The 8 Ways You Earn Trust.

Being a leader is a tough job these days. They have to instill a high-performance mindset while creating a culture founded on teamwork and competitiveness. They’re expected to have a firm handle on industry, regulations, technology, strategy and people. They’re required to deliver against continuously increasing levels of performance. And, they’re expected to do this while working in a global environment where there are differing sets of cultures, attitudes, ethics and communication styles. Still interested in this job?

“The glue that holds all relationships together including the relationship between the leader and the led – is trust.” ~ Brian Tracy

To prosper in this environment, leaders must have the support of those that surround them. They have to use their people skills, and their ability to inspire others. They must cast a vision that creates buy-in and drives results. Most importantly, leaders must quickly earn trust from their colleagues to inspire team unity and collaboration.

Leading a team of people is hard without trust. As Warren Bennis states, “Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.” Stephen M.R. Covey writes in his book, “The Speed of Trust” that low levels of trust have hidden costs because it, “Creates secret agendas and guarded communication that ultimately stymies innovation and productivity.” It’s easy to say that the first job of any leader is to inspire trust.

So, how do you go about earning trust?

Well, trust is born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motives, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, and track record. Both dimensions are vital.

The 8 specific behaviors that I have noted in my global career that most impact trust are:

  • The way you keep commitments. There’s no stronger way of earning trust than by doing what you say.  If you say I’ll call you right back, or the project will be done on Friday – this is your word, your pledge. People trust those who deliver what they say.
  • The way you treat others. Respecting others is an important element in earning trust. If people see you treating others poorly they will be hesitant to offer their trust.
  • How you listen. People tend to trust those who listen to them. Be a good listener, ask questions, encourage others to vent – all these require work and time, but the rewards are worth the effort.
  • How you act under pressure. Stress often reveals the inner workings of a person. If your reaction to pressure is bad behavior, then trust will be hard to acquire.
  • The way you handle conflict. If during conflict your tendency is to bully, dominate and squash the other party, then trust will not be earned. Keep cool, look for creative win-win solutions, search for common ground in the heat of battle.
  • How you extend trust. If you constantly double check everything that your people are telling you, then they will not trust you. Trust them a little – you will get it back.
  • How you offer support. If you offer help only because you expect it to be reciprocated in the future, then people will not trust you.
  • Your honesty. Many corporate climbers are just passing through various positions on their way up. If you’re not genuine in your intentions, and it’s perceived that your true interests lie elsewhere, like your next gig, then others will not trust you. Be honest, be clear, set expectations, and focus on helping those around you to be their best – the next job will follow.

Finally, earning trust is often a building-block process. Each day you acquire trust through the behaviors noted above. In a sense you are acquiring equity – which you put in the trust bank.  Eventually, you build up enough equity where trust is a given.

A Belgian colleague used to say to me, “Dale, trust is something you have to earn. It takes time.” Well, I guess now’s a good time to get started. Because if you don’t take the time or make the effort to build trust, you’re not going to be a successful leader. Are you still interested in the job?

What do you think? I’d like to hear your views.

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” ~ Warren Buffet


About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Managing People, Soft Skills and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The 8 Ways You Earn Trust.

  1. Great post, today, Dale. I would only quibble with the order. But, love the eight arms to hold you concept.

  2. Hala says:

    So many of these – listening, honesty, keeping your word – are SO critical and so underestimated. People sometimes try to skirt by and do the minimum, forgetting that leadership is all about building credible relationships and influence. Thanks Dale!

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thanks Hala.
      Your concept of “building influence” is really a good and interesting one. Leadership based on power is short-lived. But, the ability to get people to do what you want them to do (and feel good about it) is usually sustainable. I think there is a good blog post to be written on “building influence” – I look forward to seeing it fromn you.
      All the best.

  3. Keep your word, do your best and never assume help me lead others. But I really like yours too

  4. Adeline says:

    I completely agree with you, Dale. Trust is very vital in any kind of relationship, whether it is a personal or professional. Some people find it easy to give their trust to someone while others can take a long while. Either way, once it is broken, it can never be fully restored.

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you Adeline for reading and your comments. “Giving trust” is often a cultural issue. I have found Americans to be fast trust givers (I looked him in the eyes and decided that I can trust him); while in many other cultures you have to earn trust – and, it takes time. The trust you earn over time is stronger, deeper and more personal. But, as you say – broken trust is hard to overcome.
      Thanks again. All the best.

  5. Vidya Majumdar says:

    Dale – great post as always!

    The concept of Trust has changed for me over the years. Trust was initially something that had to be earned. Say what you will do and then do it. That’s all good when you are an individual contributor. Over time, especially after moving into management, I have realized that constant double-checking left very little capacity for me to get my job done. I needed to trust my reports implicitly, but set clear expectations and quality gates. That has left my team more empowered and productive and me with a decent enough work-life balance. My new motto is “Trust but verify”

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. You give trust – and are rewarded with productivity. A true win-win!
      The key to making this happen was that you “set clear expectations and quality gates.” In fact, by setting the expectations and gates you are building trust from your team. This is the cycle of trust – that happens for good leaders. Congratulations for this important learning.
      All the best. DM

  6. Larry Del Principe says:

    Dale – good post. insightful as always Trust is key to success and in life.

  7. Gerardo says:

    Hi Dale:
    “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators (J-B Lencioni Series)” by Patrick Lencioni

    In this book, the first and most important dysfunction is lack of trust.
    For team building matters this book worth to be read.
    Very interesting post.

  8. Dale Myers says:

    Thank you Gerardo for reading, commenting, and the book suggestion. I will have to put this one on my reading list. Thanks again – all the best. DM

  9. Pat says:

    Yes, I think you are right. I particularly liked the point about character and competence. Without trust, techniques come off as manipulation. Building real relationship capital through authenticity and integrity will always yield more influence and magnetize the culture to align with the leader. It’s difficult to build trust, but it can be lost quickly. I wish more leaders would remember this.

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