Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship. It makes you feel connected and valued. If you imagine for a moment not having trust between partners, family and friends, you’d be riddled with fear and insecurities. 

Trust is just as important in the workplace. Research shows that trust is critical to achieving successful and rewarding organisational performance. It cultivates creative thinking, collaboration and knowledge transference and therefore furthers engagement, innovation, transformation and productivity.  

According to the author and public speaker Simon Sinek, if people lack trust in their workplace, they tend to become “cynical, selfish and paranoid,” and ultimately become damaging to a company. He says it’s up to leaders in organisations to create an environment of trust, which he calls, “the circle of safety.” 

When you look at the statistics on trust across companies, the results are dire. Stephen M.R. Covey, who wrote, The Speed of Trust states that “only 49 per cent of employees trust senior management, and only 28 per cent believe CEOs are a credible source of information.” He labels it as “a crisis of trust.”

So, how can leaders build trust with their employees and colleagues? Here are five effective ways those in leadership can earn trust. 

Be empathetic

It takes time and effort to nurture trust within an organisation. It’s not something that is dictated; it needs to be earned. So, it’s important to develop leadership skills that show genuine concern for others. As John C. Maxwell, author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership points out, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

A compassionate leader is someone considerate and supportive. They view their team and colleagues as people, rather than merely a cog in the productivity machine. When leadership shows heart, this ignites feelings of loyalty and commitment. For instance, empathy is seen as such a powerful leadership tool in the U.S. Army that the word is used 20 times in a 188-page manual for leaders.

One of the best ways to demonstrate empathy is to listen with the intent to understand. It’s listed as a key behaviour to adopt in, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Exercising empathy is about trying to see the world through the eyes of the other person. When people feel heard, they feel valued, which drives openness, sharing of ideas and a work ethic of getting things done. Research confirms that empathy is the key driver of employee retention, motivation and productivity.

Be transparent

Visible leadership is seen as dependable. Being open and accessible is a leadership skill that helps build confidence within the workforce. 

On the other hand, leaders who sit in an ivory tower or make decisions behind closed doors like a secret sect will likely suffer a trust deficit. An example of this was when the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne moved to a new architecturally designed premise in 2011. According to the Executive Director of Communications at the time, a lack of transparency drove “deep-seated grievance across sections of the workforce” and resulted in many, many leaks to the media. 

The fix was to introduce an internal ‘news culture’ where everything about the organisation was discussed openly – warts and all – including negative outcomes. After an extensive communications overhaul, the result was a more engaged workplace.

This shift towards open-book communications, where organisational failings and challenges are discussed also means leaders need to be willing to admit their flaws and weaknesses. When the leadership team can have frank discussions about their mistakes along with their success stories, this helps build a culture of accountability – which is key to building trust. Demonstrating honesty and humility is a leadership skill that sets an example for the entire workforce to follow your lead. 

Be consistent 

A workplace depends on leadership that is reliable, acts with integrity and isn’t random. Consistency in leadership matters because employees can’t be the best version of themselves in an unpredictable environment. 

For instance, IBM found that 80 per cent of employees felt more engaged when their work matched with the core values of the organisation. 

Therefore, an essential leadership skill to develop is the ability to always match your words to your actions. If you say you’re going to do something, be prepared to follow through. This helps leaders to be viewed as a steady and safe-pair-of-hands, which grows your credibility – another step towards fostering trust. 

Importantly, consistency not only bolsters your reputation as a leader, but it also reinforces your message about why you’ve made certain decisions and why you’ve taken certain actions. Ultimately it builds momentum for your company vision. 

Be a doer

Just like consistency, competence builds trust in leadership. Leaders are expected to tackle difficult issues and find practical solutions. 

For instance, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, a large percentage of people believe that CEOs can create positive change in matters such as equal pay, discrimination, and training for the jobs of tomorrow. This means that to build trust, the leadership in any organisation needs to have a track record of achieving results. Employees want to see outcomes when it comes to issues that matter within the workforce.

By showing the ability to be depended on in performing tasks and by doing the right thing, leaders can influence the workforce and develop a high trust culture. This has significant implications for creating workplace commitment. In fact, according to the Global Study of Engagement, “a worker is 12 times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she trusts the team leader.”

Be an auditor

Leadership expert and best-selling author Mel Parker states, “When trust is low in a company or in a relationship it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every transaction and doubles the cost of doing business.” 

The 2018 Trust Outlook study concurs, declaring that “trust, not money, is the currency of business and life.” The report specifies that companies with high trust levels outperform those with low levels by 186 per cent.

Given the substantial impact of trust on the bottom line, it’s not enough for leadership to simply create an environment of trust. Leaders need to think about building trust as being more than a set and forget exercise. Maintaining trust requires regular nurturing, so it doesn’t erode. 

Trust can be fragile and needs to be continually monitored and reinforced. So, among the leadership skills required to preserve trust is the ability to measure trust within an organisation, track improvements and recognise where failure is occurring.

Develop your trust edge

One of the best ways to acquire skills in how to lead with trust is to complete the Master of Leadership online at Deakin University. You’ll discover your leadership strengths and how you can better build trust to achieve business success.

Learn more about our Master of Leadership online. Get in touch with our enrolment team on 1300 043 524.