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Leadership – the top three trust-building skills

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I’m currently coaching two Country Directors of a global organisation.  Different countries.  Same issue.  Trust.  Or more to the point – distrust.
Or is it mistrust?

The Forton Group, LeadershipZone, leadership, coaching, trust


Stephen Covey Jnr., son of the ‘7 habits’ author, wrote The Speed of Trust.  The rapid and positive impacts of working in an environment of trust.

When trust is in place, things get achieved.  Results are better.  Performance rises. 

Additionally, my clients mentioned the joy in peoples’ faces, the shining eyes, when people get acknowledged and recognised for those achievements.

By contrast, we all recognise the sidelong glances and lowered eyes when trust is gone.  Or the time it takes to get paperwork signed off because no-one has delegated the task in their absence.  And the unwillingness to offer work-shadowing opportunities to junior team members out of fear they may ‘steal their jobs’.

Covey Jnr talks about trust in credibility, capability, intention and integrity as the building blocks of trust.   And this touches on a pet theme of mine at the moment – that some key elements of leadership are invisible.

The Forton Group, LeadershipZone, leadership, coaching, trust


You can’t measure intention or integrity in quite the same way as you can measure visible results and outputs. Which is why they get more attention than the invisible results.

Of course, it’s the iceberg model again.  We can measure results, competencies and capabilities fairly easily – most of the high-performing behaviour models will do that for us.  It’s recognising and measuring the worth of values like character, intent and integrity that people find challenging – and typically leave alone.

Building trust is an essential tool for managers. I can recommend The Speed of Trust as a worthwhile read.  And, in practice, we develop leaders in our Ignite programmes to apply the practical skills of trust building.

My top three trust building actions for leaders are:

  1. Leaders need to listen first: listening is a key leadership skill because it leads to better understanding.  Not just what people are doing, but what’s important to them about their role.  Hearing their challenges and supporting them to succeed, not just telling them what’s wrong and expecting them to be motivated to fix it.  All our leadership development programmes put listening skills at the heart.
  2. Leaders need to extend trust: it’s a key principle of transformational leadership that leaders model the behaviours they expect of others.  This is a challenging principle to some of our participants.  They expect us to talk about their direct reports having to ‘earn trust’.  But that’s mistrust in action – leaders create unease when they don’t start by finding ways to extend trust.  Of course extending trust is context driven – based on the situation, risk levels, characters and capabilities of the people involved.   But that’s the role of the leader – to assess those factors – and extend trust appropriately.
  3. Leaders need to demonstrate their concern: emotional intelligence is another core leadership quality. It takes time to get to know and genuinely care for others.  And it’s worth it because people are motivated for longer in environments of positive emotions.  And when we treat people with respect and dignity, we create that positive environment for trust – and success.

The other concern for me about the professionals who support leaders to develop an environment of trust. Who they are listening to.  Where do they get their news, information or opinions from?  Who are they trusting?

Some of our news media is predicated on seeding mistrust.  They report news from the perspective of ‘what’s wrong?’ and ‘who’s to blame?’

I’ve set up a mini-survey to hear your thoughts – as a professional responsible for developing others – about trust.

If you can spare a few minutes, just click here and let me know your view.  I’ll report back next month with the (anonymised) findings.

With best regards

Helen Caton Hughes, CEO
The Forton Group
Tel: 0845 077 2980 ext. 1
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Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

One thought on “Leadership – the top three trust-building skills

  1. Trust is topical for me, too, as I am designing a short workshop about understanding and dealing with change. One of my objectives is going to be getting everyone there to build a climate of trust. To do that, I want them to be honest and open with each other about what they think – without fear of retribution. Wish me luck!

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