Successful organizations are built on relationships and relationships are built on trust. When organizations foster trust throughout all areas of the business, there’s an increase in loyalty from both employees and customers, higher productivity and motivation and a strong sense of belonging. While you may be thinking “yes, this is obvious,” it can be easy to lose sight of trust as a priority at work and instead focus on achieving business objectives. Reality is, the best way for leaders to achieve their objectives is to build trust with their employees as it’s these same employees who are helping you achieve those objectives. Trust building starts during the interview phase. Employees want to feel connected to their leaders and to the organization. They want to feel safe. So, how exactly do you build trust? You start with leaders.
There’s a quote by Simon Sinek that says, “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow.” By now we know that leaders play a significant role in catalyzing change within an organization. More recently, they have had to reassess and restructure the employee experience to ensure a strong organization amid current changes. While this looks different for everyone, one thing we do know is that trust starts with how you lead, and it should always be a priority.
Here are three ways leaders can help build (and maintain) trust within their organizations.
Share moments of vulnerability
Inevitably, leaders are put in positions where they are expected to have all the answers. While we know this is impossible, there is still a tremendous amount of pressure to produce a viable solution to every problem. This is where asking for help or ideas comes in. Tap into the collective knowledge of the team. What used to be viewed as a sign of weakness, is now thought to be an act of strength in the workplace. Asking for other opinions and ideas is also a way to foster a more inclusive work environment. More than ever, employees want to feel heard, understood and able to relate to others, especially those they look up to.
One place this shows up is the topic of race in our society today and the importance of having these conversations at work. As a leader, you can increase awareness and sensitivity by encouraging difficult conversations, listening and learning from one another’s experiences and being present each day. Doing this builds trust in a way where employees feel comfortable with bring uncomfortable. This also allows employees to come together to solve problems and create solutions without fear of judgement. When you share vulnerable moments, you encourage connection, transparency and trust throughout the organization.
Make psychological safety a priority
People look to leaders for direction and comfort. While there’s been an increase in mental health awareness, it must always remain a priority in the workplace. We’ve all heard the saying, “bring your best self to work every day,” but this can’t always be the case if employees don’t feel a sense of trust from their leaders. As a leader, it’s your job to create a place of psychological safety to ensure mutual trust and respect in which people feel comfortable being who they are.
Think about how this shows up in your organization. What happens when employees make mistakes? Are they reprimanded, written up or are these mistakes turned into learning opportunities? Also, encourage employees to bring up concerns, ideas and opinions during meetings or 1:1 conversations. Even taking a small amount of time to get to know your employees outside of work goes a long way when it comes to building trust. It’s one thing to encourage productivity and positivity in the workplace, but if psychological safety and overall wellbeing isn’t prioritized, trust is easily broken and difficult to regain. In any case, it’s about maintaining a solid foundation where it’s encouraged to learn from mistakes, ask questions when help is needed and express empathy and true caring.
Cultivate a strong culture
Leaders play a critical role in addressing new challenges in the changing business landscape, especially when it comes to culture. It’s no longer enough to simply talk about the importance of culture. In fact, talking about it really serves no purpose if actions aren’t involved. It’s something that needs to be actively worked on and never put to the side. In order to create a strong, aligned culture you need trust, and in order to get that trust, you need to create a strong, thriving culture. Both are inextricably intertwined.
What are you doing to cultivate a strong culture? A helpful place to start is to take into account what motivates your team. For example, focus on leading with empathy and inclusivity. This will create growth opportunities for employees to leverage that will encourage them to go the extra mile without fear of judgement. Another way to gain trust is to not only listen to, but act on employee concerns and issues. Having an open-door policy is another great way to maintain the trust of your employees, validating the idea that if they need something at any point in time, they can count on you for help. When there’s time taken to reflect on how we’re showing up as leaders and the impact this creates on culture, it’s much easier for trust to be built and maintained. Use your strengths as a leader to actively guide those around you to drive the organization forward and tap into the organization’s values as anchors and guideposts.
Like most things, building trust is not something that will happen overnight. It takes time and intentionality. It’s also not an effort that comes to an end once you have it, but rather something that should always be worked on. One thing 2020 has taught us is the need to challenge reality and break old habits. Take a moment to reflect on your actions and behaviors and, as a leader, make building trust with your team the cornerstone of your leadership.