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Building Trust: 6 Proven Ways to Excel as a Leader

Trust might be a small word, but it is a big, complicated topic.

We process whether we can trust someone through our emotions. We don’t trust others by what they say, it’s how they make us feel. It’s their consistent actions that show they care about our wellbeing that determine whether we feel we can or cannot trust them. 


"You can’t talk your way into trust;

you have to behave your way into it."

Marie-Claire Ross, Trusted to Thrive


When it comes to improving trust, it is really important to understand in concrete terms what it means first. Having clear language around trust gets everyone on the same page. A definition that I use for workplace trust is from the book Trusted to Thrive (get a free chapter here) is:

The ability for everyone in an organisation to confidently rely on (and predict) that others will do the right thing and make good on their promises.


Neuroscience research confirms that there are certain factors that the brain requires to trust a situation. We judge whether we trust people based on how connected we are, whether we have a future together and how safe we feel.

You emotionally signal to your people that ‘we’re all in this together’ through asking questions each week, in meetings and one-on-ones, and through improving visibility of work, being approachable and demanding reciprocal accountability.

In my work and research with clients, I have developed the Integrated Trust Building System. It lays out the steps and strategies to help leaders more easily create a thriving team environment for a range of different individuals.


But telling people that they are valued, safe and connected is not enough. It has to be backed up with consistent action. Otherwise, people will distrust you and disengage.

So let's take a look at six important actions managers can use to build trust in the workplace.

1. Provide Autonomy

Giving employees the autonomy to choose when, where and how they work sends the message that they are trusted to do the right thing. Trust reflects that a leader believes that team members are telling the truth and that they are both capable and committed to following through on their commitments. 
When individuals feel trusted, they thrive. Empowered by the freedom to make their own choices, they are able to reach new heights in their performance and attitude.
A Slack study surveyed more than 10,000 desk workers around the world. They found that feeling trusted in the workplace has the greatest impact on employee productivity. 
Humans are designed to be autonomous, when individuals lack personal agency, they often experience overwork and burnout. That's why employees almost instinctively reject being told what to do. Strong leaders who are willing to loosen the reins and provide people with the resources and power to figure out how to get the job done are highly regarded in organisations.  

The good news is that there are lots of way to give people personal agency over their work. This can be through allowing people to choose how they approach their tasks, flexibility in work schedules or locations, providing decision-making abilities or even freedom in implementing new ideas.

2. ENCOURAGE Trust Between Team Mates

It's not enough to believe that you can help build a sense of connection with team members through collaboration and regular meetings.

Leaders need to be intentional about encouraging team members to trust one another.

We talk a lot about bosses not trusting employees when they can’t see them working. But colleagues can also struggle to trust their team mates who aren't visible or not accountable to high standards.

In weekly team meetings, encourage each team member to talk about their progress to help everyone understand their contribution to the team. Make each individual responsible for gathering this information and presenting it. This is important because we only trust colleagues who are competent at their job. Encouraging each member to prove their competency will help others trust them.

Research reveals that trust emerges as a result of everyday healthy peer-to-peer interactions. Encourage team members to build trust among themselves through championing regular communication, respectful dialogue and meeting standards with team members to facilitate stronger teamwork.

It might seem obvious, but leaders who don't deliver on time, on budget and to the right level of quality aren't considered trustworthy by their boss or peers. Being reliable is important for trust.
Leaders who make excuses for themselves and their teams create bottlenecks and unnecessary issues. They are at risk of damaging brand reputation and poor customer satisfaction.
Consistency is the foundation of trust. When your team sees that you consistently deliver on your promises, they will trust in your leadership.

4. Support Personal Goals and Show Interest in Your Reports

One of the most important things a leader can do is spend time individually with each report getting to know them.
Research shows that when leaders focused on follower needs and building trust, employees were more positive about their work and more empowered—and this resulted in greater creativity, innovation and productivity.
Managers who take the time to understand their employees and how they like to work, communicate, receive feedback and learn build trust more effectively.
Essentially, employees want to know that you have their back in times of crisis or during time of high workloads. And that you care about them as human beings.
This means they know that you support their career goals; will do the right thing by them when they make a mistake; judge their performance on outcomes achieved, not time in seat and trust that they are working when you can’t see them.
Make sure you have regular 1-1s with your reports where the focus is on their learning and career development. And not the status of projects. When you invest in their aspirations, they will feel valued and motivated to contribute their best. 

5. Communicate Transparently


In a workplace, employees need confirmation that they are safe from harm and that their fellow workers are looking out for them. They need to feel connected and valued for their contribution.

At the same time, employees need to believe the work they do matters, that they are making an impact and there is a clear future for them within the organisation.

Workplaces require leaders who reassure people that their emotional needs are being met through both verbal and nonverbal communication. Non-verbal communication includes using body language, eye contact, facial expressions and gestures, signals that help us interpret the real meaning and intent behind what someone is saying.

It is vital that leaders know how to communicate both verbally and non-verbally to the part of the brain that manages trust – the limbic brain. The part of the brain that doesn’t understand language, but feelings.

This is critical to engage people emotionally and pull them into the Achievement Zone.

High-trust leaders customise corporate communication to make it meaningful for their team. They use stories and contrast to help people feel the exciting future ahead. And they ensure that they honestly communicate the way forward, rather than sugar-coating reality.


6. Trust Yourself to Deliver

Building trust around you starts with having trust in yourself
Trusted leaders do the work to stay positive in their job and trust that things will work out. They have learnt to trust their decisions, their ability to find the right answer and bring the right people together. They don't allow small incidents to bring them down or into blame or defence mode. They don't wallow in problems, but lift themselves, and their teams, into the energy of exploring solutions.
They work on being an activator - not a reactor. They believe there is a solution for everything and they empower their people to use their knowledge, talents and potential. They focus their team on learning, growing and creating solutions. And they look at where they can activate the untapped potential in their team.

EXCELLING AS a Trusted Leader Today

Trusting yourself and your ability to lead a team successfully is no easy task. It requires leading with compassion, believing in people and trusting that everything will be okay. And when you truly embody these behaviours, you will know.

Because when you step back and observe your team you will see the magic unfold. People will be working harmoniously together, energised by the need to solve problems to their highest abilities and serve the client at the highest level. You will have a team that feels trusted to thrive. Lead by you: a trusted and connected leader.

If that feels like the type of leader you want to be, come and join the Tribe of Trusted Leaders Community for a free 30-day trial.


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