By Shelley

According to Dr. Laura Belsten, when we speak of building trust, we are speaking of “being trustworthy and ethical when working and relating to others while having the ability to establish a bond of trust with others.”

So where does becoming a “trusted leader” begin?

I’ve been pondering this question for quite a while. Only after trusting myself with several risks, did I truly start to have a good sense of what a “trusted leader” looks like. We have plenty of examples of what distrustful leaders look like, simply by watching the news. So where does the search for a “trusted leader” begin?

It begins with me.
Currently, I’m involved in a continuing education program which requires a tremendous amount of teamwork. We are a diverse group of leaders, required to deliver output, while growing into an emotionally intelligent team. This was the team we were given, and the team we will need to grow, trust and succeed with. During one of our feedback activities, we were required to comment on our team’s strengths and growing edges. Feedback as leaders is not the most invited activity. Yet, something magical happened in our group. Our trepidation turned into a space where we openly engaged in a conversation about our strengths, hopes and learning edges. We had created a space of trust. This was not a linear experience to get here, yet here we were risking…together. Here are some of the behaviors you would have observed before this meeting and during:

Sharing information, including about ourselves – appropriate self-disclosure
A willingness to be influenced, or able to change our minds as a result of talking with others
Treating people fairly, consistently, and with respect
Caring about others
Maintaining high standards of personal integrity
Behaving in accordance with our expressed beliefs, values, and commitments
Delivering on our promises and commitments
“We can build our leadership upon fear, obligation, or trust. However, only a foundation of trust results in the collaboration and goodwill necessary to achieve our peak performance.”

These words, from organizational design expert Roger Allen, could hardly be more succinct in expressing the central role that trust plays in building and leading high-performance organizations.

And this journey began with me.

With the integrity of our business leaders under such a microscope these days, it’s valuable to take a moment for a refresher on trust in leadership. For integrity, though critical to trust, isn’t the only element of a trust-based leadership style. According to Seattle-based management expert Stephen Robbins, trust is based on four other distinct elements in your relationship with the people you lead:

1. Competence. At first this may seem strange—after all, can’t incompetent people be trusted? Of course, but not if you want to lead. Leaders are held to a different standard, and part of what your team trusts is that you know what you’re doing. It comes with the territory.

2. Consistency. This is one of the most pragmatic elements of trust. If your team knows what you stand for, then they will believe that you will react in a predictable way to certain situations. Over time your consistently expressed values become the shared values of the team. Some charismatic leaders may purposely act unpredictably to “shake things up,” and they may well be wildly successful. But they won’t necessarily be trusted.

3. Loyalty. To a certain extent, your team can only trust you to the degree you are committed to their success and wellbeing. Max De Pree, the legendary CEO of Herman Miller and champion of the “servant leader” concept, puts it this way: “The leader’s first job is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” This servant/debtor relationship to your team is one that strongly conveys your loyalty to them.

4. Openness. Trust is ultimately the characteristic of a relationship, and it is through its relationship with you that your team expresses its trust. Openness is a cornerstone of the ability to build these relationships. If your team can’t get to know you, then they probably can’t get to trust you, either. With openness comes the requirement for a certain vulnerability: In this arena, you will generally have to “go first” by reaching out and creating such relationships.

We agreed to trust one another. We were required to post and summarize our findings on our internal form and I wanted to share this on behalf of our group:

“We collectively believe that our team has the foundation of trust. We trust each other to know where the feedback we are receiving is coming from; a place of kindness, trust, and love.” It started with us.

By investing in building and strengthening these qualities in your leadership, you will be steadily reinforcing your trust relationship with the people who work for you. Those relationships, in turn, become the foundation for building a high-performance organization, particularly in times of change and stress, when people tend to rely on their personal relationships. If your team trusts you in good times, they are even more likely to stand with you when the times turn challenging.

Without risking this journey, I may still be feeling that perhaps “trusted leaders” are just not part of the fabric of business.

I now know that you must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible – Anton Chekhov