10 Ways Business Leaders Can Build Trust

Portrait of a woman in leadership with gray hair and glasses Latin Business Today

10 components of leadership you can cultivate to build trust and effectively lead others.

Who do you trust?

It is a difficult question to answer. Trust has different meanings in different contexts. Not sure you agree with that? Stop and consider your definition of trust.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary trust is defined as a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something and a dependence of something future or contingent.

When asked about trust many people consider trust as involving consistency, reliability, authenticity, and transparency. But trust is not all or nothing, it comes in degrees. You may trust a stranger to pick up and deliver your pizza but may not trust a stranger to pick up and deliver your child.

Or do you?

You do if your child rides a school bus. Your trust in the bus driver comes from your trust in the bus driving company who screens and hires the bus driver.

You may have little reason to trust this company, but you do because your school has contracted them, and you trust the school. Unless you hear information that suggests otherwise you generally give your trust to others, at least for a short time, or it would be difficult to survive each day.

Trust is a necessary component of the social and business interactions. Believe it or not most people operate on a basis of trust most of the time for most things.

Yet, over time your experience with a particular person, thing or situation will have an impact on your decision to sustain a personal, customer, professional or business relationship with someone or someone’s business. Ultimately trust is important to be effective in life generally and as a leader in particular.

Thoughtful Transparency in Leadership

As a result of technology that pries open the window on hidden information we seem to be experiencing a growing level of distrust in our leaders and the business we interact with.

Social networks and the Internet generally have created an evolution of access to information, some of which is irrelevant, but others shed new light on people and situations. The result is that people demand more transparency because they have become accustomed to being able to access information to support their decision making about relationships.

Marketers and business leaders have long known that building trust was an important component of a successful business. In the past they took great pains to hide unflattering information and minimize real transparency, even within their own organizations and with their own employees.

Today it is almost impossible to manage and control all information for very long. As a leader it is important to foster trust, or you cannot easily lead a team or negotiate business with a customer or vendor. Your ability to build trust is a key component of your personal brand and as such something you should consider on a regular basis.

Business leaders need to walk a fine line of transparency, as customers, employees and partners demand a genuine and authentic leader who they feel they know and can believe. Often the leader’s brand is the company’s brand.

A leader who takes the approach that building trust is good for business understands that a people-focused approach is important for business leadership. A leader with a transparent and genuine approach can gain the trust and loyalty from employees and customers and in return create effective brand ambassadors.

10 Components of Building Leadership Trust

1)    Know Thyself:

Building trust through transparency starts with self-awareness. To be authentic one must know his/her own strengths and weaknesses. A smart leader is constantly evaluating how to leverage his/her strengths and minimize weaknesses.

2)    Strategic Self-Disclosure: 

A leader need not bare his/her complete personal self, but a trustworthy leader demonstrates an awareness and acceptance of self.

This self can include showcasing primarily strengths. However, a complete picture of a person with a few weaknesses, though not weaknesses of character, builds deeper connections. A leader who shows he/she is human can help build a connection with others.

These strategic disclosures of weakness can include a weakness for junk food, an inability to dance or a dislike of Woody Allen movies, humanizing but not betraying disclosures.

3)    Taking Time to Listen and Learn: 

To build trust a leader needs to be visibly open to listening to employees, customers, colleagues, and the management team. Innovation and problem solving can result from hearing different voices. If those voices believe you will listen and learn they will share ideas. They will often be more willing to follow you and forgive you if honest mistakes are made.

4)    Taking Ownership and Responsibility: 

Admitting mistakes including personal mistakes and errors is often a key component of trust building. When customers, employees, colleagues, and other leaders can trust a leader to take responsibility for mistakes they can trust that person to try again with integrity.

5)    Being Present: 

Over time you trust people you know and, who, over that time, have demonstrated consistency and reliability. As a leader this is difficult to do if you do not show up.

Quality interactions are important but so is quantity. A leader who is only visible once a month for an update does not have a presence that says trust me. A leader who walks the floor and says hello, how are you?  builds trust. Just ask Market Baskets newly reinstated CEO Arthur T. Demoulas how trust can be built by being present.

By being present a leader can become an ally, this works with employees, customers, and business partners. Ask questions. It is questions that lead to discussion, discovery, and agreement.

6)    Take Risks:

Do not take foolish risks but take risks that get you out of your comfort zone.

Your willingness to take risks and learn from those risks can be inspiring and being inspiring often builds the rapport that develops trust.

7)    Share: 

Share what you value, what risks you take, what you learn, what you need and more.

This can build interest and demonstrate your openness, another quality that inspires trust. What you share must be genuine, but it need not be fully formed. Sharing your thought processes, experiences, and ideas, even if you change your mind demonstrates transparency.

No, you do not need to share every random thought or idea, remember point two, strategic self-disclosure.

8)    Be Innovative in Relationship Building. 

Just as a leader should be innovative in business you can be innovative in building relationships.

Create genuine opportunities for leadership by, remember point 6, taking risks in personal relationships. Talk to people you may not normally talk with, invite people you do not normally interact with to join you for a walk or hike, spend a day working or observing employees working the front lines, lead an employee Yoga class.

9)    Make Plans Towards Your Goals.

Leaders may be spontaneous and flexible, but they almost always have a purpose, goal, and a plan. Share many of your goals and engage others in your progress.

Be open to adjusting your goals but keep your higher purpose in mind. Inspirational leaders whom people follow often believe they are working towards a purpose. This higher purpose need not be a higher purpose but a purpose that requires leadership.

10)  Care About Others: 

True leaders do not only care about themselves or the bottom line.

To take on the responsibility of leading others and to do it well you must make the commitment to care about others wellbeing. Challenge others to invest in their own goals and plans. Showing compassion for others does not mean sacrificing your business needs at the expense of others, it means demonstrating that others matter as part of the process. People follow leaders when they believe those leaders are vested in helping them succeed.

Do not feel that as a leader you must go it alone. Working with a trusted mentor or advisor or brining in a coach and consultant can be very useful part of developing and sustaining leadership. Finding others to bounce ideas off, point out other options and perspectives and provide support can strengthen leadership.

As a leader building trust is not a one-shot deal. Over time consider and explore each of these components, and re-visit them frequently especially during times of transition or complacency.
 Related content:

Many Leadership Styles, What’s Yours?

Ownership vs. Leadership: Leading for success?

Successful Leadership Through Perspective

Latinas and Everyday Leadership for Work and Life


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