You Can't Lead Effectively Without Trust

Follow these do's and don'ts to build trust with your team.

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By Stacey Hanke

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If leaders want to be effective, they must earn the trust of those they lead. Developing trust is essential for your team's success and your success as a leader. According to a recent PwC survey of more than 1,400 CEOs worldwide, 55 percent of respondents believe a lack of trust is a serious threat to the success of their teams and their business.

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

Trust isn't granted by others. Trust is earned through consistency, effective communication and follow-throughs. Leaders must be able to inspire their teams and influence them to act upon what they say. Even though trust takes time to earn, it can be lost very quickly. Here are five do's and don'ts for leaders to build trust:

1. Consistent, effective communication is key.

Effective communication is key to earning influence as a leader. To be an effective communicator, you must communicate clearly, concisely and consistently. Priorities and goals must not be repeated continually but instead lived through a leader's actions and decisions. This requires intentional listening skills. Leaders must tune into what their employees are saying, both verbally and nonverbally. They must avoid distraction and listen with intent to hear the entire message.

Leaders must commit to the ongoing improvement of their own communication skills. They must be open to letting others know they are always striving for personal development of communication skills. Doing so demonstrates your priority on effective communication skills and will encourage employees to do the same.


  • Send long-winded emails, voicemails and texts that are confusing and lack a point.
  • Get distracted by anything -- people, your phone or computer -- while others are speaking.
  • Expect employees to communicate effectively when you fail to invest time to improve your own.

Related: 15 Ways to Lead With Effective Communication

2. Be transparent and trustworthy.

Employees recognize lies and withheld truths. It's not appropriate for leaders to share all decisions openly, but leaders must be open and honest about what they can share. When leaders fail to be honest and earn trust, employees become less engaged in the workplace. This behavior creates an atmosphere of suspicion and undermines the relationship.

To avoid having employees check out, recognize they are adults and equally invested in the organization's success. Be honest when providing feedback, both positive and negative. Be open about struggles and directional changes necessary to reach goals. When leaders allow employees to engage in conversation and decision-making, it drives loyalty and a deeper understanding. Openness, honesty and transparency are vital to building trustworthy relationships.


  • Say one thing and do another, thinking your team won't notice.
  • Protect your team by sharing altered versions of the truth, or white lies.
  • Fail to provide feedback and input, leaving employees wondering where you stand.

3. Don't play the blame game.

Most employees want their organizations to succeed. No one wants to fail, and yet sometimes failure happens. We have all experienced times when great ideas fail to launch, decisions backfire and projects fall short of their objectives. Nevertheless, failure stings. Few things can add insult to injury like a leader who places blame for failure on someone or something.

When leaders take a stand for the decision or idea and take responsibility for failure, it creates a deep sense of trust among employees. Additionally, it creates a sense of freedom for employees to think big and create, fully knowing they have a safe place to pursue great ideas. Few things build trust quite like knowing someone has your back and will support you in your actions. When leaders demonstrate faith in their employees and their decisions, employees reciprocate.


  • Set your team up to fail in unusual situations by failing to provide ongoing guidance and feedback.
  • Blame other leaders for decisions that employees aren't happy with or don't want to hear.
  • Encourage employees to pursue ideas then reprimand them if failure occurs.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

4. Create a connection.

Leadership is not all about getting the job done. It's also about getting to know on a personal level the people doing the job. When leaders invest time getting to know employees more deeply, they create a genuine connection within the business.

Take time to get to know your employees. Understand their interests, long-term professional goals and personal priorities. Understand how you can help them achieve their goals, both inside and outside of the office. Take time to regularly meet with your employees. Get out of your office and walk to their space. Acknowledge that building genuine relationships starts by building trust. When you invest in your employee's success, they'll invest in yours.


  • Ask questions about your employees' personal life, desires or goals and then forget the details.
  • Pretend to be invested in their professional success and fail to follow up beyond the first talk.
  • Say you prioritize family, rest and recovery then send many after-hours messages.

5. Lead by example.

Leadership is all about leading by example. Team culture is created by leaders who set the tone based on actions and decisions. When leaders prioritize the need to improve their own communication skills, employees will as well. When leaders are honest and demonstrate transparency in their decision-making, employees will be honest in their actions, successes and failures. When leaders take ownership of bad choices and team failures, employees will work harder to seek success and take personal responsibility for their actions.

By striving to develop a genuine connection with employees, team members will work harder to get to know each other, too. When leaders prioritize their team, the team will prioritize the team's success.


  • Lead with a "do as I say, not as I do" mindset.
  • Believe employees won't notice when your actions aren't consistent with your words.
  • Follow the example of poor leaders you report to and use it as an excuse to do the same.

You cannot succeed on your own. Your success depends on your team. To experience success, start by investing in your organization and practicing actions that develop trust. Make your team a priority and commit to being the best leader you can be.

Stacey Hanke

CEO of Stacey Hanke Inc.

Stacey Hanke is author of "Influence Redefined…Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday." She is the founder of Stacey Hanke Inc. and has presented to Coca-Cola, FedEx, Nationwide, Fannie Mae and McDonald’s. She has been featured on The New York Times, Forbes and SmartMoney.

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