Creating a high-trust environment isn’t easy but applying these five principles on a day-to-day basis will get you there—and closer to real resiliency.
There are the five Cs to live by when it comes to establishing and building trust:
While a leader must be above average on each of the five Cs to be effective, growing evidence suggests that care matters more than the others.
Many leaders engage in unconscious acts of self-destruction in their first days in a new job. They do this by making change too quickly, by telling versus asking, and by not engaging the hearts and minds of the people around them. All of this can lead one to be seen as uncaring, and if you are seen as such, you will not build trust. If you don’t build trust, you will not engage hearts and minds. If you don’t engage hearts and minds, your results will be suboptimal.
Here is some practical advice for leaders:
1. Embrace care as a personal value. Accept that it is the foundation of trust. Model it and recruit people who demonstrate it.
2. Establish a personal accountability to get to know the people who report to you.
3. Learn what is important to the people who report to you.
4. Work with them to draw links between what is important to them and their careers.
It is one thing to care. It is quite another to communicate with care. Telling is not communicating. Communication requires active listening and understanding. It requires engaging at the level of personal pursuits.
Through years of watching how leaders communicate and the results that follow, we have identified a small number of best practices:
1. Tell the truth.
2. Be direct. Better to say the right thing the wrong way than to say nothing at all.
3. Always start a difficult conversation with the mindset that you care about the individual you are speaking with.
4. Link your communication to your organizational vision wherever possible. Never let your team lose sight of the defining purpose of your organization.
The things we do today will be on record decades from now. Like it or not, we must accept it. This is our reality.
But more important than how people we don’t know view us is how we are seen by those who do know us—our families, our friends, and our colleagues. They see what we do. And their trust in us will be a function of the integrity that we display.
A common challenge we see is the leader who has more than one persona. These leaders often display a “work face” at the office and a “friend or family face” with others. At its core, this demonstrates a lack of authenticity, and in these situations we encourage our clients to go back and reflect on their motivation and purpose. The reason they cannot be their authentic self in all interactions likely rests here. If their motivation or purpose is hollow and they are unwilling to do the deep searching within that is required of a resilient leader, it will be almost impossible for that leader to create deep trust.
The temperament of a leader permeates their organization and influences cultural norms. We likely have all seen examples of leaders who have reacted negatively (emotionally or behaviorally) to stress. The very best leaders can channel stress into positive responses such as increased mental focus, healthy urgency, and decisiveness. But when a leader exhibits negative stress responses, it imperils enterprise resilience. A leader with a widely vacillating temperament sends a signal to the organization that such a temperament is acceptable if not even endorsed. And as the behavior takes hold, it becomes part of the culture.
Our advice is this: Establish a band in which you will operate. Keep your emotions in check within this band. Establish protections for yourself so that you can recognize how you are showing up. The consequence of getting this wrong can be dire. If you are prone to mood swings, your people might be reluctant to bring you information for fear of which leader will be greeting them in that moment. This stifles the creativity necessary to be adaptable in these disruptive times. Again, this is easier said than done. Start by keeping it top of mind that operating within a clear emotional band matters. Mindset is a powerful driver of behavior.
We have discussed many of the soft skills needed for building trust. However, regardless of how caring, communicative, and consistent a leader may be, they will not establish trust if they are not competent. You must build the knowledge to master your craft. You can’t fake competence.
You must be competent if you are to earn the trust of those around you. The message to all aspiring leaders is to take the time necessary to build your skill. Opportunities will come. And, when they do, be ready for them, having built your résumé through experiential learning.
Creating a high-trust environment is not easy. However, the components are clear: care, communication, character, consistency and competence. Applying these on a day-to-day basis requires powerful commitment. Resiliency depends on it.