Trust-worthy: Yep, That’s Right, You Have To Earn It

The World Economic Forum has just released the 20th annual CEO Survey. It shows that building trust is one of the major concerns that keeps CEOs awake at night.

And with good reason.

If you don’t have trust – with your executive team, your employees, your customers and your other stakeholders – you’re in for a very bumpy ride.

“As we become more interconnected and interdependent, concern about a business trust gap has grown: 58% of CEOs worry that lack of trust in business could harm their company’s growth, up significantly from 37% in 2013.”1

Before you can start to build trust with customers and other stakeholders, you need to start with your own team. As Richard Branson points out, “Happy employees equal happy customers. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.”2

Despite this ‘burning platform’ around trust building, it often surprises me how leaders trip themselves up by not doing the basics when it comes to building trust with their own teams.

Here are 5 ways you can break trust with your team as quickly as you can say “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

  1. Do as I say, not as I do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is to NOT model what you expect from your team. If you stridently pronounce that everyone must be on time and then always turn up late to meetings yourself, your people will doubt your sincerity (as well as think you’re a bit of a plonker). Ditto with more important things like ethics and company values. If the thought of anything you’ve said or done being made public makes you squirmy, then take the hint and shift your behaviour in the right direction. The best leaders don’t expect anything from their own team that they’re not willing to do themselves.
  1. Be secretive. ‘Transparency is the new black’. Some things need to remain confidential of course, but always be as transparent and up front as is humanly possible, especially with information, your intent, and the current scenario. Things can change in a nanosecond, so let your team know as much as you can, as soon as you can.
  1. Don’t deliver on your promises. Not delivering on your promises not only erodes trust, it builds apathy and lack of confidence in the organisation. Be careful what you promise – people have memories like elephants when it comes to what you say you’ll do, especially in times of strife or change. If you don’t know, say so. If you’re not sure, fess up. As with customers, you’re better to under promise and over deliver than go back on your word.
  1. Never show any vulnerability and go hard out to hide your weaknesses and flaws. In fact, act as if you have none. Trust-botching bonus tip? If any member of your team shows any vulnerability or weakness whatsoever, make it career limiting for them. As Patrick Lencioni says in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “trust is all about vulnerability.” Research is showing us that expressing vulnerability is an important leadership component when it comes to connecting with others at a basic human level. Leaders who show a bit of vulnerability build trust with their teams far more quickly than those who don’t.
  1. Don’t spend any time or effort on building trust within the team. Just charge straight into doing the work, without getting clear on the rules of engagement. Building a high-performing team means attending to things like group dynamics and team creation stuff first. People have questions that need to be answered satisfactorily before they can turn their attention to the work at hand. Questions such as
    • Who are you? What is important to each one of us?
    • Why are we here? What’s our purpose?
    • What is important to us collectively?
    • What values are important to this team? How will we demonstrate them when we work together and make decisions?
    • What behaviours will we commit to as a team? What is acceptable and what is not?

It might seem like boring group process, but you can’t expect others to trust you, let alone each other, unless you regularly spend time on how the group is operating, not just what they’re doing.

Your first job as a leader is to build trust. Honesty, transparency, behaving ethically and showing vulnerability are the way you do this. Remember, once you’ve set it in motion, distrust never sleeps.

Want to get better at building trust with your team? Need help? I offer comprehensive, tailored workshops and an ongoing support programme to help you build a trusting and high performing team. See here for a selection of programmes. Contact me today.


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