Trust is critical for effective leadership: here’s how to have it

By Glenn Ball, Executive Central Director

If I said to you the efficiency and productivity of all businesses – and in fact life in general – hinged on trust, would you agree? It may seem a little overstated or you may think it’s obvious. But we’re going to look at trust as the principal driver of profitable, efficient and harmonious organisations.

The concept makes a lot of sense to me. This is why I was excited to hear its proponent, Stephen M. R. Covey, explain his theory at the World Business Forum in Sydney.

You might have heard quite a bit about Stephen M. R. Covey already. He’s the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, as well as the founder and CEO of Covey Leadership Centre. He has devoted his professional life to furthering the work of his father, Dr Stephen R. Covey, whose book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People caused a serious stir of its own several decades ago.

The business case for trust

It’s no surprise, then, that the key element of Covey’s leadership insight is trust. Here are some takeaways:

Speed and efficiency are everything in today’s fast-paced world. Building a leadership style based on trust is the key to reducing lag between decisions being made and actions being taken. A trusted leader can give a direction and expect it to be followed quickly and precisely.

The building blocks for trust are learnable skills. Leaders who feel they are lacking in either department should not feel downhearted and should instead be motivated to change.

Trust is a two-way street, and the number one reason for employees not trusting management is that they do not feel trusted themselves.

Bureaucracy is a structure set up to remove the need for human trust in the workplace. Remove it, and let that trust return

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Behaviours that build trust

For Covey, trust is achieved via 13 key behaviours:

  1. Talk Straight: No one wants to listen to, nor follow, someone who is dishonest; so the best leaders say what they mean.
  2. Demonstrate Respect: It’s not enough simply to talk about respect, followers need to see it in action.
  3. Create Transparency: A transparent environment is far more likely to nurture trust in a team.
  4. Right Wrongs: No environment is perfect, and the best leaders will actively work to recognise this and to put these wrongs right.
  5. Show Loyalty: People need to feel that they are secure in their position. If a leader shows them loyalty, they will show loyalty back.
  6. Deliver Results: This is another example of demonstration over discussion. Show your team that you can make things happen for them.
  7. Get Better: Just as no environment is perfect, no leader is perfect either. We need to be on a constant path of self-development and improvement, learning from past mistakes.
  8. Confront Reality: Leaders need to show that they understand the reality of their situation, and work with this.
  9. Clarify Expectation: What is expected of your team? Clarify this.
  10. Practice Accountability: Accountability is key if team members are to take ownership of company issues.
  11. Listen First: The best leaders must be good listeners first and foremost.
  12. Keep Commitments: Your team can’t trust you if you don’t go through with what you say.
  13. Extend Trust: Show your team that you trust them. This will help them to trust you.

These behaviours frame trust in really practical terms, rather than something visceral. For example, in an executive coaching situation, if we think there is a trust issue in your team we can look at these behaviours to see if a coach or members of a team are lacking in any of these areas and then work on them to improve trust.

The four core elements of trusted leaders

The 13 behaviours tie into Covey’s four cores of trust in leadership; Integrity, Intent, Capabilities and Results.

Integrity: This core revolves around being honest and following up on promises made.

Intent: What is your motive for leadership? Your team needs to see this positive intent if they are to trust and follow you.

Capability: Everything must be backed up by action, so you need to ensure that you develop the capabilities required to see those actions through.

Results: Actions speak louder than words, and your results will show your team that you are someone to be trusted.

If a leader is to be trusted they must be strong in all four core components. If your people believe you to be a person of integrity and positive intentions, but they don’t believe in your capability or that you can deliver results, there will be a lack of trust in those relationships.

More thoughts for discussion on trust

For me, a leader’s responsibility is to gain real engagement with their teams and individual personnel. As coaching consultants we see many leaders struggling to gain that engagement with people and there is a strong case to show that this is due to a lack of trust between parties.

Covey shows us the trouble that arises when key people in organisations fail to trust and engage with one another. This is a principal cause of inefficiency in productivity and decision making at all levels. I see a lot of sense in that argument. And here Covey has provided us with a roadmap to help nurture trust and to help people to buy into your vision and follow you. That’s really powerful.

If you would like to discuss any of this with me, or about any Executive Central’s solutions, please contact me.

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