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Build Trust to Succeed in Your Career

Trust, a Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams

Why is trust important?

Trust is the foundation of every relationship we have, personal and professional. It is defined by Merriam-Webster as “truthfulness or accuracy, confidence in, rely upon confidently…”. 

This means that every single decision we make or action we take will either increase or decrease trust. Our actions, or lack of action, affects trust in us as an individual, leader, and employee of the organization. Without it, we will fail to form relationships – personal and professional.

It raises the natural question of how do we build trust?  

Build trust as a character trait

Steven Covey introduced the idea of an “emotional bank account” to reflect the amount of trust that is built up in a relationship. It is a good analogy because it helps us recognize that actions can deposit (increase) or withdraw (decrease) from a relationship trust balance. We intuitively know that an overdraft balance in a bank account costs us fees and interest. Whereas in relationships it may cost us the relationship itself! In this blog, even now, I hear my mother’s words to her three children: “if you break my trust in you, you will have to work ten times harder to earn it back!” 

So, how do we build trust in a way that benefits relationships and, in the context of business, benefits our careers?

How do we evaluate trust in others?

Before delving into the steps for building trust, it’s useful to consider how others judge whether we are trustworthy or untrustworthy. There are three fundamental traits:

  • Delivering on commitments made 
  • Creating a safe space for others
  • Living our values every day, in every way

Trust is built and retained when our actions and decisions align with traits that reflect authenticity. Authenticity in actions, behaviours, words, everything really! Trust is not a destination; it is a journey that requires a regular investment of effort to protect. 

Steps to build trust

So, let’s consider some of the traits that encourage behaviours and decisions which promote trust. 

Trust based traits and skills, copyright David Wray, 2021

The foundational skills apply in all aspects of personal leadership, whereas some are specifically needed to build a reputation of being trustworthy. 

Looking at character. It is important to adopt a philosophy of doing what is right, not what is easy – especially when no one is looking! At some point, we all reach a cross in the road that hands us two options. The easy road and the right road. Like any good ethical dilemma, the easy road may not be wrong per se, but it may not be the best road to take. Character leaders always do what is right, this is the essence of a trusted leader.

A simple example illustrates these traits in action. Josefine is a team leader, she is deemed trustworthy by her team, peers, and management. The current quarter is not going well. Her team is unable to deliver the revenue forecast which means the company revenue will fall short of stakeholder expectations. 

Because Josefine is trustworthy, she will not:

  • Manipulate the situation,
  • Throw her team under the proverbial bus when revenue falls short,
  • Lie or hide behind creative truths to minimize the impact, or
  • Misrepresent facts to protect herself from fallout because of missing the revenue target. 

In living her values Josefine is seen as a trusted leader, where the team knows she will do what she says, creates a safe environment for her team members, and lives her values even if it is tougher to do so.

Final Thoughts

A trusted leader inspires individuals to collaborate and achieve something better together than they could alone. Trusted leadership surfaces when others see them as being selfless. This means that the leader creates a safe working environment, does what she/he says they will do, and places the team above their own ambitions. To retain this trust, leaders need to focus on the little things every day – particularly when no one is watching!

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views and ideas for developing trust within teams or with individuals. 

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams, Dilbert

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