“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” — Mark Twain
There is, perhaps, nothing that harms an organization more than a lack of trust in those leading it. Yet trust seems to be a very fickle idea, challenging to develop and maintain, yet so easy to destroy. Developing a culture of trust in organizations is a difficult, painstaking journey, but it can be done if the will is there. Trust must begin from the top to be developed throughout an organization. If top management is not trusted, it gives the perception that it is everyone for themselves and opens up rationale for building a culture of mistrust.
Here are seven essentials for leaders to develop trust:
1. Confident in their own abilities.
A leader who is not confident in themselves or was promoted on reasons other than merit will always be looking over their shoulders, always fearing they will be found out or someone better will be looking to take their job. Such a leader will have difficulty trusting those under them and will not inspire trust amongst their staff. Confident leaders are secure in their own skin and not worried about how they will appear to others. This will allow them to make the right decisions without worrying what others will think of them.
2. Always tell the truth.
Leaders who are trusted tell the truth even when it is easier and more convenient to lie or leave out embarrassing facts. They also come clean and “tell all” in situations where there is little or no chance that the truth will be discovered. I remember receiving an email from someone at a college apologizing for referring to my book without my permission. Since there was no chance that I would have ever discovered this, this person’s actions spoke volumes about his honesty and integrity. There is perhaps no better way for a leader to develop trust than to tell the truth, especially when that truth would not likely have been discovered.
3. Do the right thing.
One of the easiest ways for a leader to lose trust is to do what is convenient and beneficial for them rather than what is right. This sets up a culture where staff feel justified to primarily look out for themselves rather than doing what is most beneficial for the organization. Doing the right thing usually means doing the most difficult thing, even if it means taking a personal risk. Leaders who do this are held up as examples of integrity for others to follow. If the leader has made a mistake, coming clean and owning up to the mistake will earn the respect and trust of those under them. This has been shown to be the case with great political leaders such as John F. Kennedy when he demonstrated vulnerability by admitting they have made mistakes.
4. Consistent with their message to their superiors and their staff.
A sure way to develop a culture of mistrust is for managers to be found saying one thing to those in positions above them and another way to their staff. This makes staff feel like they are being used to make their manager look good and win them a promotion. This is not a good way to build motivation and trust in the workplace. Trust develops when staff are confident their management will have a consistent message regardless of the audience. Leaders who have a consistent message to their superiors and staff will be perceived to be working for the overall good of the organization rather than for their own personal advancement.
5. Share accurate information in a timely manner.
In the absence of accurate and timely information, rumors spread. Often the rumors paint a worse picture of the situation than would exist if the truth were told. Withholding information gives staff the message they are not to be trusted to know the truth and therefore sets up a culture of suspicion and mistrust that rumors will only feed and fuel. Weak leaders see information as power and will attempt to withhold information as a means of maintaining control over their reports. Strong leaders look for ways to empower those under them, and sharing information quickly is one way that they can achieve this.
6. Communicate vision, values and abide by them.
A sure way to lose trust in an organization is for management to be seen as having one set of rules for themselves and another for their staff. If there is a value statement that management has developed for the organization, they need to ensure they follow those values themselves before expecting their staff will follow them. If not, staff will see the values as a way to manipulate and control them rather than a set of values that would guide and motivate everyone in the organization to strive towards a shared goal.
7. Treat everyone fairly and give credit where due.
One of the most common complaints in the workplace is favoritism and unfair treatment. Treating everyone fairly, consistently and give credit to those who deserve it is one of the most difficult things for leaders to do. We all have our own biases, and certain people appeal to us more than others. One of the challenges of leadership is to see beyond personal preferences and clearly see the value that each person brings to the organization.