What Builds Leadership Trust?

In the work I do coaching leaders, everyone purports to have high leadership trust with stakeholders. Surveys, however, show otherwise. (See my previous post here.) The truth is most leaders could do more to reinforce an environment of high trust.

I think part of the problem is that “trust” is a bit ill-defined and subjective, like “world peace.” Everyone wants it, but few know how to build genuine trust. So I’ve done a bit of research on what goes into trusting relationships.

Two of the best books on this important topic are:

  1.  The Trusted Advisor (Free Press, 2001), by leadership consultants David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford
  2. The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, 2011), by Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe.

Their authors offer several key truths:

  • Trust grows; it doesn’t just appear.
  • Trust is both rational and fact-based and emotional and intuitive.
  • Trust is a two-way street, experienced differently by each person in the relationship.
  • Trust is intrinsically about taking risks.
  • Trust is always personal; you place trust in people.

Feelings and Facts

“When we are having a good conversation, even if it’s a difficult one, we feel good. We feel connected to the other person in a deep way and we feel we can trust him. In good conversations, we know where we stand with others—we feel safe.” ~ Executive Coach Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results(Bibliomotion, 2013)

Trust evolves more slowly than other feelings. You may immediately know if you like someone, but trust builds over time. You withhold it pending confirmatory evidence.

Of course, much of this evidence is fact-based. When you follow through on a promise, you provide rational reasons to be trusted. When you extend trust, you create a platform that encourages others to be trustworthy.

Emotional factors also influence trust. Leaders provide support, encouragement and personal stories. You confide in others, express your true feelings and share your values—acts that promote reciprocity. Employees are more likely to trust management if they feel like they are a part of a genuine relationship.

Trust is never a solo operation. Another person must participate and respond. Unilateral efforts cannot force trust.

What do you think? How trusting are people where you work? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here or on Twitter.

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