Planting seeds of trust

Planting seeds of trust

By Joel L. Domingo, Ed.D.

I always enjoy discussions around empowerment and leadership, and as a professor in leadership studies, it’s part of what I do. Inevitably, the relationships between leadership and trust makes its way to the forefront and conversations take a practical turn to how leaders can build a sense of trust among colleagues, with their followers, and throughout the organization.

When there’s trust, there’s a way

Christopher Evans of the Center for Creative Leadership suggests that trust is the way that people create assurances that allows for risk in their relationships with each other. Essentially, when there is trust, people work closely together and an absence of trust keeps them guarded.

Evans mentions three dimensions of trust in leaders: ability, integrity, and loyalty. Knowing how each dimension operates and what is needed can help leaders focus on specific ways to help others and become better leaders.

Ability is the dimension that focuses on the technical areas. That is, the skills and abilities to get the job done. As a leader a good question to ask (both of yourself and of others) is: “Do I, my colleagues or my followers have the tools and capacities needed to accomplish what is asked of them?”

Integrity refers to the character of a person. It includes values and expectations between people. An example is the person’s sense of ethics, fairness, and honesty. This dimension is what most people think of when they hear the world “trust.” Do you as a leader do what you say? Are you consistent in “word and deed?” For leaders, integrity is paramount and being considered a person of integrity should say something about how others perceive of them as leaders.

Loyalty is the third dimension which encompasses the relational dimension between people. This is about the ability to establish personal connection and what Evans calls “truth telling between the trustor and trustee.”  Loyalty is about leaders who value relationships, who keeps confidences, and cares about others and their concerns.

Fundamentally, building a sense of trust is about the ability between leaders and others to relate to each other in ways that produce growth. While this takes time, especially in places where trust has been eroded, it can happen in small, practical ways.

“Trust check-ins:” find the level of trust in your organization

One practical way to do this is by having regular “trust check-ins,” where leaders bring up conversations about the state of trust among colleagues and within the organization. Some questions could include:

  • Do we have the skills needed to address the issue? (ability)
  • Which aspects of our own responsibilities help us achieve our team goals? (ability)
  • Are we consistent in keeping to our timelines and deadlines? (integrity)
  • Do we always assume the best from others? (integrity)
  • Do we share our concerns outside of work with each other? (loyalty)
  • How do we embrace and resolve conflict? (loyalty)

Some of these questions could even be rephrased to measure trust on a 1-10 scale (where 1 is little to none” and 10 being “always.”) That way, over time leaders can see how trust is changing and what areas need addressing.

Trust builds relationships

Leadership after all, is a human enterprise, built on relationships.  What helps in building relationships is planting seeds of trust among leadership and other stakeholders. Hopefully, before long, you’ll start harvesting a good reputation and a successful organization.

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