Anthony P. Graffeo Ph.D.

I don’t think that too many people would willingly follow anyone they couldn’t trust. Leadership cannot be sustained without trust, and trust is only gained slowly over time by what you do and how you behave. Unfortunately, it can also be lost in an instant. Paying attention to these three activities will go a long way to gaining the trust of your boss, colleagues and staff that report to you.

Meet your commitments

In a business environment, meeting your commitments is a baseline requirement for gaining trust. Your boss, colleagues and staff are depending on you achieve the results you promised and the commitments you made to them. The biggest mistake that you can make is to overcommit and fail to deliver on what you promised. It is much better to disappoint someone up front by turning down a request than to lose their trust by not delivering on that commitment. Be transparent with what your priorities are and where you plan on spending the majority of your time. It is much easier to trust someone who is predictable in their actions and decisions based on their priorities.   

Act with integrity

Acting with integrity is a critical element in gaining trust. This involves being honest with your words, consistent in your actions and keeping your promises. As stated above, meeting your commitments is the bedrock of trust in a business environment. There will be circumstances however when promises may have to be broken and you may need to disappoint your boss, team members or colleagues. This can be due to unforeseen circumstances or a deliberate change in plans for a good reason. To minimize the loss of trust, communicate the change with honesty and transparency. Show that you are not acting from a personal agenda, but for the good of your team and the organization. When tough decisions need to be made and a promise must be broken, spend the time to explain the reasons and take responsibility for your actions. If there was a shortfall in performance, you need to fess up and describe how you plan on correct the problem in the future.

In addition to keeping your promises, trust involves a high degree of honesty and consistency in your behavior. Never underestimate how closely you are watched and your actions monitored. Are your words and statements the same from day to day, week to week? Are they the same regardless of which team member or groups you talk to? Are they the same both in public and private? There is an authenticity that you emanate when your words and deeds are consistent over time and place. If you have to change a decision that you have made publicly, you need to spend time and effort explaining why you have changed your mind based on new information and circumstances. This is the antithesis of politicians who as we all know are not noted for their authenticity and trustworthiness.

Show concern for others

Last but certainly not least is to demonstrate genuine care for your team and colleagues. At a fundamental level, we all trust only those people who we think care about us both professionally and personally. Too many leaders treat their team members as objects or “human resources” (I term which I intensely dislike) rather than people and spend way too little time coaching them. When I finally matured enough mid-way through my career and began to understand that I was only as good as the people who worked for me; the trust level of my team greatly improved, and my effectiveness skyrocketed. I now believe that gaining trust is so important that in my leadership workshops and consulting assignments, I give as much time to coaching development that I give to leading the strategy and managing the execution.

One of the signs of a good leader is the ability to describe, in detail, the specific talents of his or her team members and capitalize on those talents to find the right fit with the available assignments. The more you know about what drives each team member and how each one thinks, the higher the likelihood that you will be able to coach them properly. A leader needs to be a catalyst, turning top talent into performance. Caring about a team member’s future and coaching him or her to achieve their professional goals goes a long way to building trust. This means mentoring as well as coaching; finding the right fit where the team member will be most productive and happy rather than just climbing the next rung on the organizational ladder.

Finally, on a personal level, understanding a team member’s personal circumstances and how they may be affecting his or her professional performance is an important part of showing concern. Too often leaders make assumptions about performance without considering personal circumstances, which can lead to faulty decisions that adversely affect team members. The more aware you are about the reasons behind a person’s behavior, the more likely you are to make the right decisions on his or her behalf.

Caring about the well-being of your team members and helping them in achieving high performance will not only build trust but also loyalty making your next initiative that much easier. Current team members will be willing and anxious to follow you to your next initiative and also spread the word that you are a trustworthy leader worth following.