As a leader, you want your team to trust you.  Trust is an important building block of the team.  When people trust you, they are open to share their challenges. They will follow you because they believe in the direction you are leading them. They trust that you care about the team and know what is best for them.

Research findings have consistently shown the importance of creating a culture of trust in organizations. In his article on Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak said that compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout

PwC reported in one of its studies that 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.

Why is it difficult to build trust?  

We have our own barriers and walls.  We are careful and cautious. We don’t think of how our actions will affect others. 

When we are not authentic, people can’t trust us because they can’t read our intentions.  As a leader, you have to think about the relationship you want to build with your team and how important that is for you.

Trust does not happen overnight.  To build trust, you need to take intentional and deliberate action every day to show that people can trust you. 

Think about your friends. It took time for you to get to the level you are now. They had to show you through your experiences together that you could trust them.  It is the same for teams in organizations — establishing trust between leaders and their teams takes time. 

Many times, building trust with your team requires building new habits that create a culture of trust. Often, leaders also need to break some habits that could be causing their teams to not trust them. 

Here are 6 habits you should stop doing as a leader if you want to build trust with your teams: 

Habit 1: No regular conversations 

“Money is the currency of transactions. Trust is the currency of interactions.”

Rachel Botsman, Author of Who Can You Trust?

When was the last time you checked-in to have a conversation with your team? If you don’t talk to them as often as you should, you won’t know their challenges and you can’t help them find ways to improve their performance. 

And what’s likely to happen if you don’t regularly talk to them? You will end up basing your decisions on your own assumptions about them. 

If you want to build trust with your team, break that habit of being comfortable not talking to them. Why? Because when you have conversations often, you will understand where they are coming from.

To break this leadership habit, ask these four questions in your regular conversations with your team: 

  • What are your priorities?
  • What do you want to focus on?
  • What’s in the way?
  • How can I help you?

With regular conversations, you feel closer to each other, and that feeling makes them trust you as their leader. Remember that trust is built in the same way that relationship is built. It’s not automatic. To build trust, you need to invest time in building relationships with each of your team members.

In most cases, most leaders know this. But not every leader is willing to break that habit of not having regular conversations with their team. However, if you break this habit, you’ll see the difference it makes in creating a culture of trust in your team, and its impact on business performance! 

Habit 2: Lack of alignment between action and intent

“Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” 

Roy T. Bennett

In an organizational context, trust is simply the belief that people will do what they say they will do. As a leader, your action needs to align with your intention. You have to mean what you say and keep your promises. You need to be consistent for people to believe you.  

This is what most leaders I’ve worked with commonly overlook. They have good intentions, but often, their actions do not match their intentions. The best way to see whether there’s an alignment is to observe the reactions of your team to how you act or say things. 

To break this leadership habit, practice consistency. Reinforce what you say with action. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to check if your actions are aligned with your intentions: 

  1. Am I really saying it the way I intend it? 
  2. Am I pausing?
  3. Am I listening?

For example, when you tell your team that they can openly talk to you and ask questions, then be sure to avoid dominating the conversation when they speak to you. Allow them to speak and really listen to them. 

Remember that people tend to look for consistent behaviour and without it, it’s difficult to win their trust. 

Habit 3: Lack of accountability 

“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”

Courtney Lynch

Mistakes happen. And as a leader, how you respond to mistakes says a lot about how much people can trust you. 

When something goes wrong, especially a big mistake, you also have to think about your contribution to the problem.  It’s easy to pass the burden to someone else. But remember that when you stand up for your team, especially in difficult times, they will trust you more.

To break this leadership habit, remember to stand up for your team and reassure them that you’re with them. A simple reassurance along this line could help: “I’m with you on this.” And then show this through your action.

Habit 4: Thinking only about your own agenda

“Trust is like the air we breathe — when it’s present, nobody really notices. When it’s absent, everyone notices.”

Warren Buffett 

You have your own agenda. We all do. And your team knows that. People can see when you are not thinking about what your team needs. They know if you’re just concerned about your own career or promotion. They feel it when the team’s concerns are not in your agenda. 

To break this leadership habit, pause and think about how you can help your team. Acknowledge each stakeholder’s goals, and find a common ground on achieving your goals. Ask yourself:

“What’s in it for each stakeholder?”

“What’s in it for my team?”

Habit 5: Passing judgment right away

“A person builds trust by listening, by acknowledging, by respecting.”

Jeanne Brett, Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization

A common leadership habit is making assumptions about people without really understanding where they are coming from.  The problem is, when you make assumptions, you tend to be more cautious or impatient with people. 

Passing negative judgement also indicates that you are not open to learning about the other person.  You have to understand, though, that your perceptions of people are based on your past experiences.  Not all our beliefs and assumptions are true all the time — that’s why they are called assumptions.

To break this leadership habit, focus on finding the truth. Remove any labels you’ve attached to people. Be open to learning about where they are coming from. 

Habit 6: Lack of transparency

“Great leaders, to build trust, have to be honest themselves, have to be a little bit vulnerable themselves.”

Paul Walters, Workplace Consultant at Gallup

You are human with your own fears and challenges.  You have your mistakes. Your team needs to see your human side because this makes them relate to you more. 

When people can’t read you, it makes it harder for them to trust you.  This does not mean you have to be an open book. Everything has to be in balance. But it’s good to show some emotions and some level of vulnerability once in a while. 

What’s stopping you from breaking these habits?

When you look at this list, which ones do you do more of? What is the cause?  

Here are key questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you need to do to break these habits?  
  • How would the next 1-5 years look like if you start making the right choices? 
  • How will this help you?  Why is this important to you?

Start doing deliberate action steps today to make your team trust you. Trust is the basis of every relationship and the foundation of effective leadership. As Stephen Covey says, “Trust is the most essential ingredient in effective communication.  It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

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