The Keys to Building and Sustaining a Culture of Trust

If there is one thing movies about the workplace tell us is that Hollywood believes bosses come in all shapes and sizes, and they are all pretty terrible people.

Why the bad rep for leaders?

Well, it’s no secret most employees have been disappointed and let down at some point in their careers by a manager or leader. Thanks to those negative relationships, employees are pretty cautious with how much they trust their bosses.

The reality is trust is hard to establish and easy to lose.

Would you want to work for someone you don’t trust?

This is why nine out of 10 leaders are in “negative trust territory” before they make their first request of an employee to do something, according to John Hamm, author of Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership. That’s right – even before you say one word, your employees may already be questioning your honesty.

This puts leaders in a difficult situation because your success in inspiring others largely depends upon whether or not you are a perceived as a person with high integrity. When it comes down to it, you simply can’t afford to lose your employees’ trust. When trust is lacking, performance and productivity will suffer.

Think about it: would you want to work for someone you don’t trust?

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Look, inevitably you will suffer mishaps as a leader; but keep in mind that small deviations from complete honesty and integrity are often magnified and remembered for a long time. While no one wants to believe they are considered untrustworthy, sometimes an individual’s actions have unintended consequences that can cause people to doubt their integrity. They might have been guilty of being inconsistent, not speaking frankly and honestly, or having ignored or even violated one or more of the organization’s values.

Development tips to remember

It’s pretty difficult to immediately convince people you are a trustworthy individual, so you need to work hard at being consistent and operating with acceptable ethics at all times. No pressure or anything.

Here are some development tips to remember:

  • Do not promise or commit (including committing to deadlines) unless you will be able to honor the commitment. And be sure to consistently follow through on your commitments.
  • If you have lost trust and do not know what you did, ask. Listen carefully to what is said, without arguing or getting defensive. I know, it’s easier said than done. After you fully understand what you did that came across in a way you did not intend, you can begin to develop a strategy to make it right.
  • Don’t give tough messages or express negative emotions via email or voice mail.
  • Make sure your message is consistent. Avoid saying different things to different audiences.
  • Don’t promise confidentiality if you aren’t certain you can or should keep the information private.

If you don’t want to be painted as a terrible boss, be transparent with your team, and have some integrity while you’re at it. It’s a lot of work, and it probably won’t stop Hollywood from making movies about awful bosses, but you might actually earn your employees’ respect for being open-minded and objective, and for demonstrating a commitment to fairness.

Derek Murphy is CEO of TruScore , an assessment company with over 4 decades of experience in 360 degree feedback and assessment customization. TruScore offers a fully managed solution, where their team of experts serve as an extension of your internal team, and where their success is tied to yours. Contact him at dmurphy@truscore.com .

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