High Trust Leadership

October 22, 2011 Simon Leadership Development

One of the age old questions that continues to drive many people to distraction is “What is the difference between management and leadership?” There are of course a plethora of answers to this question that have kept academics, trainers and writers going in perpetuity. For me, one of the key differences between the two is that leaders build a high level of trust with their people – that is, they create respect based relationships rather than authority based relationships.

But how can leaders create a high trust relationship with their staff?

While there is not a single answer to this question, there are some key ingredients that few would disagree with:

Open and Honest Communication – The art of communicating openly and honestly while revealing only the information that is relevant and necessary is a continuous balancing act. The best leaders are able to find this balance and create an environment in which people feel well informed. Of course, there are some things that you simply can’t reveal (e.g. confidentiality) and in these instances it is better to explain why you can’t rather than to try and obscure or dodge the issue.

Keep Your Promises – Never make a promise that you can’t deliver and always deliver what you promise. A simple rule that has a powerful impact on the level of trust your people will have in you. Leaders should be particularly of cautious of using ‘inspiring rhetoric’ that cannot be supported by subsequent actions and delivery.

Empathy and Rapport – Building a professional rapport with your people is partly driven by having good relationship skills – i.e. good communication and listening skills. But from a trust perspective it goes a little deeper than that. Do you consistently demonstrate that you understand situations from your team’s perspective? It is the ongoing demonstration of empathy that helps build trust with your people.

Back Your People – The best leaders always back their people in public, even when they disagree with them or their actions in private. The ability to support your people externally while dealing with any issues privately and behind closed doors is a trait that is likely to go a long way towards building a high trust environment.

Empowerment – Do you demonstrate that you trust your people and their ability by giving them an appropriate level of freedom to do their jobs? Of course there is a balance here. Too much freedom and your people will think that you either don’t care about their work or don’t have sufficient awareness of the value they bring to the team. Not enough freedom and your people will feel micro-managed. The art is to understand the capabilities of your people and provide them with the freedom to act in line with their capabilities.

Take a look back at these five key factors. How often do you get the balance right? How hard are you working each day to ensure you do get the balance right?

Trust is one of those unfair credit/debit issues for leaders. It takes a lot of effort and skill to build trust with your people and to build up credit in your ‘trust account’ with them and yet it can take only one or two errors of judgment to send your trust account spiraling back into debit.

High trust is a leadership imperative – ignore it at your peril.

See you at the top :)

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