Most leaders don’t show up to work saying to themselves, “I think I’ll erode trust with my people today!” yet that’s often what happens despite their best intentions. It’s too easy to walk through the office doors, turn on the auto-pilot switch, and fly through the day without putting much intentional and deliberate thought into our choices and decisions and how those either build or erode trust with others.
It’s not that leaders DON’T KNOW what to do (although there certainly are times when that is the case), it’s that we don’t put into practice what we DO KNOW. It’s the classic “knowing-doing gap.” We know what to do, but we don’t do it. Why is that? The answer is complex, multi-layered, and certainly worth exploring, but perhaps even more important is answering the question “What do we do about it?”
The reason it’s so important to answer this question, is that when it comes to building trust, your actions speak louder than words. You can have the best intentions in the world to build positive, high-trust relationships with your people, but if those intentions aren’t translated into tangible, practical, trust-building behaviors in the workplace, your relationships will never reach their full potential.
Here are three tips for leaders that can help close the knowing-doing gap:
1. Identify the gap — Before you can close the knowing-doing gap, you need to know where you’re starting from and where you want to go. Which of the four elements of trust is your strong suit and which is your biggest area for growth? Within your growth area, what are the specific behaviors you need to focus on that will help you build trust, and how will you know when you’ve made measurable progress in that area?
2. Create a roadmap for improvement — Once you’ve identified the specific trust-building behaviors you want to focus on, create an action plan that will help you achieve your goal. I’m a fan of quality over quantity, so I would suggest focusing on one or two key behaviors and putting intentional and focused effort in improving your use of those behaviors, rather than trying to do too much at one time. Leaders are hard-wired to make an impact and we’re often our own worst enemy in trying to do too much, too fast. Building trust can seem like an ominous task, especially if you’re starting from a point of very low or non-existent trust, yet it can be accomplished over time through the use of very specific behaviors.
3. Make course corrections — Ask for feedback from those you’re trying to build trust with, listen to it, and make course corrections to your strategy as appropriate. Asking for feedback is a trust-building behavior in and of itself, and when your people see you taking their feedback seriously and changing your behavior as a result, your “trust stock” rises immeasurably in their eyes.
If you’re thinking about embarking on this journey of closing the knowing-doing gap in order to build trust, I would offer you one warning and one encouragement. The warning: Don’t do it unless you’re going to follow-through! Announcing that you’re going to make an effort to improve in this area, and then either not following through or only doing so half-heartedly, will do more to erode trust than not doing anything at all.
The encouragement: You can do it! Trust is built by using very specific behaviors that all of us are capable of doing. If you identify where you need to improve, map out a plan to get better, and make course corrections to stay on track, you’ll develop higher-trust relationships that will fuel your success and that of your people.