Trust, along with respect and loyalty are a leader’s greatest assets. As leaders, what can we possibly achieve without the respect, trust and loyalty of the people we serve? What other assets could be more valuable or important to the success of our organizations?
Today let’s focus on trust. Noted psychologist Jordan Peterson calls trust a “shortcut.” He’s right.
Once you establish trust, people don’t have to calculate the benefits and costs every time they interact with you. They don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about what you might say or do. They will respond quickly and give their best when they can trust your behavior, judgement and ability.
So how do you earn the trust of the people you serve?
You must be consistent in word and action. That doesn’t mean you won’t make exceptions, but people should know that you’ll treat them with equanimity, you’ll say what you mean and mean what you say and that you produce consistent results.
I’ll be even more specific––sincere compassion. It’s not enough to just be polite or even kind. In fact, people will sometimes expect you to be downright tough in certain situations––as long as you do so for the greater good. You must be genuinely empathetic and show that you are truly interested in the welfare of the people who trust your leadership.
There is nothing more damaging to trust than tucking tail when things get tough! You must show that you can face challenges despite your fears and attack problems head on.
You’ll seldom lose trust when you occasionally make mistakes, or even poor decisions––as long as you own them. You lose trust when you refuse responsibility for mistakes or blame others.
Humility is acknowledging the value of others, and having a grip on your own self-importance––no matter what your position of authority. It also means sharing credit for successes and recognizing the significance of every contribution, no matter how small.
There is one more powerful thing you can do to earn and maintain trust. Acknowledge that no matter how high your position of authority, you lead people––and you’re people too!
David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern shared this in Harvard Business Review:
“A powerful way to establish trust is to employ one of the mind’s most basic mechanisms for determining loyalty: the perception of similarity. If you can make someone feel a link with you, his empathy for and willingness to cooperate with you will increase.”
No matter what the distance between two people in organizational hierarchy, we are all much more similar than we are different. A leader who acknowledges subordinates as human beings and seeks common human bonds will earn far greater trust than one who feels above others due to rank, title or position.
Many years ago Lao Tzu put it this way:
“When the people are not in awe of your majesty; then great majesty has been achieved.”
If not completely dead, the age of top-down command and control leadership is vanishing––rapidly. People are far more productive, creative and loyal when they’re working with leaders they respect and trust and leaders who appreciate them as people.
In another HBR article, noted business scholars Stephen Covey and Douglas Conant state it perfectly:
“…trust is not a soft, social virtue — it’s truly a hard, economic driver for every organization.”
Trust––or the lack of it, has a direct impact on your ability to lead effectively, and on your organization’s bottom line.
When it comes to trust, we need to treat it as one of our most valuable assets––because it is.