The 3 Dimensions of Leading with Trust – Becoming the Leader Your People Deserve

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? Raise your hand if you answered yes. OK, you can put your hand down now.

Why do I think you raised your hand? Well, nearly everyone agrees trust is a critically important factor in leadership success. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success. This past week I posed that question to 120 family business owners and leaders representing dozens of industries across the Midwest United States and 100% answered in the affirmative.

Now let me ask you a second question: Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Raise your hand if you answered yes. Anyone? Anyone?

If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re not alone. YPO’s survey showed just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. Based on my personal experience, I think that number is a bit generous. The response from the group of family business owners and leaders this past week is more reflective of my experience – 3 people raised their hands (2.5%).

It can be difficult to know where to start to build trust. Trust goes deep and wide. There aren’t any magic silver bullets when it comes to building trust. It requires a comprehensive and sustained approach over time.

If you want to have a defined and specific approach to leading with trust, I recommend you consider the following three dimensions:

1. Trust in Your Mission—Organizational mission statements are common and most of our organizations have them, even if we can’t always remember them verbatim (I said they were common, not effective or well written!). But how about a personal leadership mission statement? What is your mission as a leader?

I used to think a personal mission statement was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission and express them succinctly and coherently.

You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started:

  1. Brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.”
  2. Create a list of ways you effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.”
  3. Write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.”
  4. Combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”

My personal mission statement is “To use my writing and speaking skills to teach and inspire people about the power of trust so they enjoy deeper, more meaningful, and rewarding relationships.”

There is a two-fold reason why a personal mission statement is the first dimension of leading with trust. First, if you don’t know where you’re going as a leader, why should anyone place their trust in you? People trust leaders who are clear on their beliefs, values, and priorities. Second, having a clear mission allows you to lead confidently and authentically, with a sense of purpose and direction for your life. Trust in your mission translates into others trusting your leadership.

2. Personal Trustworthiness—The second dimension of leading with trust is personal trustworthiness. Trust is based on perceptions, and perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. If you use trust-eroding behaviors with those you lead, they won’t trust you. If you use behaviors that build trust, they will trust you. It’s that simple.

There are four elements that determine your trustworthiness: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Those four elements are the “language” of trust, and to make them easy to remember, we’ve captured them in the ABCD Building Trust Model:

Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.

Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

Personal trustworthiness is at the core of leading with trust. Trust is the foundation for unleashing the creativity, innovation, and productivity of your team. Using behaviors that align with the ABCD’s of trust is where it starts.

3. Extend Trust to Others – The third dimension of leading with trust is to extend trust to others. For trust to develop, someone must make the first move by extending trust to another. It’s the leader’s job to extend trust; it’s not the follower’s job to blindly grant trust to the leader based on their position or title.

Servant leadership is an approach that incorporates this third dimension of leading with trust. Creating a culture of servant leadership is based upon the idea that we can lead and serve at the same time. The leading aspect is represented by the traditional organizational pyramid with senior leaders at the top and front-line employees at the bottom. The leader has the responsibility to build a culture around a clear and compelling vision that includes the organization’s purpose, values, and a picture of the future where the organization is headed.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Once that’s in place, the servant aspect of servant leadership is flipping the pyramid upside down and serving the people who will bring that vision to life. It’s extending trust to those who will implement the vision and doing whatever is needed to support them with the training, tools, and resources to accomplish the mission.

Servant leaders create an optimally motivating environment for employees to flourish. Your people are constantly making logical and emotional appraisals of your leadership behavior. Every interaction in the workplace causes them to make judgments about how they think and feel about you, the organization, and the job they perform. Those appraisals lead to employees evaluating their sense of well-being. Am I feeling safe? Am I winning or losing? Is my boss for me or against me? Based on those appraisals, people form intentions about how they’re going to “show up” on the job. Our research shows that employees of other-focused, trustworthy leaders have greater intentions to do above-average work, give discretionary effort, be a good corporate citizen, stay with the company, and endorse it as a great place to work, the five hallmarks of passionate, highly-engaged employees.

Let’s circle back to the two questions I originally posed. Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? You likely answered with a resounding yes. Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Your answer was probably no. If so, build a plan based on the three dimensions of leading with trust: trust in your mission, personal trustworthiness, and extending trust to others. Your people deserve a leader they can trust.

2 Comments on “The 3 Dimensions of Leading with Trust – Becoming the Leader Your People Deserve

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 10 February 2020 – 5blogs

  2. One of the best illustrations I know of DWTSYWD can be found in the Clint Eastwood film ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’. Look up the “Josey Wales and Ten Bears” speech on any site that covers film quotations. It covers DWTSYWD in simple yet eloquent language. “When there is iron in your word of death, then there is iron in your word of life.”

    PS: hate to say this, but “artistic” isn’t a noun.

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