Are you a trusted leader or manager? Ultimately, that’s a question that can be answered only by those the followers of those who wonder if they really are trusted leaders. To be sure, there are metrics that are proxies for the question. Turnover is often a reliable guide to the quality of trust in the workgroup. The most talented performers gravitate to high trust work environments. But ultimately, trust is a quality that is easier to experience than to precisely measure. Nevertheless, an entire industry of consultants and social scientists has evolved to measure trust in the workplace.
When well-led by a trusted leader, organizations and work groups just perform better. Teams simply cannot function without trusted leadership. Simply stated, trusting teams are:
- More resilient and self-directed
- Faster at decision-making
- Better capable of learning
- More willing to be accountable
- Capable of delivering better service
- Better at finding win-win solutions
Initiatives to measure qualities such as trust and engagement are costly and may well be warranted, especially if you have evidence that trust at the workplace has been betrayed. In the meantime, here are five sets of questions that will help you evaluate whether you are experienced as a trusted leader.
“While it’s true that trust is built incrementally, trust can occur very quickly under the right circumstances.”
- Do I act with integrity? Integrity is conformance between what leaders profess and how they actually act. Leaders who show integrity get to live their values in relationship with colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders. Trust is impossible without integrity for the simple reason that integrity is the foundation on which teams maintain relationships. Without integrity, leaders are on their own.
- Do I welcome ideas and opinions different from my own? Do I appreciate employees who are willing to bring bad news to my attention? Do I admit my own mistakes? The surest way a leader can lose trust is by being seen as having a closed mind. Such leaders will not only lose trust but important feedback. Worse, leaders who blame the messenger are fated to hear bad news only when it is too late to do anything about it. A good way for leaders to ensure that employees withhold bad news is to let difficult situations fester.
- Do I always tell the truth, even if it is inconvenient? Nothing destroys trust as much as dishonesty. Trusted leaders keep employees as informed as much as possible. Followers who perceive that leaders are telling them what they want to hear or, worse, deliberately deceiving them will conclude that the only interest the leader is representing is his or her own. Followers appreciate when leaders have enough confidence in them that that hard truths will not undermine the mission.
- Do employees and peers trust me to keep confidences? Followers trust leaders to whom they can share concerns knowing that the conversation will be held in confidence. The surest way to derail a leader’s trust is to gossip about employees with executives or, worse, with other employees.
- Do I publicly encourage suggestions from everyone on the team, from the top performers to the most junior employees, and then do I listen to the contributions with equal respect? By doing so, a trusted leader makes everyone on the team feel like a valued contributor. The benefits of doing so not only demonstrates that everyone has value but surfaces a diverse set of viewpoints and solutions.
Trust is more durable than many people think. Trust does not take years to build. While it’s true that trust is built incrementally, trust can occur very quickly under the right circumstances. Nor is it accurate that trust, once established, is easily totaled. If the relationship has a strong foundation, it can withstand the occasional breach or challenge. And if trust is broken, the relationship can often be repaired. An effective apology by the offender goes a long way to rebuilding trust when future behavior is seen to be trustworthy.
The more trust that is “banked” prior to the breach, the more quickly the broken relationship can be repaired. In some cases, the trust relationship is stronger after betrayal and reconciliation than it was before the breach.
Even massive betrayals of trust can be healed. Consider the cheating scandal at Volkswagen that manipulated automobile emissions results. Even with a betrayal as widespread and fundamental as VW’s, it’s far from the case that all consumer trust was squandered. One might think that VW consumers would have deserted the automaker in droves. In fact, while the automaker appropriately suffered billions of dollars in reputational and economic consequences and executives lost their jobs, VW managed to keep the loyalty of drivers around the world.
VW had “banked” considerable trust over the decades, and while that store of trust has been significantly diminished, some trust remains. Many vehicle owners in the U.S. offered $4,000 in incentives to trade in their compromised diesel cars for new models, opted to continue to keep their existing cars. The emissions cheating scandal continues to plague VW and the story is by no means over. The costs will continue to mount. It will be many years before VW completely recovers the trust it has squandered. In cases where a scandal results in complete loss of trust, it’s not because trust was lost quickly but because there wasn’t much trust established in the first place.