With just four days left in the year, Americans are eagerly watching and waiting for governmental leaders to reach a budget agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – a series of tax increases and spending reductions that will be triggered in 2013. A failure to find a solution will not just send the U.S. economy off a fiscal cliff, it will represent our political leaders falling off a “leadership cliff” as well.
From my perspective, the most damaging leadership cliff from which leaders fall is that of breaking trust with their followers. Repairing broken trust can be a long and arduous process, and the best way to build trust with others is to not break it in the first place. But how does a leader go about intentionally building trust? There are four ways:
1. Demonstrate competence – Leaders build trust when they are good at what they do, both from a technical perspective as well as from a leadership perspective. Part of being a competent leader is having the knowledge and expertise required for your position. Having the education, skills, and know-how for your job allows others to trust your judgement, and coupled with having a track record of success, lets others open themselves to following your lead. Competent leaders also build trust by having excellent problem-solving and decision-making skills. You may not have all the answers, but knowing how to find the answers builds trust in others. Your people learn to trust in your ability to help them get the resources and information they need to do their job.
2. Act with integrity – The most important element in building trust with people is your integrity. Are you honest? Do you gossip? Do you know your core values, and most importantly, do you live them out? Do you walk the talk? Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day the only thing they have left is their character and integrity…that can never be taken away from you. Treating people ethically and equitably, upholding your values and those of the company, and striving to always do the right thing are paramount concerns for a leader concerned with building trust.
3. Care about others – Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You can be the most technically brilliant leader out there, but if you don’t let your guard down and build relationships, people will hold back from fully trusting you because they aren’t sure of your intentions. Trust-builders demonstrate care and concern for the people they lead, viewing their team members as individuals and not just nameless workers doing a job. Communication is a key component of showing care to others. Sharing information about yourself and the organization, being open to feedback from others, and listening with the intent to be influenced are all good strategies. Trusted leaders focus on building rapport with others and valuing the diversity their staff bring to the team.
4. Maintain reliability – Following through on your commitments is a must-have characteristic for trustworthy leaders. Your dependability is only as good as your systems for being organized, and having an organized approach to your work allows you to follow through on your commitments which is a huge trust-booster. Being reliable also means that you hold yourself and your team members accountable. At its core, being accountable means being responsible. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t keep a promise, don’t make it. Dependable people are trustworthy people.
Next year will undoubtedly bring its share of challenges, some of which could cause us to fall off our own leadership cliff. Demonstrating competence, acting with integrity, caring about others, and maintaining reliability will keep you far away from the most treacherous leadership cliff of them all – breaking trust.
Be a trust-builder in 2013!
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.