Does trusting someone make you a sucker or a better leader?

Does Trust Cost You Money?

Stephen Covey is a big fan of trust — he’s written the famous book “The Speed of Trust” and believes that far from it being a warm and fuzzy nice to do, it is actually a hard headed business tool that drives productivity and business performance.

It’s interesting how trust is at the bottom of so many other leadership behaviours; both positive and negative. For example, I was working with a leader recently who really struggled to delegate despite being so very busy. When we got to the bottom of the why; it was really around the fact that he didn’t trust his team do the job as well as he could.  Unfortunately, this is a bit self fulfilling — people can often sense if you don’t trust them, and this often means that they continue to act in ways that perpetuate this belief.

Or, as this piece of research shows:

“..People do not gauge trustworthiness on the basis of what they are told about the individual competence of a leader -they gauge trustworthiness on .. that person’s actions and practice in the workplace..”1

The thing about changing the trust dynamic in any relationship is that it always takes one person to go first. And taking that first step is laden with the possibility that it might not go well, and that attempts to trust the other person may result in what you feared would happen in the first place.  All these are reasons that leaders tell themselves to explain away why building trusting relationships (and displaying trusting behaviours) is not a good idea.

So, if you are displaying behaviours as a leader that demonstrate that you don’t trust either a group of employees or a particular employee, ask yourself why. Ask yourself if they, in turn, trust you. And then ask yourself how much more productive the relationship could be if there was trust on both sides of the equation. How much more could you achieve?

What can you do differently to build trust?

If you are keen to do something differently and don’t know where to start, a great place to start is Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust. In his book he talks about the 13 behaviours that high trust leaders exhibit.

In a recent article for HR Daily, the author describes the behaviours: Covey says that high-trust leaders exhibit 13 behaviours:

  • Talking straight – They say what is on their mind, and don’t hide their agenda. When leaders talk straight, they tell the truth and leave the right impression. Most employees don’t think their bosses communicate honestly, and this creates a trust tax;
  • Demonstrating respect – Actions should show leaders care. They should be sincere. People will notice if an action is motivated by a lesser reason or an impure value. Respect is demonstrated in the “little” things leaders do daily;
  • Creating transparency – Leaders should tell the truth in a way that can be verified. Transparency is based on principles of honesty, openness, integrity and authenticity. It is based on doing things in the open where all can see;
  • Righting wrongs – To right a wrong is much more than apologising. It involves making restitution. With customers it might include that free gift along with the sincere apology;
  • Showing loyalty – Leaders need to give credit to the individuals responsible for success. A leader should never take credit for the hard work of others, but just as bad is the one who gives credit to someone in their presence, but then downplays their contribution to others;
  • Delivering results – The fastest way to build trust is to deliver results. Results provide instant credibility and trust, and delivering results is based on competence;
  • Getting better – When others see leaders continually learning and adapting to change, they become more confident in their ability to lead into the future. Covey suggested two ways to get better. First, seek feedback from those around you. Second, learn from your mistakes;
  • Confronting reality – If leaders are honest about the difficult issues and address them head-on, people will trust them. Leaders have to avoid the temptation to avoid reality or act as if they are addressing the difficult issues while they are actually evading them;
  • Clarifying expectations – It is important to focus on a shared vision of success up front. When expectations are not clearly defined up front, trust and speed both go down. A lot of time is wasted due to leaders not clearly defining expectations;
  • Practising accountability – Leaders must hold themselves accountable, and take responsibility for bad results. It is often a natural response to blame others for failure, but when leaders fail, they need to look in the mirror. Holding others accountable allows performers to feel good about the job they are doing. It also increases trust by assuring performers that slackers and poor performers will not pull them down;
  • Listening first – Listening before prescribing builds trust. Leaders need to be careful not to learn the ‘mechanics’ of listening and give the impression they are listening when they really are not, however, and remember that they have to listen to nonverbal messages as well;
  • Keeping commitments – Covey refers to this as the “Big Kahuna” of all the trust behaviours. When leaders make a commitment, they build hope. When they keep a commitment they build trust. Leaders must be careful when making commitments, and make only those they can keep. They also shouldn’t be vague when making commitments; and
  • Extending trust – The other behaviours help someone become a trusted leader, but this behaviour helps them become a trusting leader. Leaders should extend trust to those who have earned it, and be willing to extend trust to those who are still earning it, but should be cautious in extending trust to those who have not exemplified a character worth trusting.

So, this week’s takeaways:

  • Trust costs in terms of productivity and engagement.
  • One person always needs to go first — make it you!
  • You can build trust by changing your behaviours.

Until next week, happy leading.

1. CIPD/University of Bath — Experiencing Trustworthy Leadership 

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Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.
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