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Do you Trust your Leaders?

Do your employees trust your leadership? Does it really matter? An all too common answer to the first question is ‘probably not’, but the proven answer to the second is ‘definitely!’

An extensive Gallup survey showed that only one in 3 employees strongly agree that they trust their organization’s leadership*

But why does it matter? There are many reasons why trust is essential not only to good leadership but to good teamwork. Pat Lencioni’s ‘5 Behaviours of a Cohesive Team’ rightly identifies trust as the foundational aspect of great teams. Without it there will be less healthy debate about the issues, less commitment and buy-in, and less peer-to-peer accountability. All these things, and more, undermine business performance.

But there is more: the same Gallup survey found that those who had high trust in their leaders were twice as likely to say they would be with their companies in a year’s time. Think of the benefits here, not just in terms of saved recruitment costs, but also in terms of time, stress, avoided performance drops whilst new incumbents get up to speed, avoidance of added workload on remaining team members if there is gap, etc. They were also quicker to adopt new initiatives and more forgiving when periodic mistakes in communications were made.

Conversely, those with low trust were already looking for an exit and had little interest in either making new strategies work or creating new initiatives. Neither were they slow to spread their disenchantment via social media, thus damaging brands and making recruitment of future stars less probable (would you want to work for a company with low levels of trust in its leaders?).

So, how is trust developed? There are a number of ways, but at heart it comes down to consistency, clarity and integrity.

- Consistency implies fairness and a way of working that others can understand and learn to accommodate.

- Clarity is about being open in your dealings with staff and about your expectations of them. If you are given an unclear goal, do not just pass the problem on to your team. Of course, try to get more clarity from above, but whether or not you succeed, just passing the problem on is an abrogation of your responsibility (someone else’s failure here does not excuse yours).

- Integrity means doing the right thing even when it costs. Almost every company I have coached lists integrity (or a similar word) as a core value or particular strength. However, it is too often an early casualty when doing the right thing will attract a notable cost. If you want to build trust, there will be times when you have to exercise costly integrity. Doing so sends a very powerful message throughout the organization (and beyond) and makes it clear to all staff what is expected of them in turn.

Trust does not just happen: it has to be built and it needs to permeate the organization from the top down. In large organizations, leaders need to cultivate trust with their direct reports who need to cultivate trust with their direct reports, and so on. This of course takes time, but it is time well spent. The end results include better business performance and a more enjoyable working environment.


Ian Kirkby

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