Building trust seems so cliche, which is unfortunate, because its importance simply cannot be overstated. Real trust is critical to a healthy team and organization, and any team or organization without it will find itself rotting away from the inside out.
This one is foundational for many of the others. Leaders have to be human, and what I mean by that is that leaders have to be vulnerable and flawed with their teams. Instead of hiding faults and mistakes, leaders should own them, admit them, and apologize for them when appropriate. They should be quick to ask for and offer help. This cultivates trust on a team, and establishes this level of openness as a team norm. Soon, following their leader’s example, a team begins to be human as well, embracing their mutual humanness and vulnerability. This allows them to serve each other, help each other, engage in healthy conflict together, commit to each other, hold each other accountable, and much, much more. But leaders being human with their teams is the first step.
This goes hand in hand with being human, but being humble is huge. Now, there’s no human that’s humble all the time. We all have an ego, and it’s a constant struggle to keep that thing in check. But as leaders, we have to fight ego and work toward humility. It’s humility that will allow us to be open and human with our teams. It’s only humility that enables us to have any sort of self-awareness. Show me a boss without self-awareness and I’ll almost guarantee you that boss is about as arrogant as they come.
Asking questions — and I’m not just talking about work-related questions — is important for so many reasons. It helps you get to know your team. It helps you better understand how and what they’re thinking. It lets them know you’re interested in them not only as professionals, but also as people. Asking questions continues to open the communication between you and your team, and the more you and the team communicate, the stronger that relationship has a chance to become.
Related to the above, of course, is listening. When people feel listened to — really, truly listened to — it matters. By the same token — and I can’t emphasize this enough — when people feel like a boss is going through the motions of “listening” to them, but isn’t really listening, it’s destructive. It’s so harmful, in fact, that I’d suggest not even faking it. If you’re not really going to listen, and if you’ve already made up your mind about something, don’t even bother.
People can tell when you’re in it for them. People can also tell when you’re primarily in it for yourself. The former builds trust. The latter destroys it. Servant leaders see leadership as a vehicle to serve others.
Give Away Power
Leaders who give away power instead of hoarding it inspire trust on their teams. Team members feel trusted when they’re empowered, and as a result, are far more likely to trust. Bosses who hoard power send the message that the only people they trust are themselves.
Somewhat akin to the previous point, hoarding information promotes distrust. Sharing information with your team and engaging in open and candid dialogue with them shows you trust them and that you are more likely to be worthy of their trust in return.
Let Them See You Learning
There’s something about seeing a leader learn that speaks volumes to a team. It tells them that you are self-aware enough to know that you don’t know everything, and further still, you’re not even trying to hide the fact that you don’t know everything. This, of course, is impossible without the very first item in this post: being human.
What do you think? What others leadership actions would you add to the list? What else have you seen leaders do that built trust?