We know that the ability to build trust is a critical characteristic of effective leadership. Whether directly, when you are the manager, or indirectly, like in a matrix where influencing with integrity is the key skill. It also underpins the achievement of healthy employee engagement – after all, a position of trust is what we aspire to as engaging leaders.
Over the years I have seen good leaders suffer because they get the trust dimension so terribly wrong; and most times it is not because they don’t understand the importance of trust, it is because they expect trust to be given almost immediately.
If you are new to a leadership role, either for the first time or as an experienced leader transitioning across, it won’t matter that you have a great track record as a leader, or that you are technically competent. Nor will it matter if you have immense pressure to get fast results.
In fact neither your technical or leadership track record give you the right to demand immediate trust.
You are a stranger. Even if you are from the same organisation and you are known, or some people have worked with you in the past; the fact is that ‘new’ trust has to be built in the context of your new role. Being known as a colleague is much different than being known as a leader. There are different qualities and attributes required in each role.
So how can you build trust and honour the relationships you want to build? Here are a few important things to remember:
Trust Cannot be Demanded
Rather, trust is one of those elements that demand the respect of time and effort. Trust is after all about respect for the other person, or people, and the respect for that space that exists between you and the group you are either leading or seeking to influence.
Rituals are Critical for Building Trust
People structure their time to either be involved, or opt out. In Transactional Analysis, there is a key concept called Time Structuring. If you understand that people structure their time to move through stages of relationship building, each designed to increase the level of engagement and interaction with other people or groups in a safe way, then you will understand the pathway to building trust. These stages require us to establish rituals that allow us to share about ‘who’ we are, and this includes where we’ve been, what we’ve done (our war stories that build credibility). There are other stages as reflected in the Ponte Valle Global Engagement Framework, but these are the key building blocks. Honour these steps. Do not take short cuts.
What You Do – or Don’t Do – Counts
Understanding the above point does not mean you will automatically gain trust; your demeanour and behaviour may prevent the progression of genuine growth of the relationship. As a leader it is true that if you say one thing, whilst believing something different it will show. That’s because our body language, the tone of our words, the way we structure our sentence and the history of other conversations all add up to paint a different picture. In fact, think of the shady second-hand car salesman (no offence to the good ones!). Their words tell you that this car is perfect for you. But everything else about them screams “I only want your money!” And in the end your mind and intuition is telling you to “run away as fast you can!” The same principle applies in leadership. If you are in the role to look good, or to make others look bad, or perhaps for quick superficial wins, then this will come through loud and clear and push people away rather than draw them closer.
Don’t Use Trust as a Weapon
Trust is not a weapon, or something with which to threaten others; if there is a need to do this then it is time to question your motives for being in the role. Threatening to remove trust, or questioning trust, is often a signal that no genuine intent to build trust exists from the beginning. Finally, trust is not something that needs to be spoken of or made explicit. It is something that occurs organically as a natural respect co-existing between two people or groups that has been earned. Aside from healthy results, you will know when you are in a high trust relationship or team…you will just know.