Trust and Leadership

Into every leadership journey a little rain must fall. At some point, the numbers will start to head south or that key project may start to miss critical milestones. It happens to all of us at some point. As a leader, you are defined not by your challenges…but by your response to them. For many, missed targets or milestones triggers the instinct to micro-manage. After all, the only way to make sure you’re on top of everything is to put it all under a microscope and leave no stone unturned. Only a clear command-and-control style of leadership can help right the ship. Right?


Trust improves teamwork. More reports and check points will certainly provide more data, but chances are it is breakthrough ideas and approaches that you need to help get you back on course. You need your team to focus on new possibilities and collectively take calculated risks. To put it simply, they need to trust each other. Sounds simple, but as a leader, what does this mean? How can you build trust within your team? I suggest you look no further than The Trust Equation:

Tip 1: Start with intimacy
Intimacy is about creating safety and building a safe environment. In a safe environment, new ideas are welcomed and become the seeds that can germinate true breakthrough thinking. As a leader, how are you building a “safe” environment to ensure that your team’s ideas are heard? At your next team meeting, try starting from a place of vulnerability. Talk about the issues at hand and your role in them. By taking a risk and being vulnerable you are showing your team that it is safe for them to take risks too!

Next, ask for help. We often resist asking for help for fear of appearing weak…but paradoxically, asking for help shows vulnerability, equality and a desire for collaboration. You’ve taken a risk (again) and shown your team that it is okay for them to do too. The plus…most of us are hard-wired to respond to honest requests for help. Ask engaging questions, clarify and let the team build on each other’s ideas. It’s amazing how quickly you can find new and innovative solutions when everyone is fully engaged and feels safe to contribute.

Tip 2: “Check your S”
As a leader, remember to check your self-orientation. Are you focused on what YOU need—to report on a project’s progress or the latest operational results—or are you focused on what the TEAM needs? Even those leaders with the best intentions can find this difficult. Acting as an “I”, we start directing and stop listening. How often have you asked for the latest sales results or project update only to then provide clear and specific direction on what you think is required?

Change your focus to “we”. Ask what the team needs to be successful….and then whatever it is, do it quickly. By changing your focus to the team, your actions will show your commitment to their success. Your commitment to the team’s success, and only the team’s success, lowers your self-orientation. Done authentically, your team will respond in kind, re-committing themselves personally to the task at hand.

Tip 3: Build positive momentum with reliability
Simply stated, do what you say you are going to do. We are all familiar with Newton’s first law of motion; “An object at rest, stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force.” How can you, as a leader, get the ball rolling?

Start small…have the team set small, incremental targets. It’s important that the targets are set on the team’s terms, not yours. Make sure the targets are realistic and then celebrate each success. Suddenly, you have shifted the focus from what the team can’t do to what they can accomplish. With each small win, the team builds positive momentum and once you’re moving, no one will want to be the reason things come to a halt.

Tip 4: Be honest
As a leader, your words have power. It is important to be mindful of what you say and to whom. Focus on clear, concise messages that your team will understand and take to heart. Now is not the time for nuanced explanations.

Words matter. If you are not sure of an answer—say so. A simple “let me get back to you on that” is an acceptable response and will give you the time to investigate the facts or understand the consequences. In environments where things get tough or are moving quickly, even small errors in facts or judgements can create large ripples in the team and create that ominous “spin” that suddenly brings all activity to an abrupt halt.

Life is full of ups and downs and leadership is no different. Strong leaders understand how to build trust and foster an environment that encourages each team member to contribute to their fullest potential. The next time your team struggles, what actions will you take to lead with trust?


Leave a Reply