female leaders discussing business in modern corporate office as an example of how to build trust by leading with authenticity

The glue that holds all relationships together–including the relationship between the leader and the led–is trust, and trust is based on integrity.

Brian Tracy

This is one of my favorite quotes it clearly conceptualizes an intimate relationship based on mutual trust between those who lead and those who follow. There’s no way around it; people will not follow you if they don’t trust you. It does not  matter how intelligent, charismatic, experienced, or talented.  You will not be a great leader, not even a good leader, if your team does NOT trust you.  The trust relationship between you and your team is one of the most important relationships you will ever have outside of family or faith.  

Trust is a tenuous interpersonal link between leaders and followers. It is the fundamental belief that, as a follower, I can rely on my leader’s actions, words, and intentions.  That my leader will try to deliver on their commitments and that they have “some” consideration for my best interest.   Trust is critically important because, as the follower, I am vulnerable to those actions, words, and intentions.  As the follower, I don’t possess the status, position level, or power of the leader, so I have more risk and exposure than the leader.  If I have that risk, then my family shares that risk.  

As The Follower

We have all been followers throughout our careers, so we recognize and understand that sense of vulnerability and sometimes helplessness to the desires, emotions, and decisions of our leaders.  I have been blessed to work for many great leaders throughout my career. I have also been blessed to work for a few terrible ones. I know that sounds weird. How could both great and terrible leaders be a blessing? The great leaders validated the characteristics and behaviors of the Leader I aspire to be.  The terrible leaders demonstrated and substantiated the implications and impact of the Leader I refuse to be. While I can name a dozen important leadership characteristics that differentiated the great leaders from the terrible ones, if I am honest with myself, it boiled down to one differentiator that mattered most for me– Trust.  

Trust above all else.  All the great leaders I trusted and the terrible ones I did not.  With the great leaders, I trusted their actions, words, and intentions.  I trusted that, if I delivered stellar results for them, with integrity, loyalty and commitment, these leaders would be invested in me and my best interest.  With the terrible leaders, no matter what I delivered or how I delivered it, I never felt secure in my job. I was always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.”  I always suspected that the positive praise that they used with me in private did not match how they viewed or discussed me with others. They were never invested in me, my career, or my family.  No trust.  If you have been around long enough – you’ve had that terrible leader. You may have that leader right now.

My recommendation is that, if you have a leader you don’t trust – find a new one.  Whether you go to another team or to another organization, just go.  If you don’t trust your leader, there is an 99.99% probability that they don’t trust you either.   NOTE: Leaders normally don’t keep people on their team that they don’t trust.. no matter how well they perform.  So…you know what I am going to say… Just GO!

If you don’t trust your leader, you’ve probably been contemplating and dreaming about leaving. You are probably miserable and not bringing 100% of yourself to work every day.  You are either on cruise control, giving just enough to not be fired or hiding out in a bomb shelter trying to make it unnoticed through each day until the next paycheck.   Unfortunately, both scenarios are dangerous and destined for failure.   Sooner or later, you will be exposed; someone unexpected will notice the cruising or the hiding – like your leader, your leader’s leader, your peers,   your team or your customers.  They will notice and take note.  It will negatively affect your reputation and their perception of you.  Then the unthinkable, you wake up one day and find yourself expendable or on the wrong side of an organizational restructure.   If that isn’t enough to galvanize you into action, how about this?  We spend most of our waking adult lives at work, and life is way too short to be miserable or hiding every day.

As a Leader

I don’t think any of us wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and decide to be that terrible distrusted leader, whose most talented people are leaving, hiding, or not bringing 100% of themselves to work every day.  The good news, while the competition, marketplace, or macroeconomic situation may not be in your power to control, trust and being a trusted leader is within your power. Are you a trusted leader? Are you leading in a trusted organization?  Are you engaging in the right activities to inspire and build trust with your team? Are you building trust through your leadership character and authenticity?

Leadership requires five ingredients–brains, energy,  determination, trust, and ethics. The key challenges today are in terms of the last two- trust and ethics.

Fred Hilmer

Before we dive into the trust building power of Authentic Leadership, let’s talk about trust. Trust seems to be in serious decline or even historic lows in our world today. This is an across the spectrum phenomena – Big Business, Media, Criminal Justice System, Healthcare, Public Schools, Government, Banks …, trust erosion is widespread and intensifying.  

In my research, I have seen this phenomena called a trust crisis, a trust meltdown, and even a distrust tsunami.  It doesn’t matter what name you give it; the decline in trust represents one of the most significant challenges facing leaders today. To most leaders, this trust challenge is alarming, intimidating, and discouraging. We know instincively distrust has a negative impact on our business, but it’s tough to get our arms around the importance to take immediate action around trust. What actions do we take and how much of our resources do we allocate to activities that build organizational trust?  Trust in business is relational, abstract, and tough to measure or quantify.  In my view, the following quote from Stephen M.R. Covey  clearly articulates the “business case”for high trust leadership in a high trust organization.

Think about it this way: When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed.  A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!             

Stephen M.R. Covey- Author The Speed of Trust

As leaders, we owe everyone that 300% organization; our teammates, stakeholders, shareholders, customers, vendors… everyone.   In my experience,  organizational trust is one of the most powerful competitive advantages for any organization.  Most importantly organizational trust is almost entirely within the scope, influence and power of every leader.  

As a leader, you are tasked to deliver great results by building and leading high-performance teams. You must lead with vision, purpose, effective communication, strategic agility, innovation, passion, foresight, and many other abilities. But if your team or organization does not trust you, all those great leadership abilities are obstructed or incapacitated. There is tremendous data that consistently reaffirms the overwhelming competitive and marketplace advantages attributed to high trust organizations.

High Trust organizations have higher/better:

• Productivity, Revenue Generation and Profit Growth

• Morale, Talent Recruitment and Retention

• Customer Service and Retention

• Communication, Agility and Innovation

• Diversity and Teamwork

• Transformation and Change Management

This is today’s leadership quandary; leaders need to build a high trust organization in a low trust world. Today’s leader has to determine the best courses of action to engage and counteract the rising wave of distrust. This is the reality we face: the wave is real, and it can undermine our ability to lead. So, what do we do? We get to work!

Up Next – Building Trust By Leading With Authenticity Series:Part 2 – Building Trusted Leadership

Live Without Limits!