Leadership and Trust

Trust has been a key theme in my world over the last week – like a sun at the centre of my universe or the north that guides my compass.

Last week I travelled to Beirut to work with a client. It was my first trip to the Middle East and my first time of working with this client. I have been reflecting on the role that trust played in that adventure.

How much did I trust the information that I read before travelling about the security situation in Lebanon? How much did I trust that the taxi would be waiting for me at the airport? How much did I trust that the taxi driver would take me safely to the hotel especially when we were driving across the city past midnight and encountered a ‘disturbance’ en route? How much did I trust my hosts when they took me out for the evening to see some of the local sights and how much did I trust the briefing that I had about the clients and their requirements (I was working through a third-party?)

Without trust I would not have embarked on that journey, I would not have thrown off the comfortable blanket of my world and exposed myself to the rich colours of life and of growth.

I realise now that the biggest element of trust for me was trust in myself and that for all leaders we have to trust ourselves before others will trust us.

My project in Beirut was to facilitate a workshop for the board of a client company about managing people and particularly about the quality of performance management conversations. One manager was particularly concerned about how much his team trust him and the impact this has on his relationship with them. So building trust became a theme of the training too.

Returning safely home and feeling grateful for the stability and safety of our lives in the UK, I turned on the news to find out what had been happening while I was away. It was at that point that the story about Barclays fixing the inter-bank interest rate was just breaking. I believe that public confidence in the banking industry is already low and this will have seriously overdrawn their trust bank account. There is a huge need for the leaders to work on rebuilding trust.

Why is trust so important? Here is a quote from an article by Steven Covey:

My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

So as leaders how do we build trust? How do we develop our trustworthiness – someone’s assessment of how trustworthy another is?

Steven Covey talks about a combination of character and competence. Character is about your integrity, motive and intent with people and competence is about your skills, capabilities and results.

These elements will make you trustworthy but will not help others to trust you unless they are visible to others through your behaviours.

Sue Knight says that “Trust is the consequence of reliability and consistency in performance.” This is the competence element which, for me, needs to be combined with knowing the person. The more I know about the person, the easier it is for me to decide whether I can trust them.

Here are a few of my tips on developing trust as a leader:

  1. Demonstrate your self-trust – in your confidence in your own abilities and your conviction in your vision, direction and purpose
  2. Deliver consistently – do what you say you are going to do
  3. Be open and personal – take an interest in others and allow them to see you as a person
  4. Be visible
  5. Take responsibility
  6. Communicate openly and directly
  7. Show trust in others

So to me trust is not a complex model, it is a combination of basic behaviours. For some these come naturally and for others it takes a bit more practise. We also need to appreciate that some people take longer to trust us than others – they have a low propensity to trust. So persevere and be consistent.

“When you have trust, you don’t have to see the whole staircase to set the first step.”

Martin Luther King

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