6 Things Leaders Must Do to Earn Trust

Leaders must establish trust and avoid disrupting their employee's focus and the momentum of their careers.
6 Things Leaders Must Do to Earn Trust
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As the nation recovers from an angry and divisive election season, one of the hallmarks will surely be not just the hate and hateful rhetoric on both sides but how little trust anyone put in the other side’s candidate – or even their own candidate.

Unfortunately, trust is in rare supply everywhere these days. The Washington Post has a graphic in which you can watch as Americans’ trust in each other erodes over the last four decades. Only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted – down from half who felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.  Forty years later, in 2014, a record high of nearly two-thirds says “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people. As a result, almost half of Americans have lost faith in our democracy.

This same sentiment can be carried over into the workplace, where employees want their leaders to be more trustworthy and transparent. Leaders are challenged between informing their employees of the entire truth and holding back certain realities so as not to unnecessarily scare people or lose top talent.  More and more leaders today are being placed into uncomfortable moral dilemmas because they are attempting to salvage their own jobs while trying to maintain the trust and loyalty of their employees.

Employees just want the truth.  They have learned that the old templates of doing things just don’t apply (as much) anymore and more than ever they need their leaders to have their backs.  Unfortunately, many leaders are operating in survival mode and don’t have the sphere of influence they once had.

But they can still take these six steps to regain that influence and re-establish trust by doing these six things:

1.  Have Courage

Leaders that don’t stand up for what they believe in are difficult to respect and trust. Too many leaders today battle the gulf between assimilation and authenticity. They waste too much of their valuable time trying to act like other leaders in the organization – rather than attempting to establish their own leadership identity. This is why less than 15% of leaders have defined and live their personal brand. Employees know that if those leaders are not savvy enough to move into a position of greater influence, it will make it difficult if not impossible for their people to get noticed and discovered as well. The influence of a leader carries a lot of weight when it comes to how their colleagues judge and evaluate the potential of their employees. When leaders lack the courage to enable their full potential and that of others, it becomes a challenge to trust their judgment, self-confidence, self-awareness and overall capabilities.

2.  Lose the Hidden Agendas

Politically shrewd leaders can be a benefit to employees but not if they are viewed as devious and inauthentic – all about the politics and not about how employees can accomplish their goals and objectives.  Leaders must be careful not to give their employees the impression of orchestrating hidden agendas. They want to believe that their leaders are focused on the betterment of the team. If this requires well-intentioned political maneuvering to advance team goals and objectives, then great.  However, if it comes across that a leader is solely intent on protecting themselves and their own personal agendas – trust from the team will be lost quickly and difficult to recapture.

3.  Be Other-Directed

I’ve often said that leaders can’t go at it alone. When leaders are only looking out for themselves and lack any sense of commitment to the advancement of their employees, employees shut down. Great leaders are great coaches and are looking for ways to align their goals and the goals of the company so everyone grows and prospers. 

4.  Manage Reputation Issues

Check out the latest RealClear Politics favorable-unfavorable ratings for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The average for all the reported polls for both candidates showed unfavorable ratings over 50%. While I said that the hate will not be the key issue for one of these leaders as president, the negativity surrounding them will make it more difficult for others to trust their intentions and vision. Most President’s start their terms with a honeymoon period as they try and unite a nation. Leaders in business should take heed: This time, the President will need more than courage as a leader. The public is always evaluating and thus no leader can ever grow complacent. When leaders do, this not only negatively impact their reputation but also further erodes and the trust employees have in them.

5.  Be Consistent in Behavior

People are more inclined to trust those who are consistent with their behavior – not their decisions their behavior.  It is easy to begin questioning one’s motives and judgment when a person is inconsistent. I’ve worked with clients who appear to be on the same page – only to notice that they begin to disconnect when they believe that the direction of a project is not allowing them to mobilize their own agendas.  In other words, when everyone but the leader is on board with a strategy – you begin to wonder if their intentions are to support the organization’s advancement or their own. Leaders who are consistent with their approach and intentions are those who can be trusted. This is why so many leaders need to refresh their leadership style before they lose the trust of their employees.

6.  Work with a Generous Purpose

When leaders do not have others’ best interests at heart. When they are not grateful for your performance efforts. When they are always attempting to squeeze every bit of effort they can out of you, it’s difficult to trust that they have intentions to be more efficient, resourceful and collaborative. Employees don’t ever want to feel taken advantage of – especially during a time when everyone is being asked to do more with less.  Leaders must be more appreciative of their employees and more mindful of their endeavors.

Leaders who lack a generous purpose and are not compassionate towards their employees are difficult to trust. How can leaders expect their employees to give them everything they’ve got to increase their performance impact when they are not willing to do the same?

In the end, leaders who do these six things not only establish trust but also avoid putting their employees in positions of increased risk – disrupting their focus and the momentum of their careers. This is what today leaders must consider: how to lead in new ways that focus less on one’s self, but more on the betterment of a healthier whole and the innovation mentality.

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