struggles and areas for improvement. Make this an inclusive conversation and give your staff the opportunity to have their say. 

Transparent leadership is essential to fostering a culture of trust between staff and business leaders.

  • Keep your promises:

Say what you mean and mean what you say. This is a great guide for any business leader.

It can be so easy to make promises without paying attention to the commitment you’ve made – yes, you want to gain the admiration of your employees with grand gestures, but can you actually deliver?

It can be difficult to come back from a false promise, so I always recommend that business leaders chose their words carefully. Think before you speak. It can also be beneficial to write down your commitments as soon as you make them, giving them a specific date on your to-do list or calendar. 

Finally, if you know you can’t keep your promise for whatever reason, own up to it immediately – don’t ignore it. You hold your employees accountable, therefore you should hold yourself accountable also. It’s about consistency – be clear about your commitment, be honest about what that commitment is, and then follow through with it.

  • Share and give credit:

Some of the best CEOs I’ve worked with are those who know how to give credit where credit is due.

As a manager, you can find yourself accepting recognition for the hard work of your team. However, the reality is that giving others rightful credit doesn’t diminish your role as a leader; if anything, it will actually increase your credibility in the eyes of your employees and those whom acknowledged the work in the first place. When something goes well, openly acknowledge the contribution of individuals and recognise your employees for a job well done.

Employees who feel appreciated for their work are not only going to work harder for you, they are more likely to stay with you in the long run, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

  • Get to know your staff:

As I’ve mentioned, trust is at the heart of every relationship. However, where there is no relationship, there is no trust.

I’ve spent time with a lot of business leaders who have a fantastic vision for their company – they want to create an environment of trust, encouragement and support, but find it difficult to achieve. In these situations, the first question that springs to mind is, ‘how well do you know your employees’? And I’m not just talking about their name and job title.

What do you actually know about them personally? Do you know who has a birthday coming up? Which team members are married? Can you identify any hobbies? Who is the most creative thinker? Who works better under a bit of pressure? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s time to start getting to know your employees.

Taking the time to learn more about your staff on a personal level shows that you believe they are worth knowing, and that you are a leader who cares more about your employees as people, not just members of staff filling job roles.