Trust and Leadership

Updated on August 1, 2019
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Lani is a seasoned financial analyst in both the public and private sector with over 15 years of business expertise.

Leadership cannot happen without Trust

Build from Trust

Build from trust.

What exactly is trust? The direct dictionary definition of trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something (Merriam-Webster; trust). Simply put, trust is the name you give to any behaviors/outcomes you can rely on. And make no mistake, trust has both positive and negative connotations. Positive trust is easy to identify: you can trust your mom will take good care of your kids, you can trust your best friend will be at your wedding, and you can trust your local grocery store will be open till 11p.m. You have built trust in these statements because the overwhelming majority of your past experiences have not given you reasons not to. You have never felt concerned after picking up your children from you mom’s house, you feel your best friend has never let you down when its important and your grocery store has never failed to be open until 11 p.m. Negative trust may not be as recognizable but you may: trust your cousin will borrow your black t-shirt and never return it, you trust your son will forget to feed the dog, and you trust your boss will not consider your recommendations for changes in the office. All the examples you’ve read represent elements of trust, but what does this mean in the workplace?


Why is trust important?

If you cannot trust your boss to respect you, or your coworker to value your skills then the workplace environment becomes tense and potentially hostile. Creativity is stifled when team members do not trust their supervisors or coworkers will respect their contributions and take them seriously. Trust is hugely emotional as it requires one individual to expose vulnerabilities that can be exploited or cherished by another. Experience provides us with insight on which result we should expect in any given situation. From those we trust we expect our vulnerabilities to be cherished and protected, from those we do not trust we expect our vulnerabilities to be taken advantage of and used against us.


What a Trusted Leader Needs

What to do

Build trust

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Make this statement a motto, to guide your thoughts, to guide your actions, to guide your life. Make promises and keep them—no excuses! Do not avoid making promises, this does more damage to relationships than people realize. Promises must be made, and they must be kept. Keep your promises simple, ensure you are promising something you can deliver, then deliver. Kept promises build reliability, build hope, strengthen all relationships, and leads to trust.

Say no, when you mean no. It is better to just say no, even if it is for shallow or selfish reasons, than it is to commit and disappoint. By saying “no” right away you do not risk damaging whatever trust you have gained. Most likely you will gain respect from the person you say no to for being truthful even if it hurts their feelings.

Learn to repair trust

Repairing damaged trust is a slow process requiring diligence, commitment and patience. Being untrustworthy, unreliable, noncommittal is a way of life, it is habitual—being trustworthy, reliable, committed is a way of life—it must become habitual. What is most important is to stick to your changes and be predictable in your responses. Pick changes in areas you can maintain consistency. Punctuality and attendance are possibly the easiest ways to build trust. If you’ve been unreliable in punctuality and attendance previously then commit to being present and on-time. It really is that simple. Cut out the excuses and put in the work to be where you are expected to be and/or be there on time.

Be truthful with yourself so you can be truthful with others. When there is no intention to be on time to something, or even show up, then don't say that you will. That’s it! If you know you are not going to do those things, do not lead people to believe you will. When you know you will not provide support to a peer—don't say that you will. You hate the idea of joining a coworker carpool—then don’t join the carpool!

Dealing with untrustworthy people

It would be nice to have every workplace be a utopia of trust and safety but the truth is not at all the case. At some point in your career you will have to deal with untrustworthy coworkers, team members and bosses. So what can you do?

Keep a paper trail. Always be on alert for those situations that can be turned against you, act with integrity and keep a legitimate paper trail to cover your steps. Maintain relevant emails, or any other type of written correspondence. Note important conversations and never be afraid to request information and commitments in writing from third parties, remaining ever diligent, constantly supporting a defensive wall of fact around your personal image and integrity.

Keep your guard up. Being instructed to “keep your guard up” may seem counterintuitive in a discussion surrounding trust. On the contrary, recognizing who to trust and who not to trust is a part of emotional intelligence and can be of aid in many workplace situations. Having deemed a coworker (or supervisor) untrustworthy, and subsequently keeping that person at a comfortable distance without causing social or political “drama” in the workplace will require unwavering emotional intelligence. This can be a very delicate tango at times but can be danced successfully with patience and dedication.

Keep your thoughts to yourself. Again—counterintuitive, I get it, bear with me. The rules have to change a bit when you are dealing with an untrustworthy coworker (or supervisor). It can be dangerous to your career and to your workplace social life if you reveal or share too much around someone who cannot be trusted. You risk losing credit for great ideas or you can find an aspect of your personal life is the new gossip topic in the break room, leading to an unnecessary impromptu “mentoring” from someone who probably should not be serving advice.


Dealing with untrusting people. Perhaps the most important way to deal with untrusting coworkers is to understand and relate to why they do not trust others. Four of the most common reasons people develop distrusting attitudes in the workplace are: lack of confidence, lack of hope, a sense of injustice and a desire for change. How does one combat these negatives? With positive communication, collaboration, transparency and respect. Make everyone feel included and valued, fostering an environment of trust for everyone. Do not try to focus on a single distrusting individual. Instead, create a healthy and trusting environment for all. Encourage collaboration and engagement between leaders and followers and place heavy emphasis on transparency and engagement.


What are the benefits of getting this right?

Simply dedicating yourselft, your team or your organization to communication, collaboration, transparency and respect will increase trust and help to realize the benefits of effective leadership. Members who are valued, consulted and respected feel safe and are therefore more positive and more creative in their efforts. Consider altering leadership structures to include and consider the values and needs of those who are led. Empower every employee and you will empower the entire organization. Strict, authoritative organization structures confine individuals emotionally and creatively. To be a great leader and to build a great organization requires collaboration, commitment and contribution from every member.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Lani Morris

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      • JC Scull profile image

        JC Scull 

        6 weeks ago from Gainesville, Florida

        Very good!!! Thanks for sharing.

      • profile image

        Marye 

        7 weeks ago

        Very good guide to developing leadership skills for the beginners as well as a review for current leaders - a measuring device and aid to improvement.

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