How to build trust as a leader

Trust is an essential ingredient for a healthy and high-performing workplace. It not only boosts employee retention and productivity, it’s also the glue that keeps everything on track when things get tough. Creating a safe, supportive and trusting environment is like saving up an emergency fund. If you’ve earned people’s trust, they’ll step up to help when you need it most, such as seeing a project through or overcoming a critical challenge. Here are some trust-building tips to consider.

How to build trust as a leader

Avoid reactive responses

It’s inevitable that someone in your team or workplace will make you angry from time to time. Maybe they’ll undercut your work or your leadership. Perhaps they’ll abuse your trust or they might just let you down in a way that’s particularly disappointing. At times like these you need to take a deep breath, park your emotions and respond in a grounded, fact-based and respectful way. Chances are, word of your calm response will spread. This is how you set the tone for your workplace, build trust and quietly counter any negativity circulating about you.

Address employee issues promptly

When attitudes, behaviours or perceived performance problems start to create issues for your team, it’s important to address them immediately. If you don’t, they can quickly escalate and spread. Your team relies on you to recognise and resolve these issues by acting quickly, firmly, respectfully and clearly. When you do this, you build trust in your leadership and the values you stand for. If you wait and hope the situation will resolve itself, you’ll steadily lose the trust of others. If you struggle with conflict resolution, it helps to invest in some training to boost your skills and confidence.

Do as you say

When you give advice and communicate expectations, it’s important to walk the talk. At all times you need to live up to the underlying essence and values of what you require of others. You don’t want to be the leader who’s given the tee-shirt saying “take my advice, I’m not using it”. Saying one thing and doing another is a sure way to deplete your trust reserves.

Seek opportunities to continuously improve

There are always things we could do better. The trouble is, we often don’t recognise them. That’s why it’s important to find people you can trust to alert you to a weakness or problem. Other options are employee surveys or one-on-one meetings where you simply ask your team members what you could do better. Without these external views, trying to build more trust can be frustrating because you remain in the dark about what’s holding things back.

Always try to be the best you

It’s easy to get tired, distracted by personal issues or drawn into blowing off steam in an ‘off-the-record’ exchange with a colleague. But when it comes to building trust, there is no off time; you’re always on. The trick is to recognise when you might be about to let yourself down, take a step back and take a few deep breaths. And if you do lash out without thinking first, always be quick to apologise. If you can consistently act with integrity, honesty, fairness, compassion, tolerance, self-awareness and accountability, you’ll excel at earning trust.

Check out an easy way to reward employees for trusting your leadership.