Leadership and the Art of Building Trust Within Your Team

by Ben on March 29, 2010

Trust is never given, it MUST be earned.  The trust between a leader and her team are continually built over time, day after day, project after project.  Unfortunately, it only takes a second to loose your team’s trust through a momentary lapse in judgment.

As a leader, the challenge is not only building trust within your organization, but maintaining and continually developing it.  In order to succeed in a leadership role, your ability to influence, inspire, and motivate must continue to grow.

To nurture this trust as a leader, it’s important to understand the seven key components of trust building (sometimes referred to as the Seven C’s of Trust Building).  The better you understand the building blocks of trust, the better you will be able to lead.

Communication:

There seems to be an overwhelming amount of “buzz” about the importance of “communication” between a leader and her team. In fact, I could easily make a case the word “communication” is the most overused and misunderstood term in organizational leadership today.

So how does communication affect a leader’s ability to build trust within a team environment?

In it’s most basic form, communication is nothing more than two or more parties speaking to each other, listening to each other, and understanding each other.  

In order to guide her team in achieving a particular goal, a leader must relay her ideas to the team either through speaking or written word.   It then becomes the team’s responsibility to listen or read what the leader has to say and put the plan into action.  Each teammember should also be given an opportunity to offer their ideas into the plan.  Doing so helps to build a consensus and sense of purpose within the group. 

The element most affecting trust as it relates to communication is in “understanding” what each person is saying.  The “understanding” is the final piece of the communication triangle.  As a leader, it is fundamentally important to ensure your team understands exactly what everyone is saying.  You may think you’ve made your expectations clear, only to discover well into a project that your team is heading towards an entirely different goal.

We are all familiar with the popular elementary school game called “telephone” were a simple message is relayed from one student, and then to the next.  By the time the message makes it way from the first student to the last the message has changed dramatically.

An effective leader ensures her team fully understands her expectations and then verifies this by periodically monitoring the teams performance as they work towards a particular objective.

Clearly communicating your expectations reduces the possibility that you and your team will be at odds over the outcome of a project.  If your team feels you haven’t given them an appropriate amount of information to perform a particular function, their trust in you as a leader will be diminished.  

Consistency: 

Another important element of trust building is the leader’s ability to remain consistent.  

Why is consistency so important in building trusting relationships with your team? 

If your team sees you responding wildly different to similar situations, they’ll never truly be comfortable with you as leader.  People need to know were they stand with their supervisor.  Leaders who are unable to offer their team this basic level of support will never truly earn their teams trust.

Commitment:

In order to build trust within your organization, its important to demonstrate that you are committed to achieving results.  If you’re not aligned with the vision, mission, and core values of your organization, it will be virtually impossible to motivate and inspire your team.

People can instantly recognize when a leader is not fully committed to a particular task.  They ask themselves “why should we care, if our supervisor doesn’t?“.

When a supervisor continually demonstrates that she is committed to the goals of her team and then does everything she can to support these goals, she will have made significant strides in building trust with her people. 

Consensus:

Forming a consensus within your team is another important element in building trust.  In order for team members to regard you as a leader, you need to help them understand their work is important, and worthwhile.  This is accomplished by allowing team members to contribute their ideas on how to accomplish a particular task. 

When everyone is involved in the planning, its much easier to form a consensus within the group. 

Instinctively, when a consensus is not reached within a team those not in agreement will blame the leader thus straining any levels of trust the leader may have had.

Character:

In regards to leadership, Merriam-Webster defines character as having moral excellence and firmness.  In other words, character is about doing the right thing by your team and organization. 

When you consistently do the right thing, people are naturally drawn to you as a mentor.  No matter what your role is in an organization, the fact that you do right by your team (even if it means being brutally honest) will inevitably build your team’s trust in you.   

Candor:

Being honest and candid with yourself and your team is another important aspect of building trust.  If someone is not performing to your expectations, be honest with the person. 

In my own observations, managers often go out of their way to avoid a crucial conversations. Their personality traits make it very difficult for them to confront underperforming employees.

As time goes by, the manager’s dissatisfaction grows until it reaches the point were it overcomes his willingness to “let things slide”.  When the manager is finally upset enough to do something about issue, their emotions often get in the way of having an effective coaching moment.

You owe it to each individual on your team to be candid and honest.  The more you practice candor, the easier it will become and the better leader you will be.  Not every individual will be receptive to your honest evaluation of their performances.  However, if your evaluations are accurate, under-performing team members will come to appreciate them over time. 

Individuals that do not appreciate honest feedback of their performance (when you exhibit all remaining qualities of trust), probably don’t deserve to have you as a leader.

Famed leadership visionary Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) advises leaders to “get rid of” individuals who are not open to constructive criticism and are unable to align themselves with the values of the organization. 

Caring:

Last but certainly not least is showing your team members that you care.  People know when you sincerely care about them.  However, most managers fail to realize that caring for their people is much more than occasionally asking about their family.

Leaders build trusting relationships with their people by supporting and encouraging their development within the organization.

Leaders build trusting relationships with their people by asking them about their goals.

Most importantly, leaders build trusting relationships by letting their people know that their opinion counts and they can make a difference. 

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, the best ideas often come from people closest to the front-lines of an organization.  Leaders can never do everything; when trusting relationships are made, each individual, the team, and the organization will flourish.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach April 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Worthwhile post for sure Ben. You cover a broad base of behaviors needed for a leader to build trust and yet each one that you mention is thought-provoking.
When it comes to candor, I often advise leaders to **start with honesty which leaves out the blunt emotion that candor delivers. Honesty is candor said in a way that doesn’t risk insult or misinterpretation. In fact, as a leader gains the trust of her/his team, s/he will be able to use more candor. Existing relationships can handle candor. In the early stages of forming relationships, candor can create scars and wrong impressions that take forever to heal. The information delivered is the same. The tone and words are different.
Here’s a post that gives 3 solid yet simple communication steps that breed great trust and morale simultaneously:
http://katenasser.com/soft-skills-employers-need-3-solid-steps/

Many thanks for your post. I will RT on Twitter tomorrow.
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

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