6 Key Components to Cultivate a Culture of Trust

6 Key Components to Cultivate a Culture of Trust

By Michael Duke on February 26, 2017

Trust is at the center of all organizational success. Great companies have high trust leaders. If your company is stuck maybe it’s time to assess the level of trust your managers enjoy from their staff. Trust is earned. It is never bestowed. Therefore, effective leaders enjoy trust and ineffective ones do not.

Give some thought to the six key components that high trust leaders employ to build a culture of trust with their employees.

1) Honesty

High trust leaders are honest people. They understand that their words matter.

They tell the truth. They are frank, plain spoken, and direct. Yet they speak with respect. Their employees begin to place a high value on their leader’s words and their meaning because they have proven themselves over time to be reliable. This is much harder than it sounds. Why? Because it is so easy to over promise and under deliver with your employees. For example, an unhappy employee is in your office. They moan and groan about a change that they think needs to be made. You do not agree but you are tired so you tell them you will do it. But your heart is not in it. Your motivation was merely to make them go away. That conversation was important to them but not to you. You used words to manipulate and not to have an honest discussion about the issue and why it can or why it can’t be done.

Countless examples can be offered. Leaders promise raises, promotions, time off, job changes, a new office or cubicle locations, expanded work responsibilities, better working conditions but then fail to deliver. The team loses trust with the leader because they no longer view them as worthy of their trust. They now question every word because some of those words were lies, or at the very least obfuscations. As the trust evaporates performance slows. Mind your words. They matter. Speak and then deliver or explain to them why you can’t.

2) Transparency

Transparency is a rare virtue. Too many leaders are guarded with information. I advise my clients to be transparent to a fault.

Your employees, especially your best ones want to know and understand everything that may possibly impact their ability to perform. Will there be an inventory shortage? Make sure the sales reps know so they can communicate with their customers. Did a defective product get shipped but we now have resolved the issue? Make sure customer service knows so they can put a plan in place to address it effectively with customers. Too often our employees feel blindsided because we know but they don’t. We are too busy. We fear and want to avoid the backlash that will eventually come anyway. When in doubt share more not less. When transparency exists a strong culture built on trust is more likely to emerge.

3) Clarity

High trust leaders understand how important it is for employees to understand exactly what is expected of them.

Our firm recruited a plant manager who was gifted at this. As he walked the plant floor he would stop and ask employees at random a very simple question. He asked them, “What’s your job?” His teaching goal was that the answer was so clear to them that they could answer without thinking. Answers like, “my job is to cost effectively package our product so they arrive to our customer undamaged.” Another may say, “my job is to assemble our product as quickly as I can do it without defect.” What if I walked your plant or office floor and asked the same question of your employees? What would their answer be? Would their response be crisp, clear, and to the point? If not why not? The answer to that question is a leadership issue.

4) Consistency

Great leaders lead with consistency.

Consistency is another hallmark of a culture of trust.  Great leaders build a striking resonance among the team because just like the drums in orchestra they set the beat or rhythm for the players. Imagine trying to follow a beat that changed often with confusing unpredictability. Similar to point 3 in our list, an employee may believe he is clear on what the boss expects but then what if the boss altered the expectation and then changed it again. And he did this all without explanation or notification. A lack of clarity and consistency will freeze performance in its tracks. Employees take on a deer in the headlights look and begin to wait to be told what to do next. Effective leaders enjoy high performance from their team even when they are absent because their employees follow a steady clear rhythm. Their job is clear to them. They follow the beat even when the conductor is not present.

5) Embrace failure

High trust exists when leaders turn failure into opportunity.

I love the concept of failing forward. The idea of failing forward conjures up so many positive traits on the part of the leader. First it implies humility. Humble leaders recognize they make mistakes too. They take advantage of mistakes and use them as coaching opportunities. A leader who allows employees to fail forward is gracious. In other words, imperfection does not have to be punished. One of my clients says he wants his leaders to have redemptive attitudes toward employees. It can be powerful when an employee commits a grievous error and fears the loss of their job only to be met with a spirit of grace. When a leader supports their team the team is more productive.

6) Be human

Your employees don’t need you to be perfect. They do need to trust you.

Finally, no one said you needed to be perfect so quit acting like it. Be real. Be genuine. Be authentic. When you screw up admit it. Apologize and move on. Own your responsibilities. When something blows up don’t blame a subordinate. Own your part.  In your striving for perfection you will try to build a ridiculous image of yourself that your team will feel compelled to tear down. But when you become real they will sit with you. They will talk to you and you will learn more because genuine people are approachable people.

Be human. Be kind. Say please and thank you. Ask. Don’t demand. Model the behavior you expect from them. Your genuineness can serve as a catalyst to create a warm spirit of humanity among the team. Your genuine spirit gives others permission and power to let their hair down a bit. Walls come down. Communication improves and productivity follows. The fact that trust exists among team can be reliably traced back to the leader. These 6 key components are all behaviors the leader can learn and choices they can make. The good news is that if trust is broken it can like the mythical phoenix emerge and fly again. But the leader must do the hard work of earning it.

Michael Duke is the Founder and CEO of Michael Duke and Associates, Inc. and NEWSCHOOL Recruiting. He works with organizations who want their managers to lead with purpose and build high performing teams. His services include leadership training and consulting, recruiting and retention consulting, culture building and improvement as well as team building. He is the author of two books. Lead Like a Coach; Leadership Lessons from Legendary Coaches and Coach to the Goal; Ten Truths to Transform Your Team into Winners. Find and follow Michael here: michaelduke.com and newschoolrecruiting.com