Build Trust to Lead

By Bob Weiler

Building trust is critical to effective leadership. Trust accelerates change, aligns and energizes teams, and impacts performance and profitability.

This is an excerpt from The Core 4, by Brimstone’s Managing Founder, Bob Weiler. The book explores the foundational capabilities of any organization, from a small group to a global enterprise—leadership, change, alignment, and energy. These core drivers are critical to accelerating growth, performance, and profitability.

Building Trust Takes Time

I don’t remember an executive team or any team competing at a high level that doesn’t want or need trust. But it takes time. Like love, trust is not a partial thing. If someone says, I kinda love you, you’d probably walk away thinking kinda, really? You either love someone or you don’t. And you either trust someone or you don’t. No wonder it can take a long time to build trust—and only minutes to destroy it.

Though there aren’t any shortcuts, there are a few best practices when issues of trust and respect come up.

  • Address the problem directly. Intervene quickly and decisively if you’re the leader of the team. Hope is not a strategy that resolves anything.
  • Remind your people of the ground rules. Give them examples of how their lack of trust and respect is affecting the team’s progress and the organization’s overall success. When they understand how their behavior is impacting the business, people tend to listen and make positive changes.

How can you build the mutual respect and trust that you and your team need to be extraordinary? Which comes first? Respect and trust are closely intertwined, so it’s very difficult to respect someone you don’t trust and also hard to trust someone you don’t respect.

Accelerate Change with Trust

Is earning and maintaining trust really that important? If you’ve been on a team that has high trust, you know the answer is yes. You feel the speed of the business and change accelerating. You feel it every day in the office, in meetings, and at every level of the organization. Issues are raised faster. Agreeing on recommendations is easier and faster when there’s a high level of trust. And implementation of these recommendations tends to go more smoothly and quickly. Ultimately, customers feel this momentum too.

In short, trust can be a phenomenal engine of accelerated change. And the speed of a team is directly proportional to the amount of trust among the team members.

The exceptional teams we’ve worked with seem to have the ability to sustain high levels of trust for extended periods of time. The team—or often its leader—takes on the non-discussable issues, discusses them openly, and resolves them quickly. The team looks for a real solution instead of falling into the trap of looking for someone to blame. These teams seem to be less ego-driven, and more focused on results. For them, winning together is more important than any one contributor. So they tend to have a low interest in titles, organizational hierarchy, power, and span of control.

When you’re on a team fueled by trust, you know it. These teams don’t last forever, of course, but it’s a great learning experience to be on a team where every member trusts all of the others—where the entire team is united and aligned toward a goal.

Build Trust to Lead

How can you inspire trust in a group that you’ve been given to lead—whether it’s a workgroup, a division, or an enterprise—instead of a team that you selected? If you know who you are and have the basic elements in place—open dialogue, mutual respect—trust in your leadership follows. And trust makes a big difference in all aspects of your team, from morale and motivation to every team member’s willingness to go the extra mile.

As a leader, trust means you don’t have to question every member of your team on everything they’re doing. You trust them to do everything they can to make your team successful. And to keep you informed, voluntarily. In turn, they trust you to keep them in the loop, ask for their input, be respectful, lead with integrity, and make informed decisions. And, when the risks are high, you move forward together because you know the other team members will have your back.

Earning trust involves having others see you in situations that involve some degree of risk—watching how you react, how you use experience and expertise, seeing you perform under challenging circumstances. When your colleagues see that you can successfully manage through these situations—and help them manage through them—their trust in your leadership builds.

One of our senior partners—and a former high-level Fortune 300 executive—often reminds us of a simple truth. Assume good intent. Most people come to work believing (and trusting) that everyone is trying to do a good job. Time will quickly identify those who aren’t, or who have other motives. They won’t earn trust.

Never Say I

Another key to earning trust, as the great Peter Drucker pointed out, is to never say I.

Leaders who have the trust of their colleagues and their team don’t think I. They think we. They instinctively think team. They understand and accept that their job is to make others successful, not to maximize their personal benefits. When things go wrong, they accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it. When the team wins, they let the team take the credit. That kind of leadership behavior creates trust and enables change.

The Core Four: Harness Four Core Business Drivers to Accelerate Your Organization


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