Leaders, Are You Sure People Trust You?

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In complex work environments where thousands of decisions are made daily, where risk feels high and variables within choices seem endless, trust is the only antidote to keep things moving.

Whenever I ask leaders, “Do your people trust you?” they usually return an incredulous look of, “Well, why wouldn’t they trust me?” When I ask them why they believe they are trustworthy, they return a litany of good intentions. “I try to be good to them.” “I’m straightforward with them.” “I’m a good person.” And while those intentions are certainly noble, trustworthiness is in the eye of the beholder. You’re not trustworthy because you intend to beYou’re trustworthy when others say you are

Of all the attributes a leader could develop, few are more important than trustworthiness. This is especially true today—the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer report found six in ten adults now feel that “their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence it is trustworthy.”

A lack of trust causes your team’s performance to suffer, and this directly impacts the customer.

Despite this, perceptions toward businesses and employers were better than other organizations—with 77 percent trusting their employer and 61 percent trusting “business” as an institution.

These findings illustrate that establishing and maintaining trust with customers, business partners, employees, and others is more important than ever in today’s environment. 

Why Trust Matters

Trust can impact on your company’s bottom line. Research from Harvard Business Review reveals that when an office has high trust levels, employees are 50 percent more productive, 76 percent more engaged, and have 74 percent lower stress levels than those in low-trust environments.

In complex work environments where thousands of decisions are made daily, where risk feels high and variables within choices seem endless, trust is the only antidote to keep things moving. There simply isn’t time to vet every point of view, discredit every differing perspective, debate every option, or scrutinize every motive. At the pace of today’s workplace, trust is the only lubricant that keeps your workplace gears from grinding. 

“Trust is key to positive relationships with employees, customers, and partners,” Maxym Sereda, co-founder of GC Plus, explained in a recent conversation. “When you can trust that a fellow employee is going to give their best effort, you can focus your energy on your own responsibilities, rather than worrying about needing to pick up the slack. When customers trust you to do the right thing, they’ll be far more likely to give you their business—and keep doing business with you.”

Research from SHRM notes that when employees don’t trust their leaders, turnover rates go up significantly, while employees also put less effort into their own work. A lack of trust causes your team’s performance to suffer, and this directly impacts the customer.

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How to Ensure You Are Worthy of Others’ Trust

During my 15-year longitudinal study of 3,000 business leaders for my book, To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice, and Purpose, I learned of four key practices that help others see leaders as trustworthy. These can make a business leader 16 times as likely to earn and keep the trust of those they interact with.

First, leaders should be who they claim to be. Leaders must embody the values they state are important to them. For example, if you say you value helping your employees in their own personal growth, your feedback to them should never be sarcastic or belittling.

While no one is 100 percent consistent in their behavior, if you notice areas where your actions regularly don’t live up to your stated values, you must do something to address it. Otherwise, those who interact with you will view your values as hypocrisy—and not trust you.

Second, leaders must treat all contributors with dignity. “It doesn’t matter what someone’s level within a company is,” Sereda said. “They must be respected for their contributions. As a leader, you can demonstrate how you truly value each member of your team by spotlighting different people for their efforts. This is especially valuable when the person you’re spotlighting isn’t in a leadership position. Connecting them with a mentor or highlighting their quality work helps everyone come to trust that you truly value them for who they are.”

Leaders must also learn how to appropriately balance transparency and discretion. While transparency is a buzzword in today’s business world, leaders are also privy to information that must be kept confidential. There’s a difference between building rapport by sharing information about your family or interests outside of work, and participating in office gossip by sharing personal information someone wanted kept private. 

When it comes to work-related information, you should set and keep clear boundaries regarding what can be shared, and with whom. Sharing information that aids productivity and decision-making is an invaluable method of showing that you have your team’s best interests at heart. When you have information that you can’t share, you shouldn’t use this as a way of demonstrating your power over your employees.

Finally, trustworthy leaders seek to unify all who they come in contact with. Our world is full of division, and all too often, this spills into the workplace. Leaders should help everyone in their organization feel safe to be themselves, regardless of what they look like, how different their ideas are, and what they believe.

Leaders should strive to notice the things that are important to the people they work with, and the things that make them unique. Expressing genuine interest in them and never being judgmental over differences can help everyone feel welcomed and like a valued part of your team.

Leaders can also accomplish this by eliminating rivalries within their company. Helping unify everyone in a common cause and showing a willingness to work with others shows you put the greater good over your own ego—a key factor in building trust.

Trust Is the Foundation for Your Reputation

The world has become less trusting, and as a result, the standards for trustworthiness have increased dramatically. Reliability and integrity are a good start, but these days, they aren’t enough to be someone who others trust. 

Great leaders don’t assume that they’ve earned others’ trust simply because they haven’t been overtly dishonest. Instead, they cultivate a trustworthy reputation through words and actions that help others come to trust them implicitly.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes