I'm sure that we've been in work environments that either inspired trust or didn't. My most prominent memory of trust in my career is when I worked at Mars. It was in my 20s and I was in a new role where I needed to learn fast. I remember feeling thrown into the deep end; it inspired me to learn. I was motivated by the fact that Mars had trusted me to do a good job. The company trusted that I would do the right thing and that if I wasn’t sure, that I would ask for help.
Not all environments establish a workplace where employees feel safe to learn by making mistakes and putting them right. Inspiring trust is a way to build a supportive culture at work. This kind of trust has wide reaching implications for both you as a leader, and the people who work for you.
Three Motivators that Build Trust in Leadership
Trust comes from understanding what makes your employees tick. Dan Pink’s motivation theory talks about the key motivators of people. If you establish that you are paying a competitive wage, the other key motivators are:
1. Purpose: Feeling connected to something bigger, perhaps the organisation’s mission, or a vocational or community aspect.
2. Mastery: The ability to improve, learn new skills, or become an expert.
3. Autonomy: The space to make decisions and take control of your work.
As a leader, trust can impact 2 out of 3 of these. Inspiring trust allows you to drive autonomy and create room for staff to develop mastery.
But how do you inspire people to trust you?
So, we've covered how important it is to trust your teams, but how can you ensure that they trust you in return? In Trust Works, Ken Blanchard introduces the ABCD Trust Model. He outlines four elements of trustworthy leaders.
- Able refers to the competence that you display as a leader
- Believable is about your integrity, sincerity and authenticity. Does what you say, match with what you do?
- Connected signifies how you define relationships, including the vulnerability and empathy that you show as a leader
- Dependable shows your employees that you are accountable for the promises that you make
Many leaders might be good at some of the four aspects of trustworthy leadership, but if you fail at one – the whole relationship could break down.
Applying Situational Leadership
Remember that trust evolves, and different situations will need different styles of leadership. It’s not so much about the person you’re supporting, but more about the experience they are currently in.
If someone has 15 years of experience, they will not need handholding for the tasks that they have been carrying out all that time. They would likely see this as micro management. However, if you were to ask them to do a task that they had never done before, they would likely need more direction and support. As leader flexibility in your approach is key. These frameworks for situational leadership may be helpful to use.
So you see that there isn't one leadership style for every situation. Part of inspiring trust is meeting people where they are in their capability and supporting them.
Balancing Trust and Flexibility
There's a great exercise for balancing trust. It's called “Setting the Watermark.” Imagine that you’re an engineer working on deck on a ship and the captain is steering above you. You spot a hole above the waterline. You could patch it and handle the problem without alerting the captain. However, if a hole appears below the waterline, things are more serious. The ship is in danger and you’re going to need to let the captain know what’s going on.
As the leader, you are the captain of the ship. Make sure your team understands what your “waterline” is for various situations.
When do they have the autonomy to decide and take action? At what point, should they inform you or ask for your input?
Top Tips for Inspiring Trust as a Leader
As a coach I've worked with many leaders and their teams over the years. Finding the right balance of trust between you and your teams is essential. If you don’t trust them, they will lose the autonomy and mastery over their work. If they don’t trust you, team members will find it impossible to believe that the culture is safe to take risks and grow within. Here are three top tips for keeping the trust:
- Take time to build relationships and be a little bit vulnerable. In turn, your employees will feel safe to contribute to the culture of openness.
- Work on flexibility within a framework. Be clear on your boundaries but provide autonomy within that.
- Reliability is essential, and it goes both ways. You can break trust by not doing what you say you're going to do. Be reliable to keep the trust.