"Trust is Earned...

Trust How does your team trust your leadership?

...When Actions Meet Words”

Last month, we explored the leader-follower relationship through the lens of followership. In this edition, we explore another element of this critical business relationship and a topic that many leadership conversations struggle with. Intellectually, every leader, even the poor ones, can agree that trust and trustworthiness is important to effective leadership. Unfortunately, not all leaders, especially the poor ones, know what it takes to be viewed as trustworthy. Moreover, they fail to understand the consequences of not being trusted until the damage to their team is done. As the expression goes, “Losing trust is like crumpling a piece of paper. No matter how much you smooth it out, it is never the same.”

One of the simplest ways to break down the key elements of trust and trustworthiness comes via the Trust Equation developed by Trusted Advisor. The equation states Trustworthiness is equal to Credibility plus Reliability plus Intimacy all divided by Self-Orientation as shown in the diagram below:


Let’s break down each element of the equation through the lens of what we are seeing in this post-pandemic VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment.

  • Credibility ~ Credibility relates to the leader’s words revealed through their honesty and believability. It is about their expertise in their role as a leader and the extent that expertise engenders trust in their words. In a VUCA business environment, credibility can be fleeting as the attitudes, skills and knowledge of three to five years ago are no longer relevant or as relevant as they once were. Being a credible leader does not mean knowing all the answers in the present moment. It does mean the leader embraces an attitude of continuous learning such that they remain relevant as leaders as the environment continuously changes!
  • Reliability ~ Reliability relates to the leader’s actions revealed through their ability to keep the promises they make. The consistency of the leader’s actions over time determines the level of trust those who follow have in the leader. In a VUCA business environment, scenarios, conditions, assumptions change constantly, and in many cases, without much notice. To the extent that business goals and processes may change in order to adapt to these changes, the degree to which the leader leans into the change and yet remains consistent in their focus on the Vision and Mission will reinforce the foundation of trust by their followers!
  • Intimacy ~ Intimacy relates to the leader’s emotional state of trust revealed through the psychological safety created in the culture. Leaders play a crucial role in the climate and culture within their teams and organizations. We see intimacy as the degree to which a leader is approachable through their level of empathy and inclusion embedded in their words and actions. In a VUCA business environment, emotions run the gamut of extremes, so it is crucial leaders understand the impact of psychological safety on the degree of trust they have with their teams! The additional challenge with intimacy is its difficulty in being measured. Where credibility and reliability can be measured in straightforward ways, intimacy is less so. Followers must feel their leader cares about them to the degree open conversations support a high level of trust!
  • Self-Orientation ~ Self-orientation relates to the level of caring the leader has revealed in where the leader focuses their words and actions. It is based simply on whether the leader focuses more on their own personal brand and reputation within the organization or whether they focus more on their teams and ensuring the organization succeeds over their own personal recognition. In a VUCA business environment, it can be all too easy to fall into an “everyone for themselves” mindset. It will be in times such as these where the leader’s self-orientation will show its true colors. The more the leader focuses on their own promotability (often at the expense of their teams), the greater the negative impact they have on their trustworthiness. Conversely, the more the leader focuses on their team, the greater positive impact they have on how their team trusts them!

In our coaching practice, we’ve noticed that while everyone knows trust matters to effective leadership, there is an underlying hesitancy to call it out when lack of trust is an issue. It is one of two issues (lack of integrity being the other) on teams where members struggle to speak of it out loud, especially when the breakdown is trust in the team’s leader or when trust breaks down between members of a leadership team. We’ve seen the same dynamic across businesses of all sizes, industries both non-profit and for-profit. All that is to say that understanding what trust consists of can help these conversations be more constructive by breaking it down to the pieces and parts that can be addressed in a meaningful way!

How does your team trust your leadership and how do you know? If you're not sure, we can help!

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Sunday, 19 September 2021