The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of developing trusting relationships.  In business, trust may be more important than education, wealth, wisdom, failures, or successes.  It is more important than appearance, talent or skill.  Trust will make or break any organization, company, family, or friendship.

The remarkable thing about trust is that trust is not built or manufactured easily or quickly.  Trust cannot be created. Trust is not a story or an idea.  Trust is not an experience. Trust is not a product or a service.  Trust is a gift, and the decisions we make in our personal and professional lives earn this gift.  It’s not what we say, it’s what we do.  It’s how we react to situations both in victory and defeat that define who we are and our trustworthiness.

Trust is the glue of life.  It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships” – Steven Covey.

How Do The Best Leaders Build Trust?

To succeed as association executives and public affairs leaders we must assess the quality of trusting relationships across our organizations—from leaders to staff, staff to leaders, leaders to members or clients, and staff to members or clients.  Do the individuals in each of these groups respect one another, or are they treated differently based on their leadership positions or perceived value to the organization?

The first job of any leader is to inspire trust. Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both are vital to earning trusting relationships.

With the increasing focus on ethics in our society, the character side of trust is quickly becoming critical to success.  Sometimes we ignore the other equally important component of earning trust, which is competency. A leader might be sincere, even honest, but you won’t trust that leader fully if he or she doesn’t get tangible or measurable ROIs.  Conversely, a leader might have great talents and a good track record, but if he or she is not honest, you’re not going to trust that leader either.

Effective leaders focus on making the creation of trust a stated objective. They make it a strategic goal that is focused on, measured, and improved. The true transformation starts with building credibility at the personal level. The foundation of trust is personal credibility, and it can be a real differentiator for any leader. A person’s reputation is a direct reflection of their credibility, and it precedes them in any interactions they might have. When a leader’s credibility and reputation are high, it enables them to establish trust quickly. Leaders who build trust give trust first, they effectively communicate, and they authentically show up.

Ten Habits of Leaders Who Earn Our Trust

  1. They listen.  There is a reason why we were created with two ears and only one mouth! Trustworthy leaders don’t listen so they can talk; they listen so they can learn. By withholding their judgment, being present, and engaging in real dialogue, they embrace differences, create openness, and facilitate connection.
  2. They’re passionate about their work. Passion isn’t about cheerleading or over-the-top enthusiasm. It comes from an inner desire, determination, drive and commitment to the strategic goals of the organization. For many, it’s about making a difference or contributing to the “team.”
  3. They’re good at what they do.  On social media, content may be king, but when it comes to leadership, competence is king. Competence builds performance trust. The competent performance of leadership is a litmus test for believeability.
  4. They care.  They’re kind and considerate, operating with compassion.  They see people as individuals, not with gender, generational, or stereotypical biases.
  5. They operate with self-awareness and accountability. They are careful with their words and actions, operating with self-alignment and self-control. They don’t commit to what they can’t control, make promises they can’t keep, or blame others for their mistakes or shortcomings.
  6. They bring out the best in others. They help them apply and develop their strengths and reach their goals. They celebrate the successes of others.
  7. They have perspective. In the real-world of what matters in life, trust-building leaders have perspective.  These leaders don’t sound the fire alarm with every problem or error that occurs.  They step back before sounding the alarm, put setbacks in context, and understand that things don’t always turn out exactly as planned despite the best efforts of volunteers and staff.
  8. They manage direction and tasks, not people. They paint word-pictures to help people see the end vision, or “what it looks like” to hit the target. They leave the fun in work by setting direction, not dictating details. They clear hurdles, reduce bureaucracy, and make it easier, not harder, for people to get their work done.
  9. They appreciate. They value and acknowledge the efforts and contributions of those they work with. A good leader takes a little more than his share of blame; a little less than his share of credit.  It’s a healthy balance of both.
  10. They see beyond themselves. It’s not about their achievement or their recognition; it’s about something bigger. They link the why behind the what, and help others view the landscape of purpose. These are the people who enable us see why and how our work in the both the non-profit and corporate world does indeed, matter.

Trust can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Inspiring trust is not easy to fake nor is it purchased with wisdom or education. Trust is like a forest. It takes a long time to grow and can burn down with a just a touch of carelessness. But if you focus on these ten components with every interaction, you will foster trusted relationships that will drive results and help your organization achieve strategic initiatives.