How leadership trust guides high-performing teams

July 22, 2021 - 14 min read

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What is leadership trust in the workplace?

Leadership and trust: why is trust the essence of leadership?

How do leaders build trust with employees?

Strategies for building trust as a leader

Start building more leadership trust

Leadership trust is a must-have for managers and other leaders.

Trust is a two-way street. As a leader, you need to gain the trust of your team in order to lead them. But, you also need to trust your employees if you want them to trust you in return. And you can’t expect others to share your values or work toward common goals without it.

But building trust as a leader can be a difficult and gradual process. And it’s easy to erode with just one or two bad decisions.

The good news is that there are things you can do to consistently build trust with employees.

Let’s discuss them. But first, let’s take a look at what leadership trust is and why it’s so important.

What is leadership trust in the workplace?

Trust is earned currency in every relationship. It’s a level of reliance and confidence that fortifies your connection with other workers. And it provides the foundation for stability, meaning, and growth. 

Trust affects all those involved, as well as the trajectory of their relationship.

Trust gets built and demonstrated consistently and succinctly. It's often a negotiated exchange. You do something for them, and then they do something for you.

Trust becomes the proverbial guidepost. It steers the potential and possibility of the relationship itself and all that it touches.

Workplace trust, and more specifically, leadership trust, is often the epitome of this relationship construct. 

Workplace trust is a shared belief that leaders are committed, compassionate, and capable. They do what’s best and what’s right for all involved.

Recent studies confirm that when trust exists in the workplace, it results in:

  • Increased job satisfaction 
  • Improved execution 
  • Higher commitment 

When trust is questionable or missing, job performance is also down, employee engagement is low, and turnover is high. 

Trust in leadership is therefore crucial to a healthy workplace and sustainable shared success. 

The way we work, where we work, and even why we work continues to evolve. Workplace trust is becoming an essential leadership trait as a result. 

Several outdated flavors of leadership existed with far less reliance on trust. But those autocratic practices are no longer effective or appropriate.

Today’s dynamic environments demand an upgraded blend of transformational, servant, charismatic, and democratic leadership, with a healthy side of personal style and strategy if a leader wants to survive and thrive. 

Leaders must now inspire, model, and encourage:

  • Greatness 
  • Ingenuity 
  • Teamwork 
  • Agility 
  • Resiliency 

None of these can exist without trust. 

A leader cannot and will not be able to lead successfully if their team doesn’t trust them.

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Leadership and trust: Why is trust the essence of leadership?

“Leadership is an achievement of trust.” 

Peter Drucker

Have you ever worked in a job where you didn’t trust your leader?

A myriad of skills and capabilities are required for effective leadership. But trust is fundamentally the essence.

Without trust, there will be unreliable effort, unpredictable contribution, and unbalanced alignment. 

Achievement depends on shared commitment, shared values, and shared outcomes. Trust becomes the indicator and lifeblood of both performance and attainment. 

A trusted leader is responsible for cultivating the appropriate atmosphere. They need to nurture both individual and organizational trust. Developing and maintaining the nuanced layers of trust becomes a crucial leadership competency.

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How do leaders build trust with employees?

“Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”

Stephen Covey

So how does a leader embody or encourage trust? 

Recognize that trust is earned over time. So which behaviors best support its organic development? Does one trait or characteristic outweigh all others?

There is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. But there are several validated recommendations and best practices, each with a common theme. 

There are a number of factors required to develop, earn, and maintain trust. This is true for both individual leader trust and organizational trust. Most sources agree that influencing factors include:

  • Competence or capability
  • Honesty and authenticity
  • Clear communication
  • Fairness
  • Consistency
  • Follow-through 

Each element may get evaluated separately or even situationally. However, a reliably balanced combination is indeed what fosters trust. 

A recent Harvard Business Review study outlined the three behavioral elements of leader trust. It Indicated that essential contributing factors include:

  • The ability to create and maintain positive, reciprocal team relationships
  • The demonstration of expertise and judgment
  • Consistency of both word and deed 

Yet another study suggests that building leadership and trust is a three-pronged approach. It must consist of ability trust, integrity trust, and benevolence trust, in equal proportions. 

Again, we see blended criteria including:

  • Competence 
  • Honesty 
  • Transparency
  • Clear communication
  • Relationship-building 

How do you determine which factors determine organizational loyalty and leadership trust? 

Let’s take a look at what one organization did. 

Several years ago, Google realized that hiring really smart people and allowing them to just do their work might not be enough. 

In fact, up to this point, that had accumulated only anecdotal data to realize that talented people were leaving the organization. That being a part of Google just wasn’t enough. 

Project Oxygen collected and analyzed phenomenal amounts of performance review and feedback survey data. Their goal was to better understand what people valued most and expected from both leadership and the organization.

How do leaders build trust with employees? “Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”  - Stephen Covey  So how does a leader embody or encourage trust?   Recognize that trust is earned over time. So which behaviors best support its organic development?  Does one trait or characteristic outweigh all others?     There is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. But there are several validated recommendations and best practices, each with a common theme.   There are a number of factors required to develop, earn, and maintain trust. This is true for both individual leader trust and organizational trust. Most sources agree that influencing factors include:  Competence or capability Honesty and authenticity Clear communication Fairness Consistency Follow-through   Each element may get evaluated separately or even situationally. However, a reliably balanced combination is indeed what fosters trust.   A recent Harvard Business Review study outlined the three behavioral elements of leader trust. It Indicated that essential contributing factors include:  The ability to create and maintain positive, reciprocal team relationships The demonstration of expertise and judgment Consistency of both word and deed   Yet another study suggests that building leadership and trust is a three-pronged approach. It must consist of ability trust, integrity trust, and benevolence trust, in equal proportions.   Again, we see blended criteria including: Competence  Honesty  Transparency Clear communication Relationship-building   How do you determine which factors determine organizational loyalty and leadership trust?   Let’s take a look at what one organization did.   Several years ago, Google realized that hiring really smart people and allowing them to just do their work might not be enough.   In fact, up to this point, that had accumulated only anecdotal data to realize that talented people were leaving the organization. That being a part of Google just wasn’t enough.   Project Oxygen collected and analyzed phenomenal amounts of performance review and feedback survey data. Their goal was to better understand what people valued most and expected from both leadership and the organization.

Google utilized its own analytical algorithms to reach informed stack ranked conclusions. 

Google recognized that understanding this complex equation would invariably increase engagement and retention. It did this while bolstering both leadership and organizational trust

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Not surprisingly, Google’s eight key qualities resemble every other list: 

  • Coach
  • Empower
  • Express sincere interest
  • Be results-oriented
  • Communicate and listen
  • Support career development
  • Own a clear vision and strategy
  • Be technically competent

As a result, Google established leadership competencies to embody the eight behaviors. They also launched a significant leadership development effort to evolve organizational culture and norms. 

Today, Google consistently ranks as one of the best places to work.

Google recognized that leadership trust is the earned currency. It is also the culmination of several contributing factors. Basically, the what and even the why. 

Let’s look at the how.

Strategies for building trust as a leader

Let’s look at four strategies you can use to build leadership trust in the workplace.

1. Treat people fairly and explain the background behind changes

Communication is essential. It should be two-way. And it must be authentic and consistent. A trustworthy leader inspires, informs, and empowers with their words. 

Messaging must be engaging and targeted. This allows others to fully understand expectations and outcomes. 

When change or uncertainty needs to be communicated, leaders must again be transparent. They must explain the appropriate rationale behind business decisions and directives. 

2. Involve more people in the decision-making process

Wherever possible, including others in the decision and change process is also beneficial. 

Making everyone feel involved helps to build trust among the entire team.

Recognize that change becomes uncomfortable when understanding or appreciation is low. 

3. Connect people to the bigger picture

With effective communication, leaders can enroll others into the organizational objectives. This is true even when significant change may be required. 

People need to connect their contributions to the bigger picture. This helps them understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ When they feel included, their trust, engagement, and commitment naturally increase. 

Communication should always be bi-directional. Trustworthy leaders listen more than they speak. Of course, words are not enough. Leaders must also model the way forward, demonstrating behaviors they expect from others. 

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4. Show members the company has their back and supports them

Recall the other common factors that foster leader trust, including fairness, competence, follow-through, and compassion.

Ideally, everyone is resolute and aligned with organizational goals and objectives. But this disposition often requires cultivating. 

Leaders can further ensure these inclinations through equity and impartiality. This includes assuring that everyone feels valued, appreciated, and connected. 

Leadership trust depends on impartiality. There's no room for playing favorites. 

There is an old saying credited to Teddy Roosevelt: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

Leader trust does correlate with competence. However, empathy and understanding are often more significant. 

Followers need to know that their leader and the organization support them and value their contributions. 

Today’s organizations ask and expect plenty. Organizational and leader trust are the conduits of performance and achievement. 

Trust is the essence of authentic leadership. Without this earned exchange, nothing else matters.

Start building more leadership trust

Leadership trust is a must-have for anyone in a position of authority.

Now you know why it’s so important. Plus, we’ve shown you how you can build leadership trust for yourself in your own workplace. Now it’s time to put it into practice.

If you’re struggling with building trust, check out BetterUp. 

We help build leaders that accelerate team performance and engagement. And we can help provide you with the skills and mindsets needed to perform at your peak. 

Request a demo today.

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Published July 22, 2021

Rick Reddington, MS, PCC

BetterUp Fellow Coach & PCC

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