Leaders know how foundational trust is for a healthy, thriving team and culture. A 2016 EY survey in Harvard Business Review revealed that, across the globe, “Only 46% [of professionals] place ‘a great deal of trust’ in their employers, and 15% report ‘very little’ or ‘no trust at all.’ And according to the Society for Human Resource Management, “The farther that workers are from senior leaders, the less connected they feel to the company’s strategy and the less they understand what their role is and how they can contribute.” Lack of trust creates toxic cultures and distractions, fuels gossip, increases turnover, and more.
No one intentionally creates a lack of trust. Leaders do their best to lead well. Yet, in the midst of it all, trust can erode, catching leaders off guard. What happened? What are leaders supposed to do when trust seems so volatile, fragile and fleeting?
Use these five questions to fuel strong trust:
Am I communicating a clear vision? Leaders need to share a clear vision and rally around it, or individuals get confused. When leaders don’t clearly articulate what success looks like, people go in different directions, set other goals and send opposing messages. Though everyone is working hard and giving their best, it becomes challenging to get traction. Trust tanks as work is considered “wrong” and is questioned, undone and overridden. The team feels blind, unclear of what the leader wants. They feel unvalued and unsupported and that they are wasting efforts.
In contrast, trust is built when the leader communicates what winning looks like, what fits and what doesn’t. Different ideas, scope creep and vying agendas may still arise, but a vision helps filter distractions and ensure everyone works together in the same direction.
Do I walk my talk and set a good example? Trust is eroded when leaders say one thing and do the other. Sometimes leaders feel they are an “exception” to rule. “Ignoring” or “overriding” processes results in quick disrespect among the team and zaps the credibility of the leader. Trust plummets as questions, skepticism and offense grow.
As a leader, be willing to live by the same standards you set for your team. People want to feel safe and confident, and that they are not going to be treated unequally because they are not the “leader.” They want to know that what is good for you is good for them. It creates consistency, fairness and trust.
Do I erratically change direction? Visionary leaders often have entrepreneurial hearts because they embody change and speed. With lots of new ideas, it can be hard to be patient with the pace of implementation. The gap of a visionary’s eagerness and urgency to get a new idea in motion with the team’s effort to implement that last initiative can erode trust.
Teams need time to plan, strategize, design and develop execution. When a leader changes direction with seemingly little regard for what is going on, the team loses trust in the leader’s aptitude because it seems the leader is unaware or uncaring. It sends a message that their work doesn’t matter and often halts efforts as people anticipate impending change. Without balance, a culture of chaos can be created.
New things need to be tried, and comfort zones can be stretched with a healthy awareness and balance. Have a trusted advisor to bounce new ideas off of. Have a foundation and base of stability so ideas don’t tip the boat. Discern what moves the needle. Balance ideas with implementation. Create a space to try things without impairing key operations. Listen, understand and stay in sync with the team to keep ideas flowing without hijacking trust.
Am I holding people accountable? Many leaders struggle to hold people accountable. They may not personally like to be held accountable or simply lack skills of healthy accountability. Accountability is hard when there is no clear design or when milestones and deliverables are vague or unknown. A lack of accountability fuels inaction and jeopardizes deadlines, tasks and overall momentum. Trust waivers as others feel concerned about the ramifications on their part and doubt a leader’s competence; they need the leader to have their back, stand up for the project and ensure it stays on track.
A strong leader is diligent and faithful to hold accountability for the sake of everyone’s success. This keeps the path clear and removes obstacles to ensure everyone can do their job well and achieve great results. Trust is built when leaders are vigilant with accountability because it communicates the agreement set, time spent and plans made, and that people’s work is important.
Do I respect my team? Great leaders understand that the voices and opinions of their followers are critical to success. They respect the team and their input. A leader loses their team’s trust when they solely call the shots or feel their opinions and perspectives are more important than others. While leaders generally have more information, better context and a larger picture for decision making, it is awareness that allows leaders to respect others, helping them to feel valued and a part of the process. Much like a parent creating space for a child to weigh in on a decision, there are situations, places and times that followers can be part of the conversation. It creates great trust when people feel seen, valued and heard.
It can be difficult to balance it all, but it’s worth it. Trust is a fragile gift. Use these five points weekly to check in and grow trust in your team.