Trust is a precious commodity in all areas of life, but it is particularly critical in the workplace. When we don’t trust our leaders, scepticism creeps in and we can lose faith in the vision. It may be that the leader has a reputation of not telling the truth or perhaps they hold their cards too close to their chest.

If employees feel like their leader is withholding information or they are rolling out a set of rules that they are not prepared to follow themselves; trust is inevitably broken. Workers may start to withdraw from everything but the basic commitments and productivity commonly drops.

The team culture will also likely take a hit as employees are left frustrated, rudderless, and misaligned to the strategy. Eventually, the leader gains an unwelcome reputation for being non- trustworthy and members of the team actively look for exit strategies.

Why does trust matter?

Trust is not an optional extra in the leader toolkit; it is the foundation upon which all other skills must be built. It is the glue that bonds the leader to their team members and provides the basis for mutually beneficial workplace relationships and organisational success.

It also turns out that the importance of leadership trust cannot be underestimated. Extensive research has been conducted in this space with stunning results. Claremont Graduate University Professor Paul Zak has spent many years researching this topic with interesting findings. In “The Neuroscience of Trust”, Professor Zak found:

“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”

There is no doubt that the absence of trust is detrimental to business; irrespective of the lens you view it from. A lack of leadership trust will generally foster a culture where in fighting, micromanagement and lack of discretionary effort will be high.

Authentic leadership starts with trust

Disingenuous people are about as annoying as fingers down a chalk board and most workers can sense when leaders are not being genuine a mile off. They may witness a leader throwing on the charm in the ‘town hall’ meeting but choosing to walk past employees without a simple ‘good morning’ when there is no audience.

This type of leadership behaviour erodes trust and reduces employee confidence that their leader is acting in the best interest of both their team and the broader business. It indicates a lack of self-awareness and sends a clear message that their leadership style is ‘all talk and no action’.

Employees want to know the person behind the position and they have a basic need to believe what the leaders are saying; understand that they are acting in the employee’s best interests and that they are authentic in words and actions.

Seven ways to start building leadership trust today

1. Bring your ‘whole self’ to work

Leaders are people too and sometimes that can be forgotten when connections are not formed. This does not mean airing your dirty laundry; it simply means sharing some basics to allow others to find a connection or common ground. Sharing your child’s special achievement or simply discussing the weekend sport allows team members to see the leader as a person which begins the formation of trust.

2. Walk the talk

The mentality of ‘do as I say and not as I do’ is just not going to cut it in the trust department. It is the responsibility of a leader to role model the values, behaviours and actions that contribute to a successful business and positive culture.

3. Be brave enough to tell the truth

Leadership is not easy; particularly when times are tough in the business. Telling workers that ‘everything will be fine’ and then rolling out redundancies quickly breaks trust and sends fear through the employee group. Transparency shows team members respect and that you will be honest; even when there is difficult news.

4. Know when it is time to roll up your sleeves

Barking orders at team members is not an action that builds trust. Being prepared to jump in and work alongside team members to deliver not only gets the job done; it demonstrates authentic leadership. This builds trust as employees know you have their back.

5. Lead through empowerment

When you trust the team you have hired to get the job done, it is an invitation for them to trust you in your leadership. Demonstrating micromanagement tendencies sends a clear message that trust is absent in the employment relationship. Empowering team members fosters innovation and trust.

6. Don’t play ‘both sides’

Many leaders will tell their senior leaders exactly what they want to hear but will also blame these leaders when delivering difficult news to employees. Authentic leadership is about being strong enough to ‘own the message’; even when it is challenging. Playing both sides will result in senior leaders and employees doubting your authenticity.

7. Ask questions and then listen

Leaders wear many hats and sometimes it is exhausting knowing what each team member needs. Trust is built from relationships; so it is important to value the diversity of thought and experiences of each person. Take the time to ask what is important to each team member and then ensure that you actively listen. When employees feel heard by their leader, trust becomes a rock solid foundation.

It has never been more important to lead with trust

In such uncertain times, it has never been more critical to trust your leader; particularly with high numbers of remote working teams. Successful leaders are those who are prepared to reflect on their personal brand and take positive steps to ensure that authentic leadership and building trust are always front of mind.

Further information

Ai Group has developed a Masterclass Group Coaching Program specifically designed to support leaders to unleash their potential and make an impact. Participants from different industries join in a focused coaching group online over 8 consecutive weeks. Registrations are being accepted now for a February 2022 intake. 

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.