Susan C Foster

How To Know When People Trust You

– Posted in: Leadership, management, Team Building


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

You know when you trust someone.  Trust is the firm belief in someone’s integrity, ability or character. When we trust someone, we have confidence in them.  We know they “have our back.”

What about a lack of trust? We are suspicious–of their motives and agenda–whether they are being nice towards us or not. We don’t have a confident feeling about them, and we don’t want to work for them.

As the leader, you can be a great strategist, have a compelling vision, or be a technical whiz, but if people don’t trust you, you will never be a leader who makes a difference. On the other hand, if your people trust you, they have better morale, loyalty, and productivity, and the organization has less turnover.

Lack of trust is rampant today—in our financial and institutions, and our government. But it doesn’t have to be that way–and it doesn’t have to be in your organization. When trust is broken, it takes a long time to recover.

Here’s a true story:

Our executive team seemed to be finally coming together. Spirits were improving. We had weathered a major disaster that had brought world attention. We were at the end of a series of studies and inspections, and had undergone grueling self-assessments of our leadership issues. It was pointed out over and over again in these assessments that our culture did not foster listening to bad news. We had a couple of meetings where things had gone well.

One morning, one of our leaders told everyone to close the doors and have honest and frank discussions about what was going on, so we would never again lull ourselves into a false sense of things going right when they really were not. As we heard from each person, they began to open up. When the meeting began to go on a little longer than usual, the leader began to get impatient. When the next person brought up an issue, the leader cut him off sharply, saying we needed to just move on, embarrassing the executive in front of everyone.

A few weeks later, the executive team had an off-site planning meeting. A prominent author on leadership was our keynote speaker and guest. The leader of our organization started off telling everyone this was our most important planning meeting of the year. He encouraged everyone to be forthright and open up about our issues. It was an all-day event that was probably most impressive with the lack of participation among every member of that team. A fellow team member and I discussed it on the way back that day: the trust had been broken that morning in the conference room. There was no one on that team who believed our leader, and I heard several people express that the comment on “open and forthright” was for the famous guest.

In Stephen M. R. Covey’s great book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, he says that trust is the most powerful form of motivation and inspiration in organizations, and that it’s the ultimate source of influence. On the other hand, he also talks about low trust slowing down communication and decision making, and hindering relationships and results. Covey believes that mistrust is more the norm than the exception. He cites research that found in organizations: only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in their senior management; only 36% believe leaders are honest and act with integrity; over a 12-month period, 76% of employees had observed illegal or unethical conduct on the job!

How Can We Build Trust?

The same way we lose it–by our behavior. It can be earned with something as simple as a five-minute conversation at the coffee pot with an employee who has been staying late to work on a project.

It’s earned by being credible, reliable and fair.

It can be lost as easily as telling employees something that doesn’t come to pass (and not explaining later) or isn’t true, or even betraying a confidence.

It doesn’t matter how impressive your credentials or how high up in the company a leader is, trust is all about relationships–and relationships are best built by establishing genuine connections. It’s the foundation of building a great team or organization. We want commitment, not just compliance, right? If your team trusts you, they will work long hours, brainstorm creative ideas to solve problems, and go the extra mile to make you look good. Without trust, you get teams that go through the motions, but lose heart.

How are some ways you know you don’t trust your leader?  How are some of the ways that, as a leader, you build trust?



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