How do you build trust?


The following is the fourth in a series of five questions and corresponding answers on leadership. See questions:

  1.  How to motivate and inspire others?
  2. What is the biggest challenge for leaders?
  3. What steps or strategies do you use to develop others?

4. How do you build trust with your team and peers?

There are a few things I try to keep in mind.  First, I always try to keep the interest of others above my own.   People will trust you if they believe you have their best interest at heart.  A good example of this in the recent news is the captain of the US merchant vessel that was hijacked.  He offered himself as ransom to the pirates in exchange for freeing the other crew members.  This took selfless courage.    In the future, you can be assured that this captain will have the trust of his crew.

Another way I build trust is through openness and honesty.    To the extent possible, I try to release information and keep people informed of what’s going on.    I once met the manager of a lumber mill who refused to share any financial information with his workers because he was afraid they would focus on how much money he made.  By withholding this information, no one at the mill knew if the company was making money or losing money.  This, in turn, caused fear and anxiety.  Needless to say, the workers did not trust their leader and vice versa.  The mill was closed 18 months later.

A third way to build trust is to act consistently with your values and words.  This is also called walking the talk.   If you say you value the input of others, but refuse to listen to anyone and you only back your own ideas, people won’t trust you.   If you promise something will be done by Wednesday, don’t deliver on Friday. Failing to do what you promise erodes trust.

I recently talked with a senior manager at Microsoft, Ross Smith, who who shared with me his 2-year journey to establish and build trust with his 85-employee team in the Windows Testing & Security Group.   Ross’ efforts eventually led his group to create a public website where they invite discussion about trust.  They also created a Trust Blink Game where they use a fun yet simple game of pairwise voting to determine the collective wisdom around how best to establish trust.

The following behaviors, when utilized consistently, will help you establish trust:

  • Can be counted on to speak with truth and candor
  • Acts consistently with his/her words
  • Takes accountability for his/her own mistakes
  • Establishes trust and mutual respect when dealing with others
  • Treats people fairly and consistently at all levels within the organization
  • Encourages and supports others to speak with truth and candor
  • Creates a safe and trusting work environment that encourages openness and honest dialogue


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