The actions and behaviors of individual leaders impact trust within the organization. Many fail to understand the elements of a trusting work atmosphere and the strategies used to build and establish a firm foundation for trust and leadership.
There are five key elements a leader must focus their efforts on to develop a comprehensive atmosphere of trust in their workplace. While the concept of trust implies participation by both leader and the people they deal with, including their superiors, associates, peers and employees, it must start with the individual leader.
It is counterproductive for leaders to withhold their trust until they are able to trust the other party. In most cases trust is mutually developed by both parties and balanced by the commitment each brings to the relationship. Typically, employees and other individuals will reciprocate the trust placed in them by leaders.
As leaders attempt to build trust, they will experience reluctance in the form of employees who have felt betrayed by the organization in the past. Consequently, leaders must signal a change by making the first steps to initiate and demonstrate trust in their employees. Once employees see that a true change has occurred, they will begin to slowly form the bonds of trust needed for leaders to be effective.
Leaders who wish to establish a complete environment of trust with their superiors, associates, peers and employees must consider employing the following strategies:
Establish Professional and Personal Credibility
If leaders are credible, they are trusted and believable to their employees. Employees consider a credible leader to be one who does not advance a personal agenda but has the best interests of the organization and his or her employees at heart.
Employees and other individuals view credibility from differing perspectives. Often credibility can be confused with personal competence. If the leader is knowledgeable and possesses both personal expertise and experience, they are considered credible. Conversely, leaders who maintain positions in which they demonstrate professional incompetence exhibit a lack of professional credibility, with employees viewing their direction, judgment and leadership as suspect.
The other aspect is the leader’s own personal credibility. This involves the employee’s ability to personally trust what a leader says or does. An individual may possess professional credibility and not possess the personal credibility to lead the organization. Strategies leaders must apply to develop and foster personal credibility include:
- Making themselves available to their employees and easy to talk with. Good leaders do not wait for their employees to approach them, but seek them out on a regular basis. Many will walk around and talk with each employee several times a day to discuss everyday concerns and issues. This proactive approach allows them to monitor the pulse of their organization while facilitating open communication with their employees. They instantly answer questions with straight responses and openly make their expectations of the organization and their employees known.
- Trusting their employees to handle their jobs and responsibilities without regularly looking over their shoulders and micro-managing their activities.
- Being completely reliable and always delivering on their promises and commitments without fail, enabling employees to know without question that they can count on the leader.
Trust is built when employees know their leader is fair and consistent in his or her actions, decisions and judgments—no matter who is involved and what the circumstances.
Fairness is comprised of both equity and consistency. Leaders can use the following strategies to develop a strong sense of equity including:
- Ensuring all employees are treated in the same manner.
- Making sure all actions, judgments and decisions are fair to all parties concerned.
- Avoiding any favoritism among employees, especially where rewards, recognition and promotions are concerned.
Effective leaders make certain their actions, judgments and decisions are consistent and not based upon specific circumstances. Only when leaders demonstrate consistency over time can they build trust with employees, who then know they will always be treated fairly.
Trust is built upon a foundation of mutual respect for one another. If respect is absent, trust can never be achieved. Leaders can develop and foster respect by:
- Demonstrating a personal regard for individual employees’ experience, expertise, knowledge, insight and perspectives concerning their jobs.
- Actively seeking feedback and employees’ insight, perspective and opinions regarding important decisions.
- Actively involving employees in the decision making process.
- Demonstrating appreciation for employees’ personal contributions to the success of the organization.
- Providing the training, resources and support employees need to competently perform their jobs.
- Demonstrating care and concern for employees’ lives outside of the workplace.
Trust is fostered and nurtured by a sense of mutual pride in the work, quality and accomplishments of the organization. This builds organizational cohesiveness that bonds all employees together and strengthens trust in all involved. As workplace cohesiveness increases, so does a sense of trust in the organization and its people. Everyone feels they are working together, and each can be trusted to fulfill his or her role and responsibilities.
Leaders can encourage the development of pride by using the following strategies:
- Helping employees understand their individual role in the organization and how their efforts contribute to its success.
- Helping them understand that they personally make a difference within the organization.
- Exhorting employees to take satisfaction both in their organization’s accomplishments and its contributions to their community.
Comradery is not normally associated with the concept of trust, yet it does contribute to the organizational cohesiveness established by trust. As cited above, the stronger the organizational cohesiveness, the stronger the bond between leaders and employees. All involved feel linked by common goals, experiences and successes. They have a sense that everyone is “in it together” and work as a unit rather than as individuals.
Leaders can use the following strategies to build comradery with their employees:
- Creating a workplace where a common concern is demonstrated and employees feel they can “be themselves.”
- Openly and regularly celebrating special events and mutual successes.
- Consistently and openly recognizing, rewarding and celebrating individual successes in a warm and genuine manner.
Excerpt: Building and Nurturing Trust in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $16.95 USD