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How to show you are trustworthy as a leader

In the last episode, we talked about trust and how working environments with a high level of trust between people makes everything else is easier, so naturally, we want to cultivate more of it.

Trust is a living organic thing that grows between people, and despite what I commonly see talked about you can't manufacture it and you can't force someone else to trust you. Instead, we need to be trustworthy and that's based on four foundational cores - integrity, intent, capability and results.

We talked about those in the last episode so if you missed it or want a refresher you can always go back and listen again. In this episode, we are going to explore how you can bring those four foundational cores to life, the behaviours that demonstrate them as a leader and the ones that undermine them and can have a negative impact on the trust in your relationships.

So are you ready? It's time to get curious about the behaviours that make you trustworthy and make some choices about how you show others that they can trust you?

Why do we even need to talk about being trustworthy as a leader?

I think we all like think that we are trustworthy, very few of us set out to betray someone else's trust so this may seem like a strange topic to discuss. And if we were all perceived as being as trustworthy as we like to think we are cultivating high trust work environments would indeed not be a good subject for discussion.

Yet somewhere between the principle we set ourselves to be trustworthy and how trustworthy we are perceived to be something goes wrong.

And those things that go wrong are down to the things that we do to demonstrate those four foundational cores of being trustworthy. We can't control how someone else sees and interprets our behaviours but we absolutely have a choice about how we behave, the things we say and the things we do.

It is also worth saying that we are not going to get this right all the time - and probably the most useful way I have come across for thinking about trust is to think of it like a bank account. You can do things that make a deposit and you can do things that make withdrawals from this trust account. To get a dividend from having a high trust working environment we need to keep this account in credit and as far in credit as possible so if we accidentally make a withdrawal we don't go overdrawn and start to pay penalties and make everything we do harder. As a leader, we need to actively manage those trust bank accounts with each person in our team and with the team as a whole.

The idea of the four cores of being trustworthy comes from the book The Speed of Trust by Stephen MR Covey and Rebecca R Merrill and it's a book I recommend if you are looking to dig a little deeper into these concepts.

Demonstrating integrity as a leader

The first foundational core of trust is integrity, that is being honest and then standing by your principles even if there is a personal cost to you, it's doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it. The key behaviours here are being honest, telling the truth and keeping your word. As a leader, it is about being clear where you stand on issues and being open and genuine and transparent.

When your team knows what matters to you and what is and is not OK with you it's much easier for them to trust you and to perform well. It's the equivalent of them knowing what court they are playing a game on and avoids them say trying to play tennis on a football pitch.

Obviously, the opposite of these kinds of behaviours are telling lies, being deceptive and covering things up, but there is also a dangerous middle ground where you are trying to appear to be clear and transparent but in reality, you are spinning facts, positioning yourself, following a hidden agenda and withholding information. These behaviours all erode trust over time. I'm sure you can all think of a manager who has spun facts to you and then spun them differently to someone else, how bad that left you feeling and how you trusted them less as a result.

And as leaders, the watch out here is that this can happen over even seemingly little things like telling someone they are important and then taking a call in the middle of your conversation with them.

Acting with integrity as a leader also shows in how you hold yourself and others to account. How important are deadlines? How do you keep the commitments you make to the team? Obviously, we want to avoid breaking our promises so we need to make commitments with care, but we also need to avoid being evasive and only making vague commitments that can't be pinned down. We need to avoid playing the blame game and pointing fingers when things go wrong. When we do we make a huge withdrawal from the trust account not only of the person we are blaming but also from the rest of the team who will see what has happened.

So when things do go wrong, as they inevitably will, we need to make sure we don't sweep it under the carpet but that we tackle the issues. We need to admit if we have made a mistake, we need to apologise quickly, we need to put things right as fast as we can. As well as holding ourselves to account when things go wrong we need to do the same for the people in our team. We need to make it easy for them to tell us when mistakes happen, our reactions in that moment matter and will impact how likely anyone in the team is to talk to you about these kinds of things in the future.

Another way we show our integrity and make it easier for those around us to trust us is the way we talk about people. When we show our loyalty and talk highly of people, especially when they are not there, when we speak up for others who are not present and when we pass the credit to the person who deserves it, other people will be more confident in you. I remember one very senior leader I was doing some work for who when I was in the room was full of praise for what I was doing but who I later found out was taking the credit for himself in front of his boss, the CEO. I was very hurt, not because the recognition itself was important to me, but because I felt betrayed, and it certainly left me very wary of him in the future and less motivated to work with him.

Demonstrating your intent as a leader

The next foundational core is intent. What are your motives for doing what you do? If people believe your intentions are good they are more likely to trust you. We find it harder to trust say politicians whose intent we thing is self-centred and whose motives we think are about gaining power. That's also a dynamic we see play out in the workplace.

There are two elements we need to consider with intent - what our intent actually is and then how people perceive our intents and our leadership need to reflect that.

Firstly as leaders, we need to check in with ourselves about our intents. Why really are we doing the things we are doing. This is one of the many areas where applying our curiosity inwards is important with some good reflective practices. This can be as simple as just asking ourselves at the start of each meeting what our intent is in that meeting.

I also think it's a really important question to ask yourself when you are planning anything, by knowing what your intentions are as well as what you are going to deliver with this plan you can make sure you deliver the right things in the right way.

How someone perceives our intent is going to be personal to them, their beliefs, their values and their previous experiences. We can't change those but we can be very clear and very consistent about our intentions. We talked before about being transparent and clear, well stating and being clear about our intentions is important too and we can weave this into our day to day management practices for example when we delegate explaining why things need doing in a certain way and what we are trying to achieve by doing them. Being really clear about our expectations also helps people understand our intentions.

We also demonstrate our intent in how we treat people. Are you consistently respectful to everyone? Even those who can't help you? I know of more than one company who ask the receptionist to feedback on interview candidates for this very reason - if someone behaves differently with someone they perceive not to be part of the interview process this throws up red flags to the interview panel.

When we are looking to create a high trust environment one of the most powerful ways we can share that intent is to extend our trust to others first. It's very tempting, especially when someone is new or when lots is changing to micromanage or delegate without giving someone the authority to do things, but when we do this we are actually signalling that we don't trust them. Yes, our teams need our support and help, especially when something is new, but we can grow trust in those moments by how we extend trust through the delegation process while keeping just the right amount of control overall so someone can learn without things going catastrophically wrong.

Demonstrating our capability as leaders

The third foundational core is Capability. This is about having the skills and knowledge to do what you do, it's about using them and about keeping them up to date. We trust people who have the capabilities we need and use them appropriately.

This is an area where your skills as a curious choice maker are really going to come to the fore. When you ask great questions and listening to understand the answers, exploring your area of expertise and seek input from others about theirs, when your team see you working on developing your own skills and knowledge, not only will they do the same but they will also know you value learning and your know your stuff so are worth listening to.

This isn't about showing how expert you are by giving your opinion at every opportunity, it's about listening first and then building a shared understanding rather than listening to give your answer. It's about being able to continuously improve what you and your team do, not learning for learning sake, it's about learning and being curious, then making choices so you can get great results.

Demonstrating trustworthy results as a leader

Which leads us to the fourth core foundation, results.

As leaders, we will be more trusted when we have a track record of getting great results, when our reputation is one of getting things done well, on time, on budget and in the right way. We need to balance what we are promising with what we deliver, when we over-promising and under-deliver people's belief in our ability is dented. And when we under-promise in the first place we won't be trusted with bigger projects or roles since if we don't think we can why should they, even if our track record is one of over-delivering.

A big part of delivering results is creating the right environment for people to perform - creating that high trust environment in the first place. So bringing all the things we have talked about into play is part of delivering results.

Getting curious about the situation you and the team are in, confronting the reality of the situation and working on the right things, not avoiding the difficult parts, delegating authority as well as tasks and then being loyal to your team, making the decisions you need to make and being clear on your intent when you do, these are all going to help you build the high trust environment that you need to continually be building in order to be a high performing team.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have looked at how what you do as a leader directly impacts the levels of trust in your team and with the people you work with. We have looked at how while you can't make someone trust you since that is their decision alone, you can show them that you are trustworthy, that is't OK to trust you. How you demonstrate the four foundational cores of trust, your integrity, your intent, your capability and your results matters. Done right trust grows and you are continually topping up the trust bank account you have with people, done wrong and that trust leaks out of the account eventually leaving you either overdrawn or totally bankrupt.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience. Some will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope, my intent, is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is 

What behaviour do you need to change to better show those around you that they can trust you?

I suggest you pick one at a time, get really good at it and then pick another to work on.

If you found this episode useful and thought-provoking I would love it if you subscribe and share it with others who you think would find it useful too. It would also be brilliant if you could leave a review where ever you listen to podcasts

If you would like to know more about implementing these ideas please get in touch and let's talk about how you can become an even better leader, one curious choice at a time. Thank you for listening, and until the next time stay curious and I look forward to talking to you again soon.