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Trustworthiness is an essential trait for leading companies forward during times of change.
Do you trust your boss? What about the leadership at your company? If you said “yes,” you may be in the minority. According to a Gallup poll, just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization. However, trustworthiness is an essential trait for leading companies forward during times of change.
Trust is the currency of leadership, says Keith Goudy, managing partner of Vantage Leadership Consulting. “With leaders, it starts with, do you trust someone’s values based on the behaviors you’ve observed?” he asks. “Do you trust them to do what’s right for the company? Do you trust them to care about and take care of people? Do you trust their thinking, judgment, and the direction they set for others to follow?”
It’s easier to trust people that we like, and we like people that we can trust, says Ingrid Christensen, translation expert and author of The Language of Trust: Communicate to Create Meaningful Relationships in Business and Life. “As far back as human evolution, when we’re living in a cave and [could] only see the immediate area around us, those were the people that we could trust,” she says. “But in order to expand, we had to learn how to trust other human beings.”
Christensen says trust is often tied to a physical reaction in the body. “A lot of times people will say, ‘I feel it in my gut, if I can trust somebody,’” she says. “But beyond that, there are traits that people [who] are trustworthy have.”
1. THEY’RE TRANSPARENT
Communication is important when it comes to trust. Trustworthy leaders are very open and honest, and they make time to listen and talk to their teams, says Christensen.
“They overcommunicate, early and often,” she says. “They tend to repeat themselves in a way that people can understand.”
Trustworthy individuals are also willing to be open and vulnerable in their communication. “They’re willing to peel back the layers and show their true personality in a way that somebody else could connect with,” says Christensen. “That’s one of the best ways to really solidify and fortify trust.”
2. THEY FOLLOW THROUGH
Trustworthy leaders say what they mean and mean what they say, says Christopher S. Reina, Ph.D., associate professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship.
“They don’t say things like ‘we should get lunch and catch up’ and not follow through with this,” he says. “They are careful with their words because they know words matter. When they say they will follow up with you, they do so. In doing this, they continually reinforce a cycle of making and fulfilling promises, however small they may be. Over time, this contributes to trust.”
Living up to your commitments requires putting structures in place that help you stay organized. Reina suggests setting up calendar invite to remind yourself of the actions you promised to take.
3. THEY TRUST THEMSELVES
To earn the trust of others, you need to trust yourself. Trustworthy leaders don’t second-guess their actions and words, says Christensen.
“If you are living in a level of discomfort where you’re not able to trust yourself, you’re not going to be able to enter a trusting state with other people,” she says. “When you are unable to trust yourself, it can show up as anxiety and depression.”
4. THEY ALIGN THEIR CORE VALUES
Trusted leaders’ core values match the core values of the organization. Somewhere in those core values should be competence, confidence, and care, says Christensen.
“Leaders need to think about the organization’s values and how they are going to show up in alignment with those values,” she says.
They also need to make sure their employees are in alignment with their core values, which often takes repetition. “We need to hear things in a variety of ways,” says Christensen. “Some people need to hear it orally, some people need to see it written, some people need to experience it. Leaders should communicate values in a way that people are able to grasp.”
5. THEY DEMONSTRATE CARE
Trustworthy leaders regularly check in with employees to see how they’re doing. They don’t shy away from conflict. Rather, they work through it with compassion. Caring for others means communicating why and how decisions are made, says Reina. For example, if an employee makes a suggestion or shares an idea that isn’t used, the leader should help the person understand the decision while acknowledging their input.
“Trustworthy leaders honor the dignity of their people and help them understand the process along the way, rather than just allowing someone’s input to go into a black box where the person has no idea what happened to their work or effort or how it contributed to the final output,” says Reina.
“The last three years have underscored the importance of working for someone who cares about you,” adds Goudy. “I would argue that every employee, during the pandemic, has had a pretty clear opinion about whether or not their employers care about them.”
6. THEY NEVER STOP EARNING TRUST
Christensen says trust exists on a continuum; it’s not an on and off switch. “Levels of trust ebb and flow,” she says. “If trust breaks down, leaders need to repeat the actions that help . . . build trust.”
Leadership is given and not taken, says Goudy. “Trustworthy leaders earn the right to lead by developing followership,” he says.