If we want people to follow our leadership direction, there has to be more of a reason for them to do so than, “because I said so.” A recent McKinsey & Company research study stated that building trust (as part of “Supporting Others”) is a key differentiator of effective leadership. We hear it stated that “trust is earned”. But how?

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think about trust outside the workplace for a moment. For example, where do you take your car for maintenance or repairs? Typically it’s to a shop that you trust or have confidence in. What were the factors that built your confidence in a particular shop? They might include:

  • You know the owner, have an ongoing relationship or have had a good past experience at the shop
  • You have confidence in what they tell you—they won’t overcharge you or perform needless repairs, but rather will perform just the services needed within the cost estimate and timeframe provided
  • You respect their technical expertise—they know enough about your particular make and model vehicle to correctly assess what needs to be done

The same principles hold true for gaining the trust of others as a leader. Trust is a short word and yet has profound meaning. Although there are many aspects to trust, I think we can boil it down into three key components: concern, commitment and competence.

Concern. If I believe that you genuinely care about me as a person, I am more likely to trust your direction and guidance. This does not mean you have to be my best friend or know everything about me. It does mean that you take a few moments here and there to ask me how I’m doing, learn about my interests and goals (both about work and maybe outside of work), and really listen to what I have to say in response. Remembering a bit about me also goes a long way – it could be as simple as remembering my birthday, or another important date to me, or something about my personal interests.

Commitment. Yes, this is related to the “walk the talk” cliché. Follow through on what you say you will do. Trust is earned when I believe you are serious about the actions behind your words. If you promise me that you will follow-up and you do indeed get back to me, I’ll remember that. If you can’t keep a commitment, then let me know why and explain the rationale. Don’t espouse principles or values that sound good but that you don’t really believe. I need to know that your word means something and you will try hard to live up to your own expectations.

Competence. Your advice and direction will be much more valued and trusted if I know that you can relate to my world and have had some experience in what I’m dealing with. I don’t expect you to have all the answers or to know exactly how to solve my problems, but asking pertinent questions and giving some technical guidance really builds your credibility with me and gives me confidence that you know what you’re doing. I’m also more likely to trust you in areas where you don’t have as much experience. Part of “competence” is acknowledging your mistakes. No one expects you to have all the answers or make the right decision every time. Admit when you’ve screwed up, and be willing to make a change and learn from the past.

If your team doesn’t seem to be quite as engaged or committed as you would like, or seems to be “going through the motions” rather than really delivering beyond your expectations, analyze each “C” above as it relates to each member of your team and you might find some answers.