Leading with Trust: Principles and Practice

Are you leading with trust? It is a fact that high-trust organizations constantly outperform others, but oddly enough, few leaders focus on building trust with stakeholders. The leaders I work with are, for the most part, trustworthy. Yet almost everyone could do more to reinforce an environment of high trust in the workplace.

There is no doubt in my mind that most leaders are good people genuinely interested in bringing out the best in themselves and those who work for them. Yet they don’t do enough to lead with trust.

“Trust is a critical ingredient for leadership, since few people follow someone they do not trust… You cannot even get out of the starting gate as a leader if others do not believe your words.” Cornell University Professor Tony Simons, The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word (Jossey-Bass, 2008)

A Watson Wyatt Worldwide study of 12,750 U.S. workers across all major industries found that companies with high trust levels outperform their low-trust counterparts by 186%.

In a 2011 Maritz survey, only seven percent of more than 90,000 employees worldwide said they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interests. It’s not just a problem for rank-and-file employees. Roughly half of all managers also distrust their leaders, according to a Golin Harris survey of 450 executives at 30 global companies.

Despite the importance of trust, few leaders give it the focus it deserves. Misunderstood as a nebulous “feeling,” trust is an indispensable leadership skill earned through consistent, positive behaviors practiced over time.

Trust always affects two outcomes—speed and cost,” confirms leadership guru Stephen M. Covey in The Speed of Trust (Free Press, 2008). “When trust goes down, speed will also go down and costs will go up. When trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down. It’s that simple, that real, that predictable.”

Your success as a leader depends on the degree to which stakeholders trust you. Whether you’re a business developer, salesperson, client relationship manager, C-level executive, consultant, or manager, you need to master the principles of trust and put them into daily practice.

A distrustful environment creates expensive—and sometimes irreparable—problems. You must refine your thinking and change your habits to earn the trust necessary to be influential, successful, and recognized as someone who makes a difference.

In my next series of posts, I’ll explore how you can build more trust. What do you think? Are your work relationships built on trust? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here or on LinkedIn.