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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jun 8, 2019


Trust is the essential currency of any organisation however, it seems to be in short supply these days. This week we look at four ways in which leaders can build trust.



Hello and welcome to episode 39 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we look at four ways in which leaders can build trust.

Trust is the essential currency of any organisation, however it seems to be in short supply these days. And trust has a huge impact on the effectiveness of teams and organisations. Without trust, three things happen:

  1. People hesitate - they become reluctant to act, and instead sit back, giving less than their best

  2. People make up stories - they try to make sense of what’s happening, and create stories, usually negative, that help to explain actions and events

  3. People leave - as the trust bank account dwindles, staff turnover increases

So why is it that we trust some people more than others? Psychological research gives us some important insights. We trust people that we believe have good intentions for us, and who follow through on those intentions.

First, let’s look at the good intentions part - we trust people who have good intentions for us. It’s important to note that it’s good intentions for us that matters - having good intentions for the organisation or even others is not enough. For a leader to build trust, they need to understand what matters to their people. You can’t build trust without uncovering the needs and interests of your people. Without that, people begin to question the leader’s motives and anticipate a negative impact of their actions.

And, second, a leader you can trust is someone who follows through. They’re predictable and act in the way you expect. It’s not enough to just say the right things - trustworthy leaders follow through.

I was a leader in a management consulting firm as we sailed towards the Global Financial Crisis. After several years of record growth, clients were suddenly delaying projects as they tried to cut back on spending. As a result we made a decision to decrease our costs by 10% which, in a consulting firm, equates to people. I laid out the facts to my team - that our revenue was falling and we had to reduce costs or start laying off staff. We wanted to keep people, and were exploring ways to achieve a cost saving while having the smallest impact on people possible. We worked together to propose everyone on the team voluntarily move to a nine day fortnight, meaning they would lose one day of work every two weeks and take a 10% pay cut. People signed up to this because they understood we had their best interests at heart - people wanted to keep their jobs, and this was one way of ensuring they could do that. We also found that people quite liked having a day off every two weeks, and that productivity even lifted despite fewer days being worked. And I moved to a nine day fortnight too, which was an important demonstration of my personal commitment to the change. Without trust, people might have seen the change as a money-grabbing exercise and been less engaged with their work and the organisation. 

Here are four ways you can build trust as a leader:

  1. Uncover your team members’ interests and needs - in that way you can align your actions to their needs

  2. Share your intent - let people know what you’re trying to achieve, and how that aligns with their interests, being as open as you can

  3. Follow through - do what you said you would do

  4. Let them know you’ve followed through - don’t just leave them to join the dots, help them to see that you have followed through

I believe any leader can build trust, but it needs to be authentic. People are finely tuned to when someone’s words don’t align with their actions. So keep in mind what it takes to be a trustworthy leader - it’s someone who demonstrates good intentions for others, and follows through on those intentions.