10 Steps to Creating a Trusting Culture to foster Superior Performance

Leaders who inspire trust to enhance their ability to deliver extraordinary results on a sustained basis. The cornerstone of effective leadership is building trust – with one’s team, customers, suppliers, shareholders, community and all other stakeholders. Stephen R. Covey puts in the value of trust very effectively in these lines, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

In today’s discussion, I have put together a few basic principles of building trust. Putting these into action in our daily lives can help us create trust with our leaders and our team members. 

Building trust with your Leadership & Critical Stakeholders

1.  Demonstrate Integrity: Abraham Lincoln said “Great leadership is a product of great character. And that is why character matters.” Acting with integrity in thoughts and actions is necessary. A person who is honest, accepting and forthcoming with mistakes (should there be any) such that their leaders are not blindsided is entrusted with higher and critical responsibilities. People who stand by their word have an impeccable reputation that holds them good in trying times as stakeholders trust them to navigate the organisation through any crisis. Self-promotion or rumour mongering are detrimental to this cause.

2.  Express freely: Leaders value people giving an honest, thought through and unbiased opinion to them that is for organisational good. Taking a firm stand based on logic helps build our credibility. Being pragmatic and ceding ground should a better approach be proposed is also essential.

3.  Build Credibility: While it can take years to build credibility it can be lost in a matter of minutes by refusal to take responsibility. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial refusal to take ownership of the infamous passenger dragging incident at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in April 2017 led to widespread criticism and erosion of brand value that will be hard to recover from, apart from the loss of the opportunity of elevation to the position of Chairman for Munoz himself. Leaders who are self-driven, reliable, take initiative, strive to over deliver but definitely deliver what is committed and demonstrate ownership in the overall organisational interest, are ones who are valued by their stakeholders.

4.  Alignment of Interest: Despite a bitter fight in the primaries to secure the Democratic Presidential nomination for the 2008 US elections, former President Barack Obama roped in his former rival Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State during his first term in office and the overall alignment of values, goals and mission allowed the two of them to forge a successful working relationship.

It is necessary for own and organisational interest that one aligns with its goals and gets to know their leaders and understands their thought process. Once aligned, it is easier to give it your all to achieve the mission. A dissonance is detrimental to self and organisation and it would bode well to move on in such circumstances. However, disagreements of the past can be set aside to forge mutually beneficial relationships which can be in the interest of the organisation as the Obama-Clinton partnership demonstrates.

5.  Solution Orientation: Stephen R. Covey in his book The 7 habits of Highly Effective People mentions about ‘solution-selling’ being a key paradigm to business success. Leaders value people who are proactive and find solutions rather than point out problems. An individual with a problem-solving approach who is willing to provide multiple solutions with pros and cons thought through is valued as it helps leaders take quick decisions. It shows action orientation and leaders develop trust in our capability.

Building trust with your Team

1.  Being Humble and Empowering Team: Being a leader is not an entitlement but an opportunity to empower our people without building an ego. The most well-respected and effective leaders are ones who are humble and treat people fairly. Warren Buffet, the most successful investor in the world, is known to lead a fairly simple life without the trappings of luxury and has pledged 99% of his wealth to charity. Lazlo Bock, SVP – People Operations, Google espouses humility as one key trait sought in new hires as it helps create space for others to contribute while at the same time shows the leader’s willingness to learn.

2.  Listening: Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the greatest leaders in modern history, was noted for his patient listening of others’ perspectives. Listening to multiple viewpoints helps us improve our knowledge of a situation thereby aiding better decision making besides gaining trust and respect from the team as they feel heard. Richard Branson says in a 2014 interview to Entrepreneur India, “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening. Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”

3.  Support and Help: Steve Jobs was known to be a leader who surrounded himself with people whom he called ‘A’ players. Helping others succeed by sharing our knowledge, skills and ideas ultimately help us succeed. People smarter than ourselves are not a threat but an asset to our teams and our own success. A leader’s impact is enhanced when their decisions and actions are complemented by the superior competence of others in their team.

4.  Build Credibility: “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote: “Without a sense of fairness and justice, no leader can command and retain the respect of his followers."

Doing the right thing in any situation even if it may be detrimental is essential; in the long term, it will be beneficial. Leaders who are willing to share stories of their failures for others to learn from are more trusted by their team members than ones who only share success stories.

5.  Model behaviour: As a leader, it is critical to lead by example. Such leaders truly inspire and make people go the extra mile. Leaders who are willing to get their hands dirty are seen as inspiring. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the World.” As a leader, we are in glass houses and our behaviours are being observed keenly by our team and others. We need to model behaviours that we expect of others.

Action Takeaway

There is no denying the positive impact of building trust in our relationships. Are you modelling these behaviours and how can these benefit you? Here is one thing you can try out.

Identify from your personal or professional life 1-2 key relationships that have been difficult to manage. Critically analyse how you can use any or all of the above principles to build trust. Create a scratchpad where you can note a couple of key incidents on a daily basis where you applied some of the above principles and how the nature of relationship changed on sustained use of trust-building behaviours. I would love to hear your experiences.