Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices. –Warren Buffet
A trusted leader is one whose employees and peers believe in their integrity, and are glad to follow them. Think about leaders you know or have worked for. When we trust them, we have confidence in them. We believe they “have our back.”
What about leaders we don’t trust? We don’t feel comfortable around them. We are suspicious of their motives and agenda, whether they are being nice to us or not. We don’t want to work for them.
In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, he says that trust is the most powerful form of motivation and inspiration in organizations, and that it’s the ultimate source of influence. On the other hand, low trust in a leader slows down communication and decision making, and hinders relationships and results. His research found that only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in their senior managers.
As the leader, we can be a great strategist, a technical whiz, and get lots of accolades, but if we aren’t trusted, we will never be the leader others want to follow. If we are a trusted leader, our employees have better morale, loyalty, and productivity.
You believe you are a trusted leader, but how can you know? These 10 questions will help you reflect on how the trust is going, and keep it on track.
1. Does every employee—from the newest and least-paid on up—feel a part of the team and know his/her ideas are encouraged?
A trusted leader makes everyone on the team feel valued by asking for input and opinions in front of others. Listening not only signals that you value their contributions, but it demonstrates that everyone has value. An added benefit is getting a diverse set of opinions and ideas.
2. Do I seek ideas and opinions different from my own? Do my employees believe they can give me these different ideas without retribution?
It’s a human trait to have emotional “blind spots” when making decisions. We often don’t see pitfalls because we have unconscious biases in what we choose to focus on in the huge amount of data we get. A trusted leader asks: “Is there anything about this situation I’m not seeing?” Genuinely thank the person who gives you feedback and consider it. When your team knows they can advise you and you listen, they will help you avoid making poor decisions.
3. Do I act and speak consistently? Do my employees and co-workers always know what to expect from me?
A trusted leader sets the standards for an organization and models that standard for their employees. In other words, what a leader says she wants the employees to do, she also does herself. If your standard is punctuality, then you are punctual. If you say teamwork is important, you collaborate with teams across the organization.
4. Do I always tell the truth as I know it, in a way as to improve the situation?
Trusted leaders keep employees as informed as possible about what is going on with the organization. They always tell the truth–not just what people want to hear. A leader is careful that even when facts are communicated, it is always done while being considerate of employees’ efforts and feelings, even when mistakes are made.
5. Do I expect and accept nothing less than complete integrity from my subordinates, especially my managers?
Leaders who model integrity receive integrity from their employees and peers. Employees know when their leaders are truthful and honest, and follow the tone set by the leader. Insisting the managers you hire are committed to integrity spreads it throughout the organization.
6. Do I confront difficult issues rather than letting them continue?
A trusted leader handles challenges while they are small, rather than letting them build. Letting a difficult situation fester will only poison the entire team, who is wondering why you haven’t addressed it. A leader faces challenges as an opportunity to continuously improve the organization.
7. Do I do what I commit to doing?
A leader is trusted when they do what they say they will do. If you give your word, keep it. If you say you will do something, do it. Breaking a commitment can quickly destroy the trust you’ve built, as well as make people less inclined to trust you in the future.
8. Do I keep confidences? Do my employees and peers know I will not divulge what they have told me in confidence?
A trusted leader never reveals a confidence or gossips about employees, peers or other leaders. You are a trusted leader when employees and peers know that when they talk to you in confidence, it won’t be passed along–ever.
9. Do I admit my mistakes? Do I take the blame for things that don’t go well and deal with them later, in private?
We all make mistakes–employees and leaders alike. When a leader acknowledges mistakes as well as successes, employees see you as credible and follow your lead. A leader can foster accountability by building in feedback as part of the culture. Rather than pointing blame, a trusted leader deals with mistakes in private. Asking an employee the question, “What would you do differently had you had perfect knowledge in the beginning?” helps them learn much more than a reprimand.
10. Do I treat everyone fairly and apply equal standards and privileges to everyone?
A trusted leader is fair to everyone. Since a leader won’t necessarily like everyone the same, this can be a challenge. Being fair simply means setting the expectation that everyone meets the standards of their job, and enforcing that. A fair leader shares the same information with everyone, assigns work based on aptitude and talent to build the best organization, holds everyone accountable, and gives honest feedback to everyone.
As the leader, asking yourself these 10 questions on a regular basis will help you know that employees trust you. When they do, they will follow you with commitment, not just compliance.
Susan C. Foster is a coach who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of “It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best.” She can be found at www.susancfoster.com