How leaders quickly build trust

How Leaders Build Trust

Trust is a fundamental pillar of any relationship. It’s something each of us holds deeply, some of us give it away freely, and others rarely ever share it. In the workplace, especially as a leader, the ability to trust others and have those entrusted to us, trust us, is vital. For many today, with the amount of uncertainty in our jobs and the economy, people are scared, and they are looking to leaders for guidance, reassurance, inspiration, or sometimes a glimmer of hope.

Regardless of where we are in our professional journey, building trust is an ongoing process. Our peers may hugely esteem us, how we handle failure will build or can erode trust. We might be new to an organization, thus developing new relationships; trust will play a role in our success.


How do you build or continue to build trust?


Your Presence


Our body language and how we show up in the workplace, whether virtual, written, phone or in person, all have an impact on those around us. There is nothing more powerful than a leader who stops what they are doing, makes direct eye contact and genuinely shares the space. When we, as leaders, demonstrate behaviour that we would want our kids, customers, and closest friends to receive. When we are present, authentic and real, sharing stories of success and failure, we are decupling the stigma of ‘boss.’ People prefer to follow someone who is real and who they believe is interacting with them in a true state.

Let me share a personal story: I received feedback that I’m awful at a first impression. When I meet new people or am under stress, I would resort to a default position of trying to show others I’m smart. I would say things or share my work in a way that, in my mind, would make them think of me as being smart. I needed to stop this bad behaviour. The behaviour was often taken negatively or as if I was criticizing. 99% of the time, it resulted in a lowering of trust and a questioning of my motives. When 900% of the time, I was looking to offer help or ‘kaizen’ in a situation.

The good news is, we can change our behaviours and, over time, generate new patterns of trust signals. By having someone share this behaviour trend with me, I was able to recognize a pattern and take actionable steps to improve. When we self-identify what might be causing a breakdown in trust, if you are uncertain, try asking a colleague or trusted loved one for help or observe your behaviour. We can make small shifts in our non-verbal communication to build new trust signals.

I know it can be hard to share who you are. In a trust assessment I did at a past employer, I scored a 4 out of 100, with 100 being how high you trust others. It doesn’t matter if we trust a lot or little, it’s the approach and desire to be better to make improvements, to try and be willing to show who we are. If we always give in and hide our unique selves, then we are depriving our teams of our best selves, and we make it hard for people to trust us.


Decision Making


We are hardwired for stories; in the absence of a story or understanding, we will naturally confabulate conclusions. As leaders, when we involve others in the decision-making process, or if this isn’t possible, share how we arrived at a decision, we remove the storytelling process that is created in the absence of understanding. Think of it as middle school math; show your work! People don’t just want the answer, bring others along in the journey, the information we share with them and learning from their experiences and knowledge helps build trustworthiness. When others have an invested interest, mutual trust starts to grow.

Mistakes are a part of life. When a mistake happens, perhaps a poor business decision, there is nothing more endearing to a team than to hear from the leader. While these moments are incredibly uncomfortable, there is learning in discomfort. In sharing our failures and the insights we learned, they will come to be some of our most valuable resources; we must be willing to share and learn – show our teams we don’t have all the answers, something many leaders often resist.


Show You Care


You’ve likely heard the saying: Actions speak louder than words. Your actions will always undermine your message if they don’t align. If your non-verbal signals are that you care more about yourself, more about what you have to say, you will likely struggle to have others follow or trust the direction you are going. Empathy has been defined as feeling what the other person is feeling; this might be a stretch to continually be in this state of mind, especially if we are embodying our authentic self. It might not be part of your nature. There are, however, a few things that you can do as a leader, to show others you care:


    • Meetings: Show up on time. If you need to cancel, don’t merely delete or cancel the meeting, give the other attendees context to why you need to move or cancel the meeting.


    • Technology: When in a meeting, put your phone out of sight, give the others in the meeting your full undivided attention. If you must take a call, excuse yourself and then return as soon as possible.


    • Clarity: When communicating with your team, try to be as transparent as possible. Never confuse a brief message with a clear message.


    • Acknowledge: Many companies have a messaging system outside of email; make the most of it if your company does, use gifs, reactions and emoji to encourage and acknowledge your peers.


These simple changes in behaviour won’t take away from your authenticity; they will, however, change the engagements you have with others and your ability to build trust.


When we examine the root cause of a break in trust, it often will fall into one of three areas: how we are showing up, what or how we share decisions and failures as a leader, how we make others feel. To be a great leader, we need to be able to be honest, and self- assess how we are doing in these areas. Doing so is essential.

If you can’t be real at work, share how and why you make decisions and show you care – why should anyone else in your workplace?



I pride myself on helping business leaders build strategies around communication, collaboration and authenticity using a variety of technologies and techniques.

Interested in learning how? Let’s chat, email me or book time directly in my calendar.

Post by SaridLayton

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