This is the fourth in a series of 12 articles on leadership issues and the characteristics of successful leaders. Join us on a journey and become a more fearless leader. (To start at the beginning of the series, click here.)
Trust is a vital part of getting things done and inspiring others to follow your leadership.
As a leader, do you trust yourself to do what you say you will do? Do you trust that you have the right instincts and will do the right thing? Do you trust that you can handle things, no matter the circumstances?
“…one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is trust.”
–Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust
Building trust is complicated. We live in a world where governance is suspect, and organizations struggle with employee disengagement stemming from a lack of trust. To foster trust with your team and communicate more effectively, you must create an environment of safety, where employees trust that you and their coworkers have their best interests at heart.
Every effort in which you are engaged, personally and professionally, involves some level of trust, and every encounter carries some risk. In this time of global threats, corporate corruption, failure in leadership, broken relationships and plain old office politics, the ability to establish trust is critical.
- Am I creating a strong environment of trust within the team and with each project?
- Am I building a strong bond of trust with my family, friends, and colleagues through my actions, communication, and responsibilities?
Our quality of life is determined by the amount of trust we have in our relationships, our communication, and our leaders and our coworkers.
Building Trust Pays Off In Dividends
Trust is key in team building. When there is a lack of trust, you’ll find that it limits creativity, undermines conflict management, disempowers individuals, and brings a high level of uncertainty to work projects.
When you develop a strong team, you are fully engaging people in a collaborative environment of respect, shared responsibility, helpfulness and cooperation. Trust building for your team takes active listening, giving positive and constructive feedback, and showing appreciation. Trust building is a learned skill. [callout]
When you make the effort to reach out, connect, and engage in consciously fostering relationships, your energy shifts toward appreciation. Ultimately, we’re all connectors; we thrive when we’re connected to other people. Connection reduces our fears and develops a “we” mentality.
When relationships are based on trust, you feel like they flow more easily, are more positive, and have less conflict. You invite people into your inner circle by talking openly about your needs and aspirations, and by listening to theirs. You focus on mutual success.
When you have others’ best interests at heart, they are more likely to trust your intentions. When you reach out and people respond positively, this invites you both to trust more. When you increase the amount of trust you’re willing to give someone, you begin to open up more.
Reciprocity Generates Trust.
Trust also gives rise to confidence. When you trust yourself, you trust your judgment of others. You trust others’ integrity, agendas and capabilities. Think of a person with whom you have a high trust relationship. Is it because they are honest with you? True to their word? And because you appreciate their values?
Speaking of trust: If you can’t trust yourself, who will you trust?
Lack of self-trust is difficult to overcome—if you are unwilling to take a risk. Trusting yourself and moving beyond the fears that get in your way helps you build trust with others.
Operating with integrity builds trust
When it comes to trusting ourselves, we discover through experience that we have made good choices and decisions. We gain confidence and continue to trust, even with occasional and inevitable failures. Modeling integrity and open communication with your team members creates a safe and inclusive environment.
Living in trust means acting with integrity, honoring your intentions, and sticking to the values you cherish.
Ask yourself: Do I trust my instincts? Do I take risks and stand up for what I believe?
Susan Jeffers, the author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, says, “Fear is our inability to trust we can handle whatever it is that comes our way.” Insecurities hide behind our thoughts:
- What if it doesn’t work?
- What if I can’t do it?
- What if it’s not the right direction to take?
To become a confident, fearless person, you can integrate all the parts of yourself so you no longer feel divided, uncertain and insecure. Without self-doubt, you’ll trust yourself to do the right thing.
Self-trust, linked with vision and motivation, is the hallmark of successful individuals.
There’ll always be people who are smarter, quicker, more gifted, etc. The key is to trust that what you have to offer is enough, and if not, that you can evolve and grow, and acquire the knowledge and skills you need. Freeing your mind to embrace uncertainty as you stumble your way to success is a risk. . . and also a gift of trust. You can do it!
The Physical Dimensions of Trust
In learning to trust both ourselves and others, we create mental processes that allow us to evaluate security and safety with our connections.
Our brains are movie makers, storing good experiences and knowledge clips in the limbic brain. When fear is indicated, the amygdala is triggered, with its storehouse of old traumas. The fear of being hurt is activated. Fear and conflict change the chemistry of our brains in a nanosecond, and we move from trust to distrust in an instant.
When you’re afraid, your movie-making brain creates a story; basically, you make stuff up to justify your feelings. The process begins with your brain’s hormonal reactions, which lead to feelings, which lead to thoughts and beliefs that furnish meaning, interpretation and assumption. You may find yourself entrenched in your point of view, holding tightly to your need to be right and prove your point.
At work, you can moderate the impact of the amygdala hijack by pausing to breathe, then asking open-ended questions, and paraphrasing the answers back to test your assumptions and your understanding. This 3-step process sounds simple, and trust me, it works.
We need trust to live healthy lives and to be exemplary and fearless leaders.
Feelings of trust prompt higher levels of dopamine, providing a positive outlook and assigning good feelings to your interactions with your direct boss and with your team members. High levels of oxytocin are associated with trust, as it’s another hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and promotes wanting to be close and open with others. Trust also produces high levels of serotonin, generating feelings of calm and happiness.
I’ve made some dubious choices in early life because I didn’t trust myself to do the right thing.
I grew up not trusting what people did to me and lived in my reptilian brain of fight or flight, soaked in the fear and negative hormones that created deep distrust. This deep distrust was carried with me into my relationships. It was all fear based. By not trusting others, I was also saying: Don’t trust me.
Without trust, we live in fear, disappointment, and anger. By growing trust in ourselves and building it in others, we strengthen the organizations where we work.
Trust Is Personal
Trust is about relationships and requires some vulnerability. It means you have to give up some control and believe that the other person has your best interests at heart. To encourage trust is to develop respect, tell the truth, and keep your word. Above all, it means being consistent so others know where you stand.
You can feel the lack of trust in your relationship with direct reports when they obfuscate, place blame, or ignore your attempts to move something forward. Lack of trust kills progress because motives and direction are under suspicion. We trust others when our outcomes are aligned, and distrust them when their intentions impede ours.
Trust creates lasting relationships with people. If I know I can depend on you to take the right actions, believe you have my best interests at heart, and see that you are transparent in your dealings with me, we have a bond of trust that results in an amicable, reciprocal relationship.
Trust Creates an Agile, Responsive and Productive Team
Teams or organizations that hold a common set of values are able to cultivate trust, develop a code of conduct everyone uses to guide them, and resolve conflict more easily.
If you don’t trust your people or your relationships, this lack of trust destroys what you are trying to accomplish. Trust is what makes things work. Trust strengthens influence, keeps people communicating, encourages loyalty, and gets the job done. Your reputation is at stake.
Ask yourself: Do my speech and behavior match?
Sometimes our actions don’t match our values or are contrary to our best intentions. It happens to everyone. A momentary failure of integrity or a decision taken from the wrong vantage point can be overlooked. But if your behavior continually undermines your stated intentions, you quickly lose the trust of those around you.
Trust is a strong oak tree shaped by the relationships between leaders and team members, withstanding the powerful winds of change by bending in resilience rather than breaking.
People cooperate willingly with leaders who are transparent.
Team members appreciate leaders who level with them and give them the whole story, even if the details are unpleasant.
When you are an open leader, you share the good, the bad and the ugly with understanding, compassion and respect.
Trust means having confidence in one another to be successful. When you need to make changes, you trust that you’re doing the right thing, and team members trust they’ve been given the right information for the task. If there’s doubt or if you don’t trust the person giving or receiving the information, a productive outcome is unlikely.
Building trust as a leader is a layering process. It takes time.
When you foster relationships, communicate clearly, and take the right actions—over time—you achieve the results you seek. That success benefits not just you, but the organization as well. You’ll see and likely be rewarded for the difference it makes.
Jacqueline Wales is a motivational speaker, coach, and the author of The Fearless Factor @ Work, The Fearless Factor and other books. She believes in the power of fearlessness for creating the career and life you want.
I’d love to hear your comments and am happy to answer your questions!