Building trust in leadership is an essential element of being a good leader. Without it, people won’t follow you. Since building trust is such a vital part of leadership, I’ve developed nine steps that will substantially impact your ability to build trust as a leader.
Step 1: Ask for input, and then actually listen to it.
Use active listening skills. Active listening means that you are paying attention to what another person says. You are making eye contact, smiling, nodding, asking questions, and giving both physical and verbal feedback. Don’t just pretend to listen, actually do it!
Step 2: Allow people to take on jobs and then back off and let them handle it.
I sometimes struggle with this–especially when I’m cooking. I love to cook, and I’m good at it. I used to be an executive chef, and I developed the bad habit of thinking I was the only one capable of making sure each dish was perfect. I would go from station to station, hovering over my sous chefs, questioning their methods and outcomes. I justified this by thinking I was training them and that the ultimate quality fell to me. What I was doing was micro-managing. I had to teach myself to trust my team to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Of course, you should schedule regular check-ins so that you can be aware of progress. Watch for signs of success and compliment them openly! If you see signs of imminent disaster, speak to them privately. Find out how you can help. They might be overwhelmed, over-extended, or just over it. Look for opportunities to assist, but don’t make them feel like you don’t trust them to complete their task.
Step 3: Seek honest feedback often.
True leaders have to be able to receive criticism. Yes, sometimes it hurts a little. Sometimes quite a lot. Suck it up and listen to it. The more you can accept constructive criticism, the faster you will grow as a leader. Nobody’s perfect, and if you think you are, you’re not a leader. It was only when one of my mentors came by my kitchen and criticized my micro-managing that it occurred to me that I was sabotaging success by not trusting the instincts of my team.
No, they weren’t perfect, but it’s better to get out of their face while they are trying to get things right and correct them if the finished product isn’t up to par.
Step 4: Admit your mistakes when you make them.
We all make mistakes, and if we are trying to build trust within our team, it’s imperative that we own up to them. People won’t trust a leader who can’t own up to their mistakes, or who plays the blame game.
Step 5: Give credit where credit is due.
I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the hardest things for team members to live with is the team leader taking all the credit for the results and not sharing it with the team. I’ve worked for people like this, and it stinks. You kill yourself to get a job done, and then the leader never mentions your name or that anyone else was even involved when they are receiving praise. It destroys trust. If you are acknowledged, especially publicly, make certain every member of the team is recognized as well.
Step 6: Be consistent.
People don’t follow wishy-washy leaders–at least not for very long. If you don’t follow through, don’t do what you say you will, and don’t act in a reliable manner, people won’t trust you, and they won’t trust your leadership.
Step 7: Ask for help.
Remember, no matter how great of a leader you are, the idea is to use the wealth of talents, knowledge, and experience of your team to meet goals. The ability to admit that you need help and then ask for it is a sign of maturity and a great leader!
Step 8: Communicate.
One thing that undermines a team is a lack of communication. Team members don’t like it when they feel like they don’t know what is going on. Because knowledge is power, many leaders tend to hoard information rather than sharing it with team members. Discernment is needed here. Occasionally, it is necessary to shield team members from some information, but most of the time, if it concerns the team, the project, or the individual, you need to share the information as soon as possible. One important caveat to this is the consideration that as a leader, people will sometimes come to you with personal problems. Those confidences are NEVER to be shared–with one notable exception that I feel must be shared. If a team member comes to you with information that they are being harmed or abused in some way, you absolutely cannot keep that information in confidence. Don’t lie to them about it. Tell them you love them, and that you want to help them, but say that you have to report this information to the proper authorities. They might be mad, but it doesn’t matter. Their safety is what matters most, and that type of information is too heavy and too important for you to bear on your own.
Step 9: Listen to creative ideas
Your ideas aren’t always the best ideas. Seriously. If you think that the only good ideas are the ones that come from you, you’re an idiot. Anyone on your team can have a great idea, and good leaders don’t feel like they have to have the monopoly on them. Celebrate the good ideas of your team members and be willing to accept and encourage them and you will earn the trust of your team! Some of the best and finest solutions come from front-line employees and workers who are out there doing a job every day. If leadership feels that they are the only visionary, then it will undermine the people you are leading and create an environment where people don’t feel they have the right to share great ideas that could make or break the success of the team. Open your mind and your heart to hear what others have to say!
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