The world is in desperate need for a new kind of leadership. The type of leadership we’ve seen the last several decades has produced record low levels of trust and engagement in the workforce, so clearly what we’ve been doing isn’t working. We need a leadership philosophy grounded in the knowledge and belief that the most successful leaders and organizations are those that place an emphasis on leading with trust.
A critical step for leaders and organizations to take to realize the benefits of high levels of trust is to establish a common definition and framework of how to build trust. Most people think trust “just happens” in relationships. That’s a misconception. Trust is built through the intentional use of specific behaviors that, when repeated over time, create the condition of trust. Oddly enough, most leaders don’t think about trust until it’s broken. No one likes to think of himself or herself as untrustworthy so we take it for granted that other people trust us. To further complicate matters, trust is based on perceptions, so each of us has a different idea of what trust looks like. Organizations need a common framework and language that defines trust and allows people to discuss trust-related issues.
Research has shown that trust is comprised of four basic elements. To represent those four elements, or the “language” of trust, The Ken Blanchard Companies created the ABCD Trust Model—Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. For leaders to be successful in developing high-trust relationships and cultures, they need to focus on using behaviors that align with the ABCDs of trust.
Leaders build trust when they are:
Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.
Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.
Connected—Connected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified “connectedness with leader” and “connectedness with colleague” as 2 of the 12 key factors involved in creating employee work passion, and trust is a necessary ingredient in those relationships. Leaders create a sense of connectedness by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.
Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trust. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.
By using the ABCD Trust Model, leaders can focus on the behaviors that build trust, and by sharing this model with those they lead, create a common framework and language for discussing issues of trust in the workplace.
This article is an excerpt from the chapter I wrote for Trust, Inc. – Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, a collaborative effort by 30+ thought leaders including Stephen M.R. Covey, Charles H. Green, James M. Kouzes, Barry Z. Posner, and edited by Barbara Brooks Kimmel of Trust Across America.