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Six questions leaders should be asking about trust

This is a blog about trust. Do you trust me to have something valuable to say? That probably depends on what you already know about me.

Here’s the thing about trust: it’s all very well saying ‘I trust you’, but unless you can explain what you trust me to do, you are not saying very much at all.

Do you trust your employer to pay you each month? I certainly hope so. Do you trust them to take you seriously when you raise a work-related concern? Many of us can, but not everyone. Do you trust them to put employee mental health ahead of commercial priorities? How many people can can honestly say they trust their employer to put them first? 

And here’s the second thing about trust: organisations desperately need it. The more we adopt agile working, demolish unnecessary hierarchies, empower people to experiment with new ideas, the more critical trust becomes on every level.

People who feel trusted are more motivated

Where a high degree of trust exists, magic happens. People are highly motivated because they feel trusted to do their jobs. They feel safe, because they trust their manager will take their concerns seriously and have their best interests at heart. People work harder, trusting they will be recognised. Colleagues who trust each other reciprocate and work equally hard for a common purpose.

Where trust is high, leaders can feel secure that news of mistakes and successes alike will reach them quickly. This gives them time for the right actions to be taken and lessons to be learned. Leaders can delegate with confidence, knowing they can trust people to do a good job. Mental health is better in companies where trust exists. It reduces stress, opens lines of communication and makes people feel they can be themselves at work.

Paul Zak is a neuroscientist whose work focuses on the connections between oxytocin, trust and organisational performance. In ‘Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies’, he says “Trust profoundly improves organisational performance by providing the foundation for effective teamwork and intrinsic motivation”. In other words, trust matters for healthy people, healthy businesses and healthy bottom lines. Science proves it.

Questions to gauge trust in your organisation

As a leader here are some important questions I think you should be asking about trust in your own organisation:

  1. How often are you given beautifully prepared presentations, where what you really need is an honest conversation?
  2. How often do people admit mistakes? If they’re not admitting them, it means they don’t trust you to thank them for sharing. They’re scared there might be repercussions
  3. How often do you actively listen to what’s going on in your business, without an agenda, but simply with a curiosity to understand what it’s like working for you?
  4. How well do teams form, collaborate and communicate? Is this quick and easy? Or is it fraught with issues? Trust facilitates effective communication and enables people to quickly establish rapport
  5. Do people innovate habitually, experimenting with curiosity? In a trust culture, people feel free to experiment, knowing that when things don’t work out, people will be keen to learn, rather than point fingers of blame
  6. How high are stress levels? Stress hormones inhibit oxytocin, the hormone of trust. Don’t let stress get out of control, or you’ll find working relationships suffer and people become less open and honest

If you want to foster more trust in your workplace, here are some practices you can start today that don’t cost a thing:

  • Celebrate success, openly and with gratitude. When we’re thanked for our efforts, we feel respected as human beings
  • Ask people you work with to be ambitious but accept failures will help the team grow stronger and more resilient 
  • Get to know your team - understand what drives people, and what they hope and dream for. When people know their leaders care, they will have greater trust and work with more energy
  • Foster openness - in your meetings, in your information sharing, in your ways of working, reporting and in how you behave as a leader. Openness builds trust so be vulnerable and authentic 

At Brand Learning, we help organisations build cultures of trust that motivate people and deliver results. For a chat about how we might be able to help you, get in touch. We’d love to show you why you can trust us to help you.