Trust can be defined as a belief in the abilities, integrity, and character of another person and it is a critical ingredient for successful relationships. As a leader, it is crucial to acknowledge that trust is the foundation of your reputation. However, it is not one of the perks of your position; rather, it must be earned; And once it has been earned, it must be preserved. As the popular saying goes, ‘trust is the most expensive thing in the world, it can take years to earn and only a matter of seconds to lose.’
As the business landscape becomes more complex and turbulent, high-trust organizations are more likely to survive. The presence of organizational trust has an impact upon the long-term financial health and performance of your company. Trust has far-reaching effects, such as; improved cooperation, employee engagement, employee retention, positive consumer perceptions and improved individual, team, and company performance. As a leader, your choices can either build trust or erode it. Therefore, you must play a key role to build, demonstrate, and earn it.
If you are assuming a new senior leadership role in either a different company or the company you have worked in for the last twenty years, remember that trust is the lubricant that will help you thrive where others may have failed. As trust in the overall leader also partly depends on the trust employees have in the company, it is incumbent upon you to cultivate organizational trust as well as trust in your ability as a leader. Employees trust their companies based on perceived fairness, which includes elements such as distributive, procedural, and interactional justice, their perceptions of personal vulnerability and how safe they feel in their work environment to take risks, innovate, and express themselves freely.
As a senior leader, you need to create the right environment for trust to bloom. Leaders set the tone for the culture and establish norms of behaviour. You must walk your talk and be reliable. Fostering a sense of collective purpose can also go a long way in helping people to pull together and help people to focus on group interest. Furthermore, ensuring that there is equity and fairness in all company procedures will allow employees to feel that the organization is just and that everyone is treated equally.
To create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves, ensure that communication is open and transparent. Share information openly and candidly. Withholding information, making decisions in secret, and excluding people will destroy trust. Encourage open communication, be appreciative of what others think even if they hold different views, and welcome debate and discussion. Wherever possible, have face to face meetings that are open, honest, and respectful of the audience. Communication is both verbal and non-verbal and face to face meetings facilitate both forms of communication to take place.
Leaders need to integrate the four pillars of trust in their communication. They need to show ability, benevolence, integrity, and predictability in their communication in order to convince followers of their trustworthiness and build lasting relationships.
Aristotle identified three types of persuasive communication appeals: logos, pathos and ethos. Logos is an appeal based on the logic of an argument. Pathos is an appeal based on the use of emotions. Ethos is an appeal based on the perceived character of the sender of the message. Is the person trustworthy, confident, believable, knowledgeable and a person of integrity? If the audience does not trust or believe the speaker, logic or emotion will have little persuasive force.
Unfortunately, ethos and ethics are not always aligned. Someone can project a positive ethos and appear honest and trustworthy, yet there is little or no ethical foundation behind the projection. Leaders need to be sensitive to the ethical foundation below the surface. Ethics and personal integrity matter.
Just as trust can be lost in a second, it can take 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, ‘Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.’ Our character is the sum of our invisible, underlying principles, values, and beliefs. Our personal values shape our character. Improving your character takes time and effort but it is worth the investment if you want to be a trustworthy, authentic leader that can inspire positive change in your organization and the world around you.
Article by Shailja Sharma, Leadership and Career Coach, Marketing and Communications Researcher and Faculty Member at Strathmore Business School
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