Trust is crucial to good leadership

As I reflect on where we are as organisations, hopefully having weathered the storm of the pandemic, I am more convinced than ever of the significant part which trust plays in successful and effective leadership, and therefore the teams they lead.

Marcus Buckingham who works with the ADP Institute completed a global workplace study in 2020 on engagement and resilience. One of their findings around trust in leadership should make you sit up and take note. When you trust your leaders, you are more likely to be engaged and bring your best, but only 7% of those interviewed felt that they had that level of trust in their lives. This is the lowest it has ever been! In short, organisationally, we have a trust crisis.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen R. Covey

Trust is the engine that relationships are built around. And the truth is that trust is crucial if we are to succeed in work. 

What you can fail to appreciate at times is the high cost you bear at all levels of organisations when there is a lack of trust. Without trust, how can I believe that leaders have my best in mind? You need your employees and your colleagues to trust you. And trust means you take action that places you in the hands of others.

“Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” – Brené Brown

The cost of no trust

High-Trust v Low-Trust what we know:

  • Compared with people at low-trust organisations people at high-trust organisations report 74% less stress.
  • Research has shown that having a sense of higher purpose stimulates oxytocin as does trust. They mutually reinforce one another producing more oxytocin which produces happiness.*
  • Joy at work comes from doing purpose-driven work with a trusted team.
  • Oxytocin the research tells us increases a person’s empathy.
  • High stress inhibits the production of oxytocin.
  • High-Trust organisations are 286% more productive than low-trust organisations.**

The best way I can think to illustrate the value of trust is to make it clear what happens when there is a lack of trust in relationships and, in this context, the team. If trust is low in the team, then you will question whether your colleagues or the team leader have your back. You will be second guessing what they are saying and whether they will deliver on their promises. All of this slows down the process. 

When trust is high people are free to collaborate knowing that you have each other’s back, that you can trust what is being said, and your colleagues or teammates will not cut across you or humiliate you. The slower the team moves, the more costly it becomes to the organisation.

“When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.” – Stephen R. Covey

There is a predictable effect when trust is there and when it is not, and the consequences are significant. It is why this is a key issue in whether teams succeed or not, whether they reach their potential or not. Teams, when they work well together, do amazing things. They reach targets that seem impossible, output is up, people enjoy working with colleagues… I could go on. The truth is that the oil that high performing teams run on is trust.

How can you build trust?

Trust grows when our motives are straightforward and based on mutual benefit – in other words, when we genuinely care not only for ourselves, but also for the people we interact with, lead or serve.” – Stephen M.R. Covey 

Here are some principles that help build trust:

  1. Self- Awareness – if you don’t know yourself you can’t lead yourself. 
  2. Be intentional. Building trust takes time. It will not be a quick fix. But the longest journeys start with the first step. 
  3. Leader goes first – if trust is to be built then you need to exercise trust in your team. 
  4. Trust is built when the leader brings the right challenge and support to each team member. 
  5. Be vulnerable. Team members should be able to be open about mistakes and quick to take responsibility, be vulnerable again leader goes first.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” – Brené Brown

  1. You are not a superhero. Be honest as a leader about your strengths and weaknesses, this is about celebrating the strengths, gifts and skills in the team.
  2. Create an environment that doesn’t punish vulnerability.
  3. Do what you say you will do. Follow through on promises made. 
  4. Competency – Exhibit the capabilities and experience which give the team confidence that you can lead.
  5. Finally act in the interest of other people. If people know that you have the best for the team at heart if you look to add value to them then this will make great deposits in yours and the team’s trust account.

*  Research conducted by Paul J. Zak – reported in Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2017)

**  Kouzes & Posner – The Leadership Challenge Published by The Leadership Challenge. 2012. A Wiley Brand. One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco CA 94104-494

Mark Billage
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Mark Billage

Over the past 25 plus years, in different leadership roles, Mark has worked in different sectors, from financial services to charity and people development. He has set up businesses, served on Boards of Trustees, and led a medium-sized charity as their CEO. As the founder of Smart Culture Ltd, he is passionate about unlocking people potential. His aim in setting up the company is to provide quality training and coaching to leaders and their teams. Mark wants to help leaders to be more effective in their leadership. This transforms team culture, and relationships around them, so all can bring their best contribution in a safe environment.