Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.
Perception is reality.
All metaphysical or existential debate aside, the way people perceive you at work greatly influences the reality you’ll experience. Call it your brand, reputation, or image, the perception people have of you is the net result of what you say, how you act, and the way your presence makes people feel. That’s why self-awareness—understanding how your behaviors impact those around you—is so critical to your success.
One behavioral area that can be hard to self-regulate is humility.
Humility is an admirable and honorable trait. I respect people who are able to keep their ego in check, recognize they aren’t the smartest in the room, and give space for others to shine and unleash their own brilliance. However, in an effort to not come across as being egotistical, it’s easy to overcompensate and fall prey to false humility. When that happens, you can do yourself more harm than good.
So, what is false humility? Well, first, let’s define humility. Humility is the state or condition of being humble. It’s having a modest opinion of yourself and your own importance. Being humble is not believing you are inferior to others. Humble people fully appreciate their own gifts and talents, but don’t esteem themselves above others.
False humility, on the other hand, is pridefulness in disguise. We practice false humility when we intentionally devalue ourselves or our contributions in an attempt to appear humble. Examples of false humility include deflecting praise we truly deserve, fishing for compliments to draw attention to ourselves, “humble-bragging” (talking about how humble we are), falsely portraying helplessness or a lack of power, and self-deprecating humor. As Dr. Aqualus Gordon discusses in this article for Psychology Today, false humility can be the manifestation of an inferiority complex.
The popular understanding of an inferiority complex is a person who believes he/she is inferior to other people. It’s a form of self-loathing and causes people to view themselves and their contributions as “less than” other people. However, that’s only one side of the coin, according to Dr. Gordon. The flip-side of an inferiority complex, or false humility, is a real or perceived belief of superiority to others. Our false display of humility can be a socially acceptable way to express our ego in an indirect manner. Ironically, in an effort to come across as being humble, we actually draw attention to ourselves through false humility which is anything but being humble!
So how do we combat false humility? I’ve found these four strategies to be helpful:
- Have an attitude of gratitude—Being grateful reminds me of how fortunate I am in the big scheme of life. It helps me to be thankful for all the people who have contributed to my success and reminds me that I’ve received an awful lot of help along the way.
- Hold power and position lightly—Positions, power, and titles come and go. You are guaranteed to be disappointed if your self-worth is defined by your title or position. Hold these things loosely while you have them, use them for doing good, but don’t trust in them to bring you lasting fulfillment and significance.
- Accept praise graciously and authentically—I have to work hard at not using self-deprecating humor to deflect praise. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while” is one of my reliable standby’s. Instead, I have to remind myself to simply say “Thank you, I appreciate the recognition.” Being humble doesn’t mean devaluing your accomplishments.
- Focus on serving others—When you are busy serving others you don’t have time to think about yourself. Instead of worrying about what others think of your accomplishments, focus on doing good for others and the proper recognition will come your way in due time.
We live in a world that says it values humility, yet in order to get ahead, it seems you have to engage in constant self-promotion. Don’t fall prey to false humility as a way to balance these competing demands. Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on serving others. As the old saying goes, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.
Leaders who are wise in their own eyes seem to be the ones who get the most attention in our world. They’re the outspoken, big personality, larger-than-life characters who always seem absolutely convinced of their own wisdom despite any evidence to the contrary. They capture the news headlines, private equity investors, and achieve personal wealth and fame. The only thing they don’t seem to possess is a healthy dose of humility.
Yet a number of research studies have shown that humble leaders are more effective at bringing people together, marshaling resources toward a common goal, and accomplishing organizational objectives. One study showed that firms led by a CEO who scored high in humility developed management teams that were more likely to collaborate and make joint decisions, share information openly, and possess a shared vision. And of course in the classic book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins’ discovered that those organizations who moved from average to superior performance shared a common factor of being led by Level 5 leaders, people who possessed a powerful mixture of humility and indomitable will.
So how can we develop humility in our leadership? I believe it’s a life-long journey, but we can start by:
- Considering others more important than our self…and treating them that way. Humble leaders make it a practice to put the needs of their teammates ahead of their own. They look for ways to serve others rather than being served. That doesn’t mean they let their team walk all over them. As Ken Blanchard likes to say, “Being humble doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking about yourself less.” Humble leaders facilitate the development of structures, systems, and processes that allow people to effectively use their skills to accomplish the organization’s goals.
- Viewing yourself as a steward. Unless you are the founder and owner of the company, you’ve been hired as a steward to manage and develop that which has been entrusted to you. Stewards understand that everything they have is on loan and can be taken away in an instant. Therefore, they view their leadership as a responsibility to care for, nurture, and grow the organization and the people who comprise it.
- Remembering all the help you received along the way. Humble leaders realize and appreciate the help they received along their journey. I think there are very few, if any, truly “self-made” individuals in the world. Anyone who has achieved a modicum of success has benefited from the help of someone else. Maybe it was a parent who paid your college tuition, a coach who inspired confidence, a teacher who opened the doorway to learning, or the manager who hired you for your first job. The point is, someone believed in you and gave you a chance. Humble leaders do the same for others.
- Believing in something bigger than yourself. The opening line in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, summarizes the heart attitude of humble leaders: “It’s not about you.” At the center of the lives of humble leaders is a values system that drives their beliefs and actions. Whether it’s your religious faith, core values, or personal mission statement, it’s critical to have a philosophical or moral code that serves as the foundation for your leadership. In the absence of such a grounding framework, you will put yourself at the center of your leadership philosophy and that’s the root cause of becoming a leader who is wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26: 11-12 contains a warning for people who reject personal humility and think “they’re all that:” As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”
My life experience has been that leaders who are wise in their own eyes eventually suffer a downfall. They may demonstrate signs of success over the short-term, but they can’t sustain lasting success over the long-term. Humble leaders, on the other hand, are the ones I’ve seen that leave teams and organizations in a better position than they found them and create a lasting impact that far out lives their personal contributions.
The following is a guest post by Mark Deterding, author of the newly released book “Leading Jesus’ Way: Become The Servant Leader God Created You To Be.“
Ever wonder what makes a good leader great? The answer is character.
Character is what flows out of the heart. It is what defines us as a leader. People want to follow people they can look up to and trust. So to become an effective servant leader, we must get intentional about building character.
Personal character is the sum of all the qualities that define us as individuals and as leaders. Warren Bennis cited Harvard research that indicated as much as 85% of a leader’s performance depends on his or her character. My experience in 35 years in business tells me the same thing.
The personal character of leaders defines their depth and stability; it is what leaders are truly made of.
When you look at leaders, you see many things. You can tell easily if they are intelligent, whether they have good technical skills and how much they understand the business and the industry. What you don’t see, because it is below the surface in their heart, is their character. That’s what Dwight Moody meant when he said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”
Servant leaders are defined and recognizable by their character. Servant leaders know that people will follow them only if they are trusted and trust is only developed through virtuous character.
Servant Leadership Character Traits
Key aspects of a servant leader’s heart that will separate them from the pack include:
- A desire to serve others, above and beyond oneself
- A desire for never-ending development of one’s ability
- A desire to achieve one’s very best
- A willingness to always accept responsibility for one’s actions
- A commitment to being humble and vulnerable
- A desire to make a positive impact on society
Issues of the heart don’t change overnight. We must first get intentional about positively developing all the areas of our character to become better servant leaders.
This is not a matter that is looked at only once. It is something we must check up on from time to time. This can be done by asking others (truth tellers) what they think. But don’t just stop with the feedback – work to implement changes so you can grow and have a greater impact as a servant leader.
We can also start improving in this area from where we are today by identifying someone whose character you greatly respect. Write down what that person says or does that you admire. This will help you frame up areas that you want to focus on to enhance your trust and build your personal character.
Make the Commitment
Remember, building character and trust is a process that takes time. Make the commitment to start where you are and pray for guidance and stamina through the journey. In time, you will be blessed for your efforts, so stay the course and allow God to work through you to make an impact in this world.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. ~ 1 Samuel 16:7
Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.
As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.
First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.
My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.
The Habits of Ability
- Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
- Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
- Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.
The Habits of Integrity
- Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
- Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
- Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.
The Habits of Benevolence
- Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
- Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
- Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.
Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.
We live in an instant gratification society. One-click purchases, overnight or same-day delivery, self-checkout lines at the grocery store, microwave ovens, and real-time global communications in a 24/7 world—whatever we want, when we want, and how we want it.
When I conduct training sessions on building trust I often get questions from participants along the lines of “How can I build trust quickly with someone?” The questioner is often a time-crunched manager struggling with a low-trust relationship and is looking for a quick and easy solution to his “trust issue.” Trust is a multi-dimensional construct that doesn’t fit easily into our desire for quick and easy solutions. It’s a relational dynamic that is constantly ebbing and flowing with each trust-building or trust-eroding behavior or situation we experience. However, there are key behaviors a person can use to turbocharge the development of trust in relationships. Here are five important ones to consider:
1. Admit Mistakes — It’s inevitable; we all make mistakes. The key to building or maintaining trust is how you handle the situation. If you make excuses, try to shift the blame, cover it up or pretend it didn’t happen, the trust others have in you will plummet. If you readily admit the mistake, stand up and take responsibility for your actions in a sincere and humble way, trust in you will sky-rocket. People yearn for authentic connections in relationships, and in order for that to happen there has to be a level of vulnerability. Admitting mistakes is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate vulnerability, and as a result, the development of trust.
2. Follow-through on Commitments — I believe that most people genuinely intend to honor their commitments. The problem is we often lack a plan for doing so. We over-commit ourselves or fail to sufficiently plan our course of action and end up dropping the ball. Few things erode trust more than not delivering on a commitment. If you want to build or sustain trust, make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. If something looks like it’s going to get in the way of you being able to deliver on your commitment, speak up early and reset expectations. Negotiate new deadlines or seek additional resources to meet the original commitment, and most of all, don’t use the “P” word (Promise), unless you absolutely know you can deliver on your promise.
3. Be Nice and Helpful — People want to do business with those they like and trust, and it’s amazing how much trust you can build by simply being nice and helpful to others. You learned the basics from your parents and it’s still true…say “please” and “thank you.” Look for ways to make your colleague’s job easier, and even more so, make it easy for others to work with you. Smile, laugh, and extend simple courtesies to others; it really does work in building trust.
4. Be Interested in Others — People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You may be extremely competent at what you do, but if you don’t take a personal interest in the welfare of others, people will withhold a measure of trust from you. You don’t have to be an extroverted social butterfly to be a “people person.” It only takes a little effort to build rapport. Ask people how their weekend went, inquire about their kids, learn their hobbies, and take a genuine interest in them as individuals, not just as co-workers doing a job. When you start to do that, and do it genuinely and authentically, trust will blossom.
5. Walk the Talk — Acting with integrity is the foundation of being a trustworthy person. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word integritas, meaning soundness, wholeness, or blamelessness.” When we say a bridge or building has structural integrity, we mean it’s sound, sturdy, and stable. So it is with a person of integrity. That person is steady and consistent in his behavior. Being a person of integrity means being honest, treating people fairly and respectfully, and acting in alignment with honorable values. If you say one thing and then do another you will severely injure trust in your relationships. Gossiping, spinning the truth to your benefit, omitting facts, or taking credit for the work of others are sure ways to diminish your integrity and the trust people have in you.
Sit down, buckle your seat belt, and consistently practice these five ways of relating to others and you’ll see the turbocharged development of trust in your relationships.
The new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.
She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.
Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.
The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:
1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.
2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.
3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.
4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.
5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.
6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.
7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.
8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.
9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.
10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.
I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.
Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Authenticity is an essential component of being a trustworthy leader. People are longing to follow leaders who are sincere and genuine, and when they find one, they will offer that leader 100% of their energy and engagement. You can be that kind of leader if you try and it’s not rocket science to figure out how. Start with these 7 keys:
1. Be humble – A recent study showed that only one out of four CEOs were described by their own executives as being humble. CEOs that were rated as highly regarded were nearly six times more likely to be described as humble (34% vs. 6%). Humble leaders use their power to benefit others, share the same values as their followers, and look for ways to empower others to reach their potential.
2. Be vulnerable – Take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself every once in while, because when you do so, it shows your followers that you actually are a little human (and just like them). Fear holds us back from being vulnerable with others, but take a little risk and “get naked” with your staff sometimes.
3. Admit you don’t know – Admitting they don’t know something can be incredibly difficult for leaders. After all, isn’t that why they’re leaders? They’re supposed to have the answers for everything! Admitting you don’t know something shows you have a realistic appreciation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Being a leader doesn’t mean you know all the answers; it means you’re willing to work hard to figure them out.
4. Walk the talk – It’s easy to talk the talk but authentic leaders make sure they walk it as well. Consistency in behavior is imperative for authentic leadership. Your actions need to be in alignment with your words otherwise people will quickly see you don’t actually believe what you say you do.
5. Admit mistakes – If you messed up, own it. Don’t try to shift blame, make excuses, or throw someone else under the bus. If you made a mistake, admit it, apologize if necessary, and then work hard to repair any damage. Authentic leaders are secure enough in their identities to deal with mistakes in a humble, genuine fashion that results in actually increasing trust and respect with their followers rather than eroding it.
6. Do what you say you will do – Following through on your commitments is a must-have for authentic leadership. Maintaining reliability with others through consistent and predictable behavior builds trust and confidence in your leadership. Authentic leaders can be trusted at their word. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.
7. Act with integrity – Be honest, do the right thing, make ethical decisions, keep promises, treat people with respect, don’t lie, cheat or steal…pretty much everything you learned in kindergarten! Authentic leaders value their integrity above all else. When you leave the workplace each day, you should be able to hold your head high because you conducted yourself with integrity. A leader of high integrity stands out above all others.
The world is in desperate need for authentic leadership and you can play a part. Start with these seven keys and you’ll be on your way to leading with trust and authenticity.
Feel free to leave a comment and share additional keys to develop leadership authenticity.
If you’re like most people, the idea of bold leadership conjures up images of big, charismatic, larger than life personalities. Most of us think of bold leaders as being driven, visionary, and having a take-no-prisoners approach to accomplishing their goals. In the world of sports we think of bold players being the ones who want the ball when the game is on the line. They want to take the last second shot that will win or lose the game. In business, it’s the leaders who are willing to make the multi-million dollar decisions that will propel their organizations forward or put people out of jobs.
If bold leadership is limited to the popular definition I just described, then you and I don’t have much of a chance to be bold, do we? I mean, face it, most of us won’t ever be in those types of situations. We’re just average Joes trying to make a living, doing our jobs the best we can, and if we’re lucky, making a small, positive difference in the world in the process. Bold leadership is for the chosen few, right? Wrong!
Bold leadership is not what you think. BOLD leadership is:
Building trust – Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship and it’s absolutely critical for successful leadership. Leadership without trust results in fear, withdrawal, compliance, and risk aversion. Leading with trust creates an environment of safety and freedom that result in collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, and innovation. The most successful leaders are trust builders. There’s no two ways about it.
Others focused – Bold leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead. Do you put their interests ahead of your own? Are you striving to help them succeed or are they just pawns in your grand scheme to achieve corporate domination? Bold leaders take the strengths of their team members and blend them together in such a way that the team as a whole is stronger than any one individual. You can’t do that if you’re only focused on yourself.
Leading with humility – Popular culture says humility equates to weakness, the polar opposite of being bold. That’s a bunch of malarkey! Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less. Humility is a quiet confidence in your skills and abilities that allows you to subvert your own ego for the greater good of the team, department, or organization. Arrogant leaders are the ones willing to pursue their own agendas at the expense of everyone else, whereas humble leaders consider the needs of all the stakeholders, recognize the stakes at hand, and make reasoned decisions for the welfare of the group.
Daring to be vulnerable – Bold leaders aren’t afraid to let down their guard a bit and be authentic with those they lead. Employees are yearning for leaders to express genuine care and concern, to acknowledge and appreciate them as individuals with hopes, dreams, and fears, and not treat them as mindless drones, valued only for the work they do on the job. Being vulnerable means sharing information about yourself and the organization and taking an interest in the lives of your people. You don’t have to pour out your life story and be BFFs with every employee, but you do need to open up and help your people see the real you.
Bold leadership isn’t reserved for the chosen few, and it certainly isn’t limited to popular culture’s definition of big, brash, loud leadership. Bold leadership is about the everyday behaviors we use to build trust, focusing on the needs of others, leading with confident humility, and vulnerably engaging with our people in authentic and genuine ways.