Four Leadership Practices to Build a Culture of Trust and Openness

In today’s fast-paced, globally-connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness. Here are four suggested leadership practices to help in this regard:

  1. Encourage risk taking – Leaders need to take the first step in extending trust to those they lead. Through their words and actions, leaders can send the message that appropriate and thoughtful risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. When people feel trusted and secure in their contributions to the organization, they don’t waste energy engaging in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior and are willing to risk failure. The willingness to take risks is the genesis of creativity and innovation, without which organizations today will die on the vine. Creating a culture of risk taking will only be possible when practice #2 is in place.
  2. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – Imagine that you’re an average golfer (like me!) who decides to take lessons to improve your game. After spending some time on the practice range, your instructor takes you on the course for some live action and you attempt a high-risk/high-reward shot. You flub the shot and your instructor goes beserk on you. “How stupid can you be!” he shouts. “What were you thinking? That was one of the worst shots I’ve seen in my life!” Not exactly the kind of leadership that encourages you to take further risks, is it? Contrast that with a response of “So what do you think went wrong? What will you do differently next time?” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, characterizes these incidents as “learning moments,” where planning and execution come together, a result is produced, and we incorporate what we learned into our future work.
  3. Transparency in processes and decision making – Leaders can create a culture of trust and openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making critieria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organizational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. On an individual basis, it’s important for us leaders to remember that our people want to know our values, beliefs, and what motivates our decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.”
  4. Information is shared openly – In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and mis-information which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.

Please take a moment to participate in the Leading with Trust poll that appears below. I’d like to hear your feedback on whether or not these four leadership practices are present in your organization and I’ll share the results in a future article.

One Comment on “Four Leadership Practices to Build a Culture of Trust and Openness

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