“Trust is the highest form of human motivation.
It brings out the very best in people.
But it takes time and patience.”
-Stephen Covey, Speed of Trust
In nearly every team I work with, trust – or some form of it – proves to be the missing link. Consequently, the real conversations aren’t had, people say “yes” when they mean “no”, and things generally don’t get done in the most optimal way they can. A break in trust is also the number one reason why individual leaders I work with feel blocked or unmotivated to carry out their work at the highest level of which they are capable.
And all of them are absolutely right: trust is at the very core of any – in and out of work – relationship worth having. Who wants to work with anyone who acts unreliably, out of congruence, or in a cagey, uncaring way? Not me. Neither does any leader I know who wants to do their absolute best work.
But many companies don’t yet see the value of distinguishing trust as the essential element in their operating models.
Impactful Leadership Starts with Trust
Indeed, trust is the foundation for just about everything meaningful we do, in leadership and in life.
This simple, 5-letter word can offer an impressive breadth of benefits to organizations large and small:
- Enhanced productivity
- More optimal results
- Deeper meaning and sense of purpose
- Greater creativity and innovation
- Stronger collaboration
- Higher levels of employee retention
Even better, those working in high-trust workplaces typically experience lower stress levels and greater happiness – which in turn fuels all the benefits above.
It makes sense: just ask yourself where you would rather work – in an environment that emphasizes a culture of trust and support – or one where trust is just another empty buzzword-of-the-moment? It’s a no-brainer for most of us.
Even though, sadly, many toxic cultures – and relationships – abound.
Bolder Leaders Know This Isn’t Just A “Feel-Good” Concept
“Trust has to be the highest value in your company,
and if it’s not, something bad is going to happen to you.”
– Marc Benioff
Trust has very real impacts at every level of the organization. Check out the results of a 2020 global survey, “Trust in the Modern Workplace,” of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries. Commissioned by The Workforce Institute at UKG and conducted by Workplace Intelligence:
- Employees who do not feel trusted are less productive: two-thirds (68%) say that the perception of low trust hurts their daily effort.
- More than half (58%) of employees say a lack of trust affects their career choices, including nearly a quarter (24%) who left a company because they did not feel trusted.
- Half of all employees surveyed globally (55%) feel a lack of trust impacts their mental health.
- Low trust even hurts talent pools: one in five employees (22%) intentionally did not refer a loved one or acquaintance to an open role because they did not trust their company.
On the other hand, consider these powerful stats that compare people working at low-trust companies versus those at high-trust ones. In stark contrast to their counterparts stuck in a low-trust company, those at high-trust organizations reported (amongst other benefits like fewer sick days and way more energy):
- 74% less stress
- 50% greater productivity
- 76% more engagement,
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives
And I can attest to this: ever since I became part of a global network of transformational facilitators who walk the talk and embody trustfully relating at every turn, my life, career and business has never been the same. Not that I or the system have always been perfect, but because I have felt held in my development by highly competent and deeply caring people, I have had the courage to overcome my limitations, to flourish and to give back to this community in whatever way I can.
This is how trust can be a virtuous cycle for all of us: the more we become trustworthy, the more we build healthy, more productive relationships, the more inspired we are to take ourselves and those we’re in relationship with even further in our skills and talents, then we become even more trustworthy at a higher level, etc.
There’s no way to lose with trust. And although bringing it about can at times require a focus of time and energy, once it’s there, the rewards are endless.
Simple Strategies to Cultivate Trust in the Workplace
“Trust is a currency; you can’t afford not to invest in it.”
– Juliana Vergara
In The Neuroscience of Trust printed in HBR, author Paul J. Zak shares several key strategies that leaders can implement to encourage a culture of trust. These were the result of Zak’s neuroscience research efforts, and if you care to understand the science behind his concepts, I highly recommend checking out the HBR article.
Here are some of Zak’s top tips for encouraging trust. The best part? Any leader can start right now to integrate these strategies into the workplace environment:
- Acknowledge excellence – and consider making it a public display. That’s because we can leverage the “power of the crowd” while also inspiring others to strive for their own version of greatness.
- Give others the benefit of following their own unique path. Once someone is trained in their role, give them the opportunity to figure stuff out. Why? It’s a powerful motivator when we let others know we trust them to figure things out.
- Be transparent. Cliché? Yes. But most people aren’t truly transparent – still withholding their truth. Furthermore, being transparent emphasizes a very real issue in many workplaces: a lack of clear direction. One stat suggests 40% of employees said they were “well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics.” For the other 60%, this can increase stress levels – and send productivity plummeting.
And this isn’t even mentioning the potentially lost opportunity in building trust even further with teams by co-creating the team’s/organization’s goals, strategies and tactics. Even better, co-creating our common purpose and vision is one of the most effective trust-building activities a company can engage in. Yet, most don’t think of these.
Another key trust building move which Zak doesn’t mention is being vulnerable to those around us – yes, even at work. In Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability Ted Talk, she reveals how showing who we really are to others – our thoughts, emotions, values and needs – can build trust in a flash. Indeed, choosing to remove the layers of protection so many of us armor ourselves with can convince others of our approachability, care and trustworthiness.
Navigating the Leadership Journey in Our “New Normal”
It seems the “new normal” that we all talked about for so long is finally here. In most places around the world, life has moved on: kids are back in school, employees have returned to the office, and life feels…well, anything but “normal” (if it ever existed at all).
Instead, most of us face mounting stressors in a rapidly evolving world. Our employees may be facing significant financial impacts, strained relationships, increasing roles and responsibilities…even food insecurity and long-term health concerns.
That’s why this is precisely the time to develop a high-trust workplace. The Center for Creative Leadership gives a strong, simple assertion: “Our research underscores the need for trust in organizations.”
Unsurprisingly, they cite many of the same reasons we’ve already covered – and then some. Think:
- Alignment around a shared purpose
- Confidence in taking risks
- More authentic communication
- A sense of community support
If we aren’t yet convinced, we need to be: trust should be the very foundation of our “new normal.” Our world, with its every-increasing ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty just can’t wait any more for real, dependable and meaningful relationships to develop.
Oh, and one more important tip before you go: Bolder Leaders know that trust begins within: we can’t give what we don’t have. Today, explore your inner feelings more deeply to connect to your intuition. In other words – trust yourself first. Then go out there and lead boldly 😊
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