Trust… such a big, important, and yet somewhat ambiguous concept that growing leaders are taught the value of during a leadership coaching program.

Why is building trust important and what can you do to increase the trust quotient with your leadership team?

How Does Trust Affect Productivity?

Stephen Covey shared that “Organizations with high trust are 3x more productive.” Think about that. What could your business be doing if it were 3x more productive?

Here are two scenarios I came across recently in my coaching practice that emphasized how lack of trust makes people move slower and prevents them from contributing at their highest potential.

Scenario 1

Amir* is a new member of the leadership team. Although he is new to the team and the organization, he is coming with valued experience from other companies. We were having a conversation about 9 months into his role, and the conversation turned to how he was performing against his own and the CEO’s expectations.

 Amir said quickly, “I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from [CEO], but…” there was a long pause.

“What’s the but?” I asked. 

“I haven’t got any constructive feedback yet.” he said. 

“What’s important about that for you?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve gotten some good constructive feedback from others in my peer group however every time I ask [CEO] how I am doing he just says I’m doing great for being so new.” Amir was visibly torn, so I prompted him by acknowledging his frustration.

“How can I trust him when he is only sharing the good stuff? I know I have things to work on and I want to excel in this role. When he doesn’t share those things, I don’t fully trust the things he is sharing with me. I find myself spending too much time and energy worrying about what he really thinks. That’s not how I want to be.”

Scenario 2

Mara* is a new CEO in a medium sized firm. She is replacing an outgoing CEO who had a command-and-control style of leadership. Under the past CEO, departments were segregated and, in some cases, departmental KPI’s were seen as being in competition with each other. Collaboration was not encouraged, and information was not shared openly.

Mara’s style is very different. She believes in being clear about what is expected of the people on the leadership team and then expects they will execute and make good decisions on their own. She also expects collaboration across teams to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals.

After several months in her new role Mara came to her coaching session frustrated and a bit tired.

“What’s going on for you?” I asked.

“I’m just not sure what to do to get the leadership team more cohesive,” she said wearily. “They know we don’t want to operate the way things were, they complained about it in the past. I thought they would be excited to get on board with a new way of working together, however I can’t seem to get them to change their old habits. It’s like they don’t trust that I really want things to be different, or perhaps that they can be.”

Trust is an interesting beast!  Hard to earn, very easy to lose, and people have different definitions of just exactly what trust is and how to build it. With a leadership coaching program, leaders are guided to an understanding of how to make authentic connections that will inevitably build trust between themselves and their teams.

Working with high performing teams for many, many years, I can concur with Google’s study on what makes a great team: “Individuals on teams with high trust bring in more revenue, are less likely to leave…, are more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates and are rated as effective twice as often by executives.”

Amir wants to build trust with his leader and work alongside his peers to contribute to a strong leadership team. Mara wants to rebuild trust with her leadership team so they can take their company to the next level and create a culture where everyone can grow and thrive.

Both Amir and Mara are now focused on the following 3-point plan:

#1. Build Strong Relationships: There is no trust without relationship.

Amir – realized he needed to build a strong relationship with his CEO. Because Amir had a great relationship with his previous manager, he assumed that his new manager would be the same. Amir’s assumption meant he was not proactive in setting the conditions for success for the relationship.

Mara – realized much of her information regarding each person on her leadership team was biased by the former CEO’s relationship with them. She assumed they would welcome her new leadership style, jump on board, and begin operating differently. She didn’t anticipate she would have to be more intentional about building new relationships with people she has worked alongside for many years.

Your Relationship Building plan should include:

  • Get to know the whole person. What are their dreams personally and professionally? Who are the members of their family? What do they do for fun? What’s important to them? What do they believe is going well? Are there any obstacles blocking their success? What’s important to them about their relationships? What’s their definition of trust? What does one have to demonstrate to earn their trust?
  • Share yourself. For every question you ask, commit to sharing your own story.
  • Set up regular 1:1’s solely focused on the relationship. How are we doing together? What’s going well? What could we do better?

#2. Communicate Transparently: Trust increases when people know they can count on you to deliver the good news and the bad news.

Amir – expected he would get balanced feedback from his new manager. He assumed he would get the communication he needed to be successful and to continue to develop and add value to the organization. Amir realized he would have to be the one to initiate more open communication with his manager and ask more directly for what he needed,

Mara – expected this area was going to be a big challenge. Under the former leadership, her team was kept in the dark about things that did not directly pertain to their department. This prevented them from seeing the big picture and decisions got made that did not consider the impact on other departments. She felt this was her biggest opportunity to build more trust.

Your Transparent Communication plan should include:

  • Your vision; for the organization, for yourself, for your role, for the other person, for their role, and for their department. By letting them in, you are helping them understand the decisions necessary to move the organization toward the vision. The leadership team is better able to support the success of the organization through their decision making because they have the right information.
  • Good news and bad news. Share good news often and communicate bad news when it is needed. Many leaders want to protect their team from the ‘bad news’. Although the intent of this protection is noble, the impact is quite negative. Trust erodes when people don’t have all the information they need to make decisions, especially if they find out you have been holding a piece of information that could have help them make a different decision. Bad news will only impact them and if they know, they can contribute to the solution, thereby increasing their sense of value and commitment to the organization.
  • Transparency is key to building trust, especially when you can’t share something.  Realistically there are some things that cannot be shared for a variety of reasons however the rumor mill will generate some sort of information and people will act on assumptions. Be clear on why you can’t communicate something and a time frame (if appropriate) of when you can share more. Keeping yourself from others only harms efforts to make connections, and investing in a leadership coaching program makes being vulnerable easier.
  • Clear expectations. Let people know what they can expect from you and what you expect of them. Trust is eroded in the gap!  Clarity means you are all working from the same playbook.
  • Changes to an agreed upon plan. There is nothing worse than people working towards a plan only to find out things have changed, and they weren’t informed. No matter how small a change, communicate it as quickly as possible, along with the why, so people can shift their priorities and expectations.
  • Investing in a leadership coaching program assists leaders in getting to know themselves, so they can be their authentic selves while at work

#3 Vulnerability: Revealing your humanity fosters greater connections, loyalty, and builds trust.

Amir – felt a responsibility to hit the ground running and begin contributing immediately. He wanted to prove he was the right hire for the team. He was reluctant to share his insecurities and fears with his colleagues and manager, as he had never experienced a leadership coaching program to gain insight about what vulnerability means.. He realized he might need to be the one to make the first move, be vulnerable about what he believed was holding him back from bringing his best self to the team.

Mara – felt a huge responsibility to right the ship, to bring about change, and give people hope that their company could become a healthier and better place to work. What she realized very quickly was that she couldn’t do it by herself! She needs the leadership team to step in and step up. Yet they can’t do that if she is not able to be vulnerable and ask for their buy in and commitment to a new way of working together.

Your Vulnerability plan should include:

  • Connect with and make peace with your imperfection. As human beings we are all perfectly imperfect!  When we are okay talking about our imperfections, we create a safe space for others to talk about theirs and increase the empathy of our team.
  • Share your strengths and your weaknesses. A great team is made up of people that have different strengths so everyone can contribute and shine. By being open with each other we can identify who we can leverage to support us in different situations based on their strengths.
  • Openly share mistakes as learning opportunities. How you deal with mistakes in an organization either creates openness and agility or shuts people down. Creating a feedback rich culture, both the good and the bad, builds safety and security which is essential for trust.
  • Talk about trust. Everyone has their own definition and expectations. By making trust a topic of conversation you eliminate assumptions and increase people’s understanding and appreciation of each other’s perspectives and differences.

A 3-Point Leadership Coaching Plan

Trust in a team doesn’t happen by accident! It happens through consciousness and continued effort, both individually and as a team, to build trusting relationships. Leaders have to work to create a company culture that represents genuine connections and compassion for the team. With the help of a leadership coaching program, goals like these can be achieved.

What relationships need some attention in your world? What’s one thing you can do, starting today, to build stronger relationships with your leadership team?

How transparent is your communication? What’s one thing you can do, starting today, to increase your transparency and up level your communication?

If you had to rate yourself between 1 to 10, where are you at on the vulnerability scale? What’s one thing you can do, starting today, to take some risks and move yourself 1 notch higher?

What’s your 3-point plan?

*Names changed to protect confidentiality