Building a culture of trust begins with the example we set as leaders
Even with the basics in place to build a great culture many leaders still face a crisis of trust. Edelman’s Trust Barometer (2018 UK) demonstrates that many leader’s ability to build a culture of trust remains low. Key factors fuelling this distrust of leadership include a disproval of disproportionate Executive Pay and a perceived lack of Honesty and Transparency. Gallup reports that in excess of 70% of employees are still disengaged at work, and that trust in leadership is a key influencer of employee engagement. In fact, the research indicates that CEOs outperform contemporaries when their employees rate their moral values as excellent.
Leaders can no longer realistically expect quick engagement wins by trying to calm rumours with organisational spin, or assume one-way communication will effectively drive lasting results.
Potential indicators that mistrust may be increasing include:
- Consistent narrow thinking and behaviours
- Regular conflict aversion
- Unintended rewards for unhealthy behaviours
- Repeated dissent in priorities and responsibility ownership
- Increasingly difficult working relationships
- Default resistance to change
The trust building process begins with improved levels of trust with other leaders within the organisation and then with each person we encounter. Our teams are more likely to emulate our behaviours than our words.
Culture requires daily attention
A values-driven organisation is sustained through daily care and demonstration of values by every person in the organisation. This demonstration of values and required behaviours must begin with leaders. One-way communication with no demonstration of trustworthy behaviours will only increase distrust.
Warning: Trust is like glass, once broken it may be impossible to fix. When repair is impossible it will require enormous effort to forge new trust. A lot like melting the glass and forming it into a new sphere of trust.
Tips for building a culture of trust:
1. Begin by owning your contributions
As a leader it is essential to start by managing ourselves. In order to rebuild trust we have to be willing to do these 3 key things:
- Take personal responsibility. Take conscious steps to demonstrate trustworthiness (vs. waiting for someone else to take the initiative and change a negative situation)
- Reframe your assumptions. Seek to see them in a new light (e.g. trying their best)
- Accept the complexity of the truth. Realise that their view of the situation can also be the truth (though it conflicts with ours).
2. Gain perspective
Building trust involves demonstrating that your employees matter. This requires gaining a new perspective of the organisation (from their perspective) that goes beyond leadership self-interest. If we don’t know what matters to the people we lead what message does that send?
3. Open communication
Maintaining an open dialogue with your team helps build trust. It requires a mindful exchange without a preconceived agenda. Too many of us are not really listening, but instead we are waiting for an opportunity to speak. An open dialogue requires us to listen and contribute to knowledge sharing without judgment, the need to win, or a dogged belief that we are the only ones with all the answers.
Transparency isn’t about having all the answers or saying everything we know. It is about creating an environment where our people feel they can trust they have all the necessary information they need to make better decisions, and do great work.
5. Demonstrate gratitude
Sharing sincere, specific and personal appreciation helps build trust and improve engagement. Demonstrating gratitude begins with paying attention to details and a heartfelt “thank you.”
Trust communication is about congruent words and deeds. How our people perceive our behavioural integrity influences whether they see us as trustworthy (or not).
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