There is perhaps nothing that harms an organization more than a lack of trust in those leading it. Yet trust seems to be a very fickle idea, very difficult to develop and maintain, and yet so easy to destroy.
Developing a culture of trust in organizations is a difficult, painstaking journey, but if the will is there, it can be done. Trust must begin from the top to be developed throughout an organization. If top management is not trusted it gives the perception that it is everyone for themselves and opens up rationale for building a culture of mistrust.
Here are seven ways leaders can develop trust:
A leader who is not confident in themselves or was promoted on reasons other than merit will always be looking over their shoulders, always fearing they will be found out or someone better will be looking to take their job. Such a leader will have a difficult time trusting those under them and will not inspire trust among their staff.
Leaders who are trusted tell the truth even when it is easier and more convenient to lie or leave out embarrassing facts. They also come clean and “tell all” in situations where there is little or no chance that the truth will be discovered. I remember receiving an email from someone at a college apologizing for referring to my book without my permission. Since there was no chance that I would have every discovered this, this person’s actions spoke volumes about his honesty and integrity.
One of the easiest ways for a leader to lose trust is to do what is convenient and beneficial for them rather than what is right. This sets up a culture where staff feels justified to primarily look out for themselves rather than doing what is most beneficial for the organization. Doing the right thing means doing the difficult thing even if it means taking a personal risk. Leaders who do this are held up as examples of integrity for others to follow.
A sure way to develop a culture of mistrust is for managers to be found saying one thing to those in positions above them and one to their staff. This makes staff feel like they are being used to make their manager look good and win them a promotion. It is a not a good way to build motivation and trust in the workplace. Trust is developed when staff is confident that their management will have a consistent message regardless of the audience.
In the absence of accurate and timely information, rumors spread. Often the rumors paint a worse picture of the situation than would exist if the truth were told. Withholding information gives staff the message that they are not to be trusted to know the truth and therefore sets up a culture of suspicion and mistrust that rumors will only feed and fuel.
A sure way to lose trust in an organization is for management to be seen as having one set of rules for themselves and another for their staff. If there is a value statement that management has developed for the organization, they need to ensure that they follow those values themselves before expecting that their staff will follow them.
One of the most common complaints in workplaces is favoritism and unfair treatment. Treating everyone fairly and consistently and giving credit to those who deserve it is one of the most difficult things for leaders to do. We all have our own biases and certain people appeal to us more than others. One of the challenges of leadership is to see beyond personal preferences and clearly see the value that each person brings to the organization.