Don’t worry about it…Just trust me.

“Just Trust Me”. Have you ever heard this phrase from a leader, manager or someone in a decision-making position and instinctively felt a sense of apprehension? In this 3 part article series we are going to explore the issue of “Trust” and how as leaders we can cultivate trust in our teams, organization, with our clients and external stakeholders for more positive business outcomes.

 Most of us would agree that a successful leader is someone

  • who sets the vision and direction
  • who is able to persuade, motivate and influence
  • who inspires others to follow
  • who generally leads by example

When looking at different leadership characteristics amongst all the attributes that make a great leader one stands out and above all the rest. And that is TRUST! (Forbes, Oct, 2014)

Whether you run your own business or lead a team within a department or your organization, you cannot be a successful leader without trust. Even if you do have great ideas, a clear vision, a brand-new strategy and a detailed implementation plan. “Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing” (Forbes, Oct, 2014)

In a recent training course, we asked leaders, executives and HR practitioners from a wide range of countries and professional fields what they thought were the 3 most important characteristics for leadership success. While “creating meaning” and “emotional intelligence” were pretty high on the list the most frequently cited characteristic was “Integrity”.

So, trust forms the foundation and bed rock to leadership success. Trust is the currency of leadership success.

Defining Trust

Trust is a central part of human interaction and relationship building whether in business or in our personal lives.

Think about the people you interact with in your own life colleagues, business associates, friends, family etc. There will likely be people among this who you trust and others that you are more cautious about. Why is that? What makes you trust one person and not another?

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as the “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” From this we could say that trust is an emotion we experience or a feeling. A feeling of confidence and security.

Trust in business and at work

Business is all about relationships. Whether that is with external stakeholders such as suppliers, business associates or potential new customers. Or internal stakeholders such as current clients and of course our teams.

As entrepreneur and author Evan Carmichael states “The moment a person is not trusted by an individual or team, their chances for success within that group are diminished dramatically.”

We know from research that there is a strong link between the level of trust in a team or group and[1]:

  • More effective co-operation and collaboration;
  • Higher levels of commitment and morale;
  • Better innovation and creativity in solving problems;
  • Easier support and buy-in for change and transition initiatives;
  • Generally more effective, positive and conducive working relationships

As business owners, manager and leaders we can probably agree that we would like to have all those elements present in our day to day work environment.

Hence the questions we should be asking ourselves is are we cultivating a culture of high or low trust? And what are the signs of a low trust culture?

Low trust in teams and organizations fosters a culture of incivility and can lead to the creation of a toxic work environment. As a leader you will pay a heavy price of this.

You are likely to see higher rates of absenteeism and turnover in your team. People will put less effort into their work. They will be less likely to think outside the box, go the extra mile or prevent a disaster from happening.

Your teams will possibly become ineffective because they are spending their time worrying about what happened, what will it mean, how will it affect them (Porath, 2018) . People’s minds will be filled with anxiety and tension.

Here are three signs[2] to watch out for:

  • Use of email:  Email is a great tool for sharing information and for keeping a written record of important issues. However, it is not the best tool for tasks that necessitate collaboration, problem solving, discussion or bringing multiple perspectives together. If you are noting a pervasive use of email to the detriment of real interaction amongst your team you may have a problem of low trust. Particularly if email is being used for protection or as a cover for when and if things go wrong i.e. the more people I put into cc and the more emails I write then when things go wrong at least I will not be blamed.
  • Which brings us to sign number two, Blame: If blame is becoming the protagonist of the day in team interactions you are likely breeding a culture of low trust. When things go wrong what happens in your team? Let’s say a deadline was missed, a detailed got overlooked or a client was really unhappy. Do people take ownership and accountability for their actions and decisions? Are they able to reflect and be self-aware? Or are they quick to point fingers, apportion blame, naturally backed-up by the overwhelming evidence of written email communication they have collected to prove “it wasn’t me”.
  • Number three gossip and rumors are starting to creep into the work environment. You may have noticed people forming employee cliques which especially in small teams can be detrimental. People talking about others behind their backs suggest there is a lack of trust and confidence in being able to address issues openly and without repercussions. It could also mean that some people in your team lack the professional maturity or competencies to address issues in a productive manner. And as a leader you need to deal with this before it spreads.

If any of those factors are present within your team or if you are curious to learn more on trust, I invite you to read part two of our building trust series to find out more about what influences trust and the key criteria for building trust.

[1] Building Trust in Diverse Teams: The toolkit for emergency response. Emergency Capacity Building Project, 2007.

[2] Adapted from: 25 Warning Signs You have a Low Trust Culture, C.H. Green, Jan 2012. Available from

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