3 Ways to Cultivate Trust (Without Faking It)

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A leader’s ability to inspire and empower employees relies on one key ingredient - how much they are trusted.  

In times of uncertainty, teams look to their leaders to see if they have their backs. The level of trust within a team determines how well they can work together.

According to Harvard Business Review’s article on The Neuroscience of Trust, the rewards of trust and high employee engagement are higher productivity, better-quality products, and increased profitability. The report also reveals that those in “high-trust” environments were 106% more energetic and 76% felt more engaged with their jobs. If you ask me, those are pretty substantial numbers.

Trust within an organization is just as important as winning the trust of your customers, if not greater.

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Just as customers who trust brands are likely to make repeat purchases and become advocates for the company, employees who trust their organization’s purpose and leadership, stay with the company for the long-haul. These are the ones who turn into cult followers and ambassadors. They become the organization’s biggest supporters.

However, employees don’t trust company leadership by default. Trust needs to be earned. It needs to be cultivated and nurtured. And if broken, it needs to be rebuilt. Employees can smell bullshit from a mile away. They recognize when someone is faking it. I’ve come across leaders who look like they just stepped out of a Dale Carnegie course on ‘How to Win Friends And Influence People.’ One in particular, had clearly mastered the knowledge from the program but his application of it felt completely insincere. And somehow it was obvious to everyone but him.   

This got me thinking - how do you gain employee trust, and do it without faking it? While there's a lot to building trust, I’m sharing 3 simple solutions.

1. Be a Leader, Not a Manager

A leader can be a good manager. However, being a manager doesn’t automatically make you a leader. First of all, leadership - like trust - is also earned.

Employees follow the orders of managers to perform their jobs effectively. A leader, on the other hand, coaches their team to succeed. It’s not just a matter of semantics. Employees respond to direct reports who act like leaders, not the ones who reason like managers. This is because managers are more about process than they are about people.

Research on millennials in the workplace indicates that 78% of millennials believe that good leaders care about the feelings and needs of others. Note how they say feelings and not “skills of managers.” Emotions matter, especially when it comes to leading. Leaders who learn to increase their emotional intelligence are equipped with empathy. And empathy is what every leader and workplace needs if they truly want to support their people and build strong (and authentic) bonds. And it’s a known fact that when employees feel understood, they trust more.

2. Be Humble

No one likes a know-it-all. No one. While there’s a certain level of expectation that leaders should know more than their employees, pretending you know something when you obviously have no idea what you are talking about it is a sure-fire way to lose trust. People want to know they work for a walking, talking human that has their own flaws. They don’t need perfection. Your employees will appreciate you if you are humble enough to admit that you don’t know something. And if you go a step further and involve them in finding the answer, that level of trust goes up a few notches.

3. Do What You Say

According to a global survey by EY, factors that lead to employees losing trust involve lack of leadership and a work environment not conducive to collaboration. And what promotes trust? A whopping 67% of their study’s respondents answered, “Delivers on promises.”

Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Don’t get employee hopes up on something you can’t validate. To gain trust, you need to walk the walk and talk the talk. You can’t say one thing and contradict your words with opposing actions the next.

Once you become that boy who cried wolf one too many times, you inevitably lose trust. Regaining it will prove to be challenging for even the most experienced manager. A true leader, on the other hand, will admit to their flaws and failures, ask for forgiveness, and work towards rebuilding what they've lost.  

When it comes to cultivating trust, there’s absolutely no good reason to fake it. Find your empathy, hold onto your integrity, and practice humility - these are far more valuable than insincere efforts to build trust. And most importantly, be constant. Next to being fake, inconsistency is the biggest killer of trust as it can be perceived as dishonest and cause employees to stop believing what you say. Ultimately, your actions will always be louder than your words, and leaders who lack the awareness and ability to cultivate genuine trust will eventually lose their throne.

Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.