December 1, 2023

Building Trust

Shailja Sharma

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An absence of trust in the workplace creates a culture of fear that can derail an organization in the long-term. In the post-COVID 19 era, the ability to practise empathy has topped the list as a critical leadership skill. Empathetic leaders are able to bridge the divide and generate high levels of trust with even the most disgruntled workforce.

By cultivating a culture of understanding and transparency, empathetic leaders can create a cohesive and collaborative environment where all employees can thrive. The key word in the previous statement is ‘all.’ When there is discrimination of any kind, trust will begin to erode. There should be room for everyone to grow and flourish. Moving from competitive to collaborative mindsets will improve motivation and morale at work.

I love the quote by Erin Majors – a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. As a leader your job is to light other candles. Your job is to develop people. You will lose nothing by allowing other people to grow. In fact, you stand to gain considerably. When you grow others, you will move up even higher and inspire loyalty and a commitment to excellence.

Trust is invaluable to relationships. Do not let this become a stumbling block for your leadership. This article aims to elucidate the steps leaders can take to forge strong connections with employees and repair any damage that has already been done in workplace relationships.

Practice Authenticity

There is nothing more off-putting than a leader who does not walk their talk. Leaders must ensure they keep their word to employees and model the behaviour they expect from their employees. Remember as a leader, you are constantly being watched as you set the tone for the behaviour that is acceptable in the workplace. Your words and actions must be in sync.

Another important element of practising authenticity is to take off any masks that you may be wearing. Saying one thing to one person and then saying the exact opposite thing to another, will be detrimental to you in the long run and you will be caught out eventually. Be sincere, consistent, and trustworthy. In order for you to truly be authentic, you must act in accordance with your values and use them as a compass to guide you in all your interactions with others.


Leaders that have not taken the time to truly know themselves will never be effective. Delineating your values and understanding your motivations will help you to understand why you behave the way that you do. How do your personality traits, habits and abilities affect your interactions with the people around you? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Self-awareness is also about owning some uncomfortable truths about yourself. If there are many people that do not resonate with you and you find it difficult to work with people and constantly find fault in others, then you might be the problem. As a leader, you have to ask yourself uncomfortable questions. Are you finding fault constantly in others because you are being too much of a perfectionist? Are you hard on others because you are too hard on yourself? Is the pressure placed on you by the organization unrealistic and are you transferring that pressure to others as a coping mechanism? Do you like to always have your own way, and if you are challenged, do you retaliate in ways that breed resentment? If that is the case, you need to go deeper and examine why you need to always have your own way. Is your way always best for the business?

Some of the best business leaders know how to keep their ego in check and will purposely surround themselves with individuals that have diverse perspectives who are unafraid to challenge them. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes-men’ will derail your leadership in the long term. As human beings we are not infallible and arriving at good business decisions requires sound reasoning. Depending solely on your own judgement and perspective is limiting.

An important tool in self-awareness is personality typing. There are many of these tools that can help you deeply understand who you are and why you act the way you do. Additionally, finding a coach that can help you with self-reflection will expedite this process.


The ability to listen with empathy will set you apart from other leaders. There are many people in leadership positions that are results-driven and focused on achieving targets. While this is important and laudable, if you discount the individuals involved in this process, you will fail in the long-term. Accountability is critical but empathy is equally important. After all, people are not robots. They have opinions, emotions, and goals of their own. Take time to understand your people.

Make Amends

It takes maturity and courage to make amends with people. Every workplace has internal politics. Where there are people, there will be politics. If you have inadvertently created hostility with people, you can always be the bigger person and try to make amends. There is nothing more childish than a leader making decisions based on personal resentments and vendettas.

Remember, you are a professional and as a leader you are being watched closely. When employees witness injustice in the workplace, they will begin to distrust you. Take the high road and bury old resentments and grudges. Make peace with people and you will set a positive example that can be a catalyst for change in the whole organization.

Shared Decision-Making

Allowing your employees to make decisions shows them that you trust them. This in turn will help them to trust you. Micromanaging is very destructive. It breeds resentment. Micromanaging is also unproductive for leaders. It is a total waste of time. If you tend to micromanage your employees, ask yourself why? Do you feel that they are not competent enough and still need training? If that is the case there needs to be a set time when you agree that they can handle decisions on their own after they have been trained.

Share the rationale for decision-making and make it a transparent and equitable process. Leaders that feel threatened and who are worried about maintaining their authority tend to try to desperately hang on to decision-making authority. Operating out of fear or a desire to exercise power is unwise. Ultimately, people resist authoritarian leaders. Let go of your fear or need to control and calibration.

Leaders inspire respect and loyalty by being fair and genuine. Leaders that use fear to assert their authority will ultimately lose the battle. If you are guilty of this, it is not too late to change. With introspection and a deep understanding of yourself, you can bring out the best in yourself and in others. It starts with a commitment to rebuild trust if it has been lost. Look in the mirror and take responsibility for your legacy. In the future, your real legacy will exist in the minds and hearts of the people you worked with. How do you want to be remembered?

Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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