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4 Strategies In Building Trust Often Overlooked

Have you ever had a new leader placed above you that you didn’t trust? Do you currently not trust your direct leader? Or maybe you don’t trust a friend near you? There are all sorts of relationships we interact with daily, some we trust and others we don’t. And there are good reasons why we don’t.

I routinely get the pleasure of working with people in organizations that are new leaders and new to the organization, or newly advanced leaders in organizations they have been a part of. So often, these people walk into situations that have been “done wrong” and there is often a “clean up” or “resetting of the clock” involved. I routinely get the pleasure of working in organizations where no one trusts the leader that has been there for quite some time, which is terrible and devastating to the success of the organization, and consequently, a very unhealthy place to work.

Can any of you identify with these situations or people? Maybe, you are reading this and have a great opportunity to learn from this post, as you are the person they don’t trust. Which is ok! Give yourself some grace and learn from this! The following are the key points to building trust we often overlook or don’t do.

  1. You must trust others! If you are unwilling to take the risk to trust others, then others will be unwilling to take the risk to trust you. Oftentimes a leader gets placed in a position in which they need to trust. They can’t because in previous roles they couldn’t trust their leader given the untrusting behavior of that leader. Take the risk to show your people you trust them. Take the risk to help them be successful at what you are asking them to do. If you don’t take that risk, they will “feel” that you don’t trust them, and won’t perform at their optimal level. A leader must inspire trust, be worthy of trust, and must trust their people. As leaders our first big mistake is acting like our people must work so that we can trust them, but our greatest opportunity is to flip that paradigm and show them we trust them from the start. Trust that they will screw it up, and we will be there to help them when they do! You have to trust your people, your family from day one to earn their trust in return!

  2. Build safe, reciprocal vulnerability. We must have a safe environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable and safe to express themselves. People need to feel safe to raise their hand and admit mistakes were made. We must be able to admit our shortfalls in performance, admit our mistakes, feel safe to ask for help, and take responsibility for our behavior. When we don’t feel like we are on a trusting team, we do not feel we can express any kind of vulnerability and we feel forced to lie, hide mistakes, and be fake to compensate. We act like we know what we are doing even though we don’t. We would never admit we need help for fear of humiliation, reprisal, or finding ourselves on the “firing line”. We must teach our people to be vulnerable to one another for real, meaningful, deep and abiding trust to occur. We must build trust by building safe reciproca, vulnerability and honesty. It starts with the leader admitting when we are wrong or when we screw up!

  3. Build human connection. We must create a human connection by being real and authentic. Be genuinely interested in your people’s life and work. Be accessible to them. In this process, we must not just “listen” to our people, but we must “hear” what they are saying. So often we may listen, but we aren’t truly “hearing” them in what they are truly trying to tell us. If someone feels like we aren’t listening and hearing them, trust can be degraded. Building human connection occurs when we allow others to make decisions, when we allow others to express doubt, when we seek feedback and act on it. Building human connection isn’t about just asking about their family, it’s about showing up when their family needs you! The closer the connection and the relationship, the more trust is transferred or given. As you “show up”, they will know you have their back and know you will protect them. If you want someone to trust you, if you want to win them to your cause, you must first convince them that you are their sincere friend. People need to know they are relevant, valued, their work matters, and that you know them.

  4. Worry less about performance and worry more about building trust and a healthy organization.

If someone you are trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far. In fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. Often, as go getters, we push hard to produce high performing teams before we have taken the time to build core foundational trust. We assume trust has already been transferred and we don’t see ourselves as unworthy of that trust. But, we haven’t done the foundational work, to lay down the bricks building trust. As a result, when someone questions our trust our ego blows up and we don’t allow ourselves time to “listen and hear” what someone may be trying to tell us. Many times, “smart” people, intellectuals, business leaders, academics, and governmental folks get this soooooooooo wrong. It tends to be “black and white” to them. It tends to be believed that trust already exists when there is none. It tends to be thought that business is all professional and not personal on any level. That doesn’t work. People must be able to express themselves. People can’t turn off emotions. We cannot deny the connection between feelings and performance. Leaders must understand that feelings are at the heart of trusting teams. Trusting teams are the healthiest and highest performing teams.

Trust advances business and organizations much greater than any skill set. So often in business or personal relationships, trust doesn’t emerge because people have a sense that we are driven by our own personal gain rather than being driven by their gain or the organizations gain.

Most all people and most all leaders forfeit trust in little ways over time that then play out in big ways. The big challenge is, when we forfeit trust through our actions and behaviors over time, it’s like a balloon, not a bank account. With bank accounts we make deposits and make withdrawals daily, which we do the same with trust. The trouble with trust is when it gets broken, it pops and is broken forever or a very long time without extremely intentional, vulnerable work to repair that broken trust.

As Amy Cuddy says, “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong and elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

“A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong and elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

Everything is built on trust. Organizations move at the speed of trust. I have had people on different teams that no one trusted, and it handicaps an organization. I have coached, consulted, or partnered in organizations where some leaders don’t elicit trust given their behavior. It can be not only a handicap, but can also be lethal to the organization. These things are very unhealthy. When things are unhealthy, people leave those organizations or relationships. To have people leave an organization or relationship is never our initial goal! Build trust! It’s one of your greatest opportunities that we often overlook!


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