Are you looking for that leadership silver bullet that will propel you past the competition? You can take public speaking courses and enroll in an MBA program or you can attempt the single easiest feat for which an individual can strive, trustworthiness.
Leadership is built on one core concept—trust. Without it, you can forgo every other attribute espoused by management experts. Confidence without trust is an egomaniac. Charisma without trust is a charlatan. And vision without trust is a hypocrite. This was supported by a meta-analysis study from leading trust researcher and Georgetown University professor Daniel McAllister.
Published in the Academy of Management Journal, McAllister concluded that leaders viewed as trustworthy generate a culture where team members:
- display greater innovation, agility, and responsiveness to changing conditions;
- take risks because they believe they will not be taken advantage of;
- do not expend needless time, effort, and resources on self preservation; and
- go above and beyond to exhibit higher performing customer service, brand loyalty, and problem solving.
This leads to a competitive advantage through significantly higher commitment, satisfaction, retention, and performance. Similarly, research from the Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong correlation between trust and the behaviors associated with highly productive employees—discretionary effort, willingness to endorse the organization, performance, and a desire to be a “good organizational citizen.”
“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 Covey
Before you get insulted that I’m explaining something as elementary as the benefits of trust, have you heard of the Edelman Trust Barometer? The ETB has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and nongovernmental organizations. In its 17th year, this is the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four institutions in all 28 countries surveyed.
For leaders, one of the more disturbing findings of the ETB is the shocking lack of confidence in leadership—63% of participants said corporate CEOs are either not at all or somewhat credible. That means only 37% maintained the credibility of CEOs, a 12-point drop from last year, and this is consistent around the world. CEOs are more trusted than government leaders (29%), but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Plus, with this “trust void,” only 52% said they trust business to do what is right.
So if trust is important and society is not feeling it, what can we do? Good news: you can (re)build trust. Here are five techniques to consider:
- Recognition, Recognition, Recognition. To increases trust between leaders and employees, nothing does it faster than acknowledging their achievements. It indicates you are paying attention and reinforces positive behaviors.
- Show Compassion. Did I say recognition is the fasted way to build trust? It won’t mean anything if you don’t already have a foundation of respect. Just try influencing someone who doesn’t respect you; see how engaged they are in your ideas. Treat your team like real-life people—listen to their ideas, care about their feelings, and empathize with their concerns.
- Keep to Your Word. You can’t build trust without following through on promises. Your team needs to believe that what you say is sincere, so follow through on commitments.
- Don’t Hide Your Humanity. Being human means showing your imperfections. Your ability to discuss your mistakes and share what you have learned from it makes you more relatable. No one is concerned with transparency for the good stuff; they need you to fess up to faults, so show your vulnerable side.
- Smile. If you don’t want to do something substantive to build your trust and would prefer a gimmick, consider a recent study published in Psychological Science where convicted murders with trustworthy faces received more lenient sentences then their peers with untrustworthy faces. The key, it seems, is that a gentle smile increases how trustworthy others perceive you. Keep in mind, that it needs to be gentle—too big can be seen as duplicitous or insincere, while too small may be seen as sarcastic or leering.
“I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on our children certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment. But I do believe they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together. Such relationships are, I believe, build on trust, example, talk, and caring.”—Fred Rogers
We live in untrustworthy times, but that does not mean we have to lead in an untrustworthy manner. Generate a culture where honesty, transparency, and truth are the basis of your organization. This must start at the top of the organizational hierarchy with you. The team will trust you once you establish that you trust the team. It may take time, but as Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”