Building and Maintaining Trust For Business Leaders

Building and Maintaining Trust For Business Leaders

For business success, leaders need to create effective teams under them. One of the characteristics of highly effective teams is a high level of trust between the team members and the team leader.

However, one of the difficult things about building trust is that it needs to be given before it is received. Showing trust takes courage, but if your employees feel that you do not trust them then this increases tension and negative on guard behavior in your team. If this mistrust is not tackled by the leader then it will eventually erode the spirit of the team and, ultimately, will impact on its productivity.

There are five “trust-busting” behaviours that leaders need to be aware of. These are:

Not telling people the truth

Leaders who lie to their team are quickly found out. Even “white lies” can come back to haunt you. Leaders are expected to tell the truth, even if this truth is painful for their employees to hear.

Leaving out information

Whilst some leaders do not lie, they create mistrust by leaving out information that the team later hears about from elsewhere. Such omissions, whether intentional or just due to poor communication, reduces trust.

Failure to follow through with commitments and obligations.

We quickly stop trusting leaders who continually make promises they then don’t keep. Our initial disappointment quickly turns into cynical mistrust.

Behavior that demonstrates a double standard

A fundamental rule of leadership is that people will do what you do. If you demonstrate double standards by talking about trusting people then micro-managing them they will not trust you.

Keeping people off-balance by making seemingly irrational, haphazard and unexpected changes for no obvious reason

For trust to develop people need to know that you are consistent in the way you do things. Change is difficult at the best of times, so leaders who keep people off-balance by not communicating the reasons for change are rarely trusted.

Assuming that you, as a business leader, are not behaving in these ways, what can you do to positively build and maintain trust among your employees?

There are two areas that leaders should focus on. These are:

Developing Genuine Empathy

It is well-known that as human beings we tend to trust people who we feel are “like us”. We find it easier to build trust with someone who likes and knows what we like and dislike.

For the business leader the challenge comes from building trust with employees who have different expectations, aspirations and experiences. These differences can make mistrust more prevalent.

Demonstrating genuine empathy is a way to break down these differences. To do this you will need to develop a good understanding of the cultural differences that exist in our multi-cultural business world. There are a number of websites that identify key cultural differences and these are a useful resource for the business leader to study.

If you value the contributions of each team member and take the time to get to know what matters to them outside of work, they will find it easier to trust you.

Managing Problems

If your employees cannot make a genuine mistake without being judged an atmosphere of fear and mistrust is created. Your people will become defensive when something goes wrong, there will be less communication, less initiative and less innovation in the team.

As the leader you need to manage problems way that shows tolerance for genuine mistakes. Leaders who can be approached easily by their team when a mistake has been made are usually more trusted.

A deeper level of trust takes more time to establish and will require continual effort from the leader, but if you persist then the rewards are a happier workforce and higher levels of productivity.

About the author


Tracy Tappenden

Tracy Tappenden joined the Spearhead Training Group in 2000 as a course tutor, with specific responsibility for the delivery of management courses. In 2005 she was promoted to Course Director, becoming responsible for coordinating the design and delivery of management training for Spearhead’s in-company clients. Her strength is working closely with managers at all levels in the clients' organisation to ensure that management training is effectively implemented.

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