Trust is a concept that is difficult to delineate and yet indispensable to a healthy workplace. Trust is notoriously challenging to establish and maintain – and remarkably easy to break. But trust does not have to be fragile. There are three qualities leaders can actively cultivate that will allow trust to grow; strengthening the ties between employees, as well as the commitment that employees have to their company.
Leaders have to begin building trust by breaking down the walls that separate them from their employees, and show that they are willing to trust as well. Harvard Business Review explains that the more power you have, the less trustworthy you are perceived. Therefore, leaders must work twice as hard to build that connection. Ernest Hemingway said “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Also important is allowing for and encouraging the growth of connection between employees. Getting to know colleagues on a deeper level helps employees to build a foundation where trust can develop. The Washington Post mentions a number of activities that can allow this to happen, such as team-building activities, the introduction of personality assessments, or even outside activities.
Aside from getting to know leaders personally, employees need to feel that leaders are as open and honest as they can be. Employees should be informed, even when it isn’t flattering to leadership. That being said, employees also need to feel confident in the competency of their leaders. Leaders should not hide their faults, but they should hold themselves to the same standards of greatness as they do others around them. They are human, but they are also good at what they do. Leaders also build trust over time when they treat people equally, keep their word consistently, and give credit to others when it is due.
In a supportive environment, employees will feel respected, encouraged, heard, and even empowered to try harder. When you remove the anxiety and fear of making mistakes, employees will begin to take the risks they need to take to reach their next level, trusting that if they misstep in the process, leaders will honor their intentions rather than punishing their failure. A culture of fear is one in which employees do only what is required, to be certain that they always get it right. This is not an environment conducive to trust or to growth. As a leader, you can listen and show empathy for people, helping them to navigate what they are facing, and encouraging them to try new avenues.
Connection, transparency, and support are not easy qualities to build, but over time they can lay a solid foundation that allows for trust to develop. This is a foundation that allows employees to grow and the company to grow along with them.