The Importance of Trust within the Workplace
Trust: it is a simple, mono-syllabic word that impacts us daily and can change our outlook on life in a myriad of ways. It is a key element in the success – or failure – of all relationships, both in our personal and business worlds. So fundamental is it to successful human relationships, it is difficult to form one and have it exist without trust.
Research suggests that a trusting relationship can be described as predictable, caring and faithful. In the work environment, when an employee’s behavior is solid, most people, within reason, can predict that this steadfast behavior will occur consistently – and viola, trust is born! It is a crucial element for fostering growth in the workplace, essential for effective interpersonal relationship building.
What is trust’s impact on leadership? Unfortunately, few leadership programs have thoroughly explored the consequences and significance of trust, what it is and what it is not. We do know that an absence of trust, leading to confusion, stress, worry, and fear, creates a ripple effect which can spread throughout an organization. Without it, employees can experience feelings of insecurity and concern that manifest as problems within the work environment. But when trust is present, individuals feel a certain confidence and calm that everything will work out.
The fact is that trust is an essential ingredient of effective leadership, helping to foster a successful working enterprise. It is virtually the foundation of a satisfying and rewarding, bond among all those in the workplace. Further, by modeling the behaviors that promote and build trusting relationships, leaders set the example for others. In return, they reap the benefits of trust from their employees, such as high morale, motivation, improved honesty, and an over-all atmosphere of teamwork.
Leadership trust is a compilation of what you accomplish, your outcomes, your skill-set and competencies, plus who you are. Trust in leadership takes on a variety of forms. It can be as simple as the way your CEO interacts with management. It also manifests itself in how front-line employees project their feelings about the organization, or even in the way they approach customers and clients. Truly, trust in leadership presents itself as a total package of many interpersonal interactions. However, we must be cautious because all of these interactions are extraordinarily fragile. Even in the best work settings, trust can potentially be under the gun with every passing moment. Each time a manager says something about another individual without their knowledge or e-mails are sent, trust needs to be protected with vigor.
The concept of trust may be considered ethereal in scope, but the actual process of nurturing, maintaining, and repairing trust requires concrete actions by everyone involved, not just the few. Building trust takes time and effort, but it takes much less time than is wasted by needing to double-check every piece of work – the state of affairs that occurs due to lack of trust in subordinates, when delegation no longer seems to be a plausible option.
Trusting someone has a direct correlation with valuing them. It is fair to say then that if there is no value, there is no trust. This goes for customers, clients, and patients as much as employees. All the right words and positive feelings about how valued you are as an employee are destroyed in a flash by a single instance when you realize that you are not trusted. The message is quickly spread that nobody is really valued by the organization. Leaders whose style is command and control display little trust, if any, towards anyone. This type of leadership creates an us versus them mentality.
Many leaders do not intend to portray a lack of trust toward their people, but it is how their actions are perceived nevertheless. Consider this scenario: there is no time to explain or coach the task at hand, so the leader performs the job instead. After all, perhaps there are just a few moments to make a decision, so it seems obvious the leader should do it, thereby removing the risk for making a mistake. Unfortunately, this is how the scenario is interpreted by fellow staff members, whether intended or not. Employees will tend to believe their leaders do the work themselves because they don’t trust anyone else to do it properly. That’s where the chatter begins with statements like “She’s a control freak,” or, “He makes every decision of any importance,” or even “They won’t even trust us enough to make the decisions that are crucial to our work.”
But take it a step further and think about the risks for the organization as a whole, which very likely will be viewed as an entity that suffers from a chronic lack of trust. Research tells us that the characteristics of an organization experiencing a trust deficit can be described as follows:
• A culture of neurotic secrecy, where important information is not readily shared.
• An organization based on the “silo” principle, one with minimal sharing of information between departments.
• Internal competitiveness that thwarts efforts at co-operation and takes attention away from competition.
• An environment where all major decisions must be referred upwards, creating a bottleneck for senior management’s time and progress slowing to a snail’s pace.
• Growing numbers of internal cliques that shatter communication and distract the organization through excessive political games.
So we agree, then, that trust in and among the workforce is crucial. What does it take to initiate this actionable process? Recently I was introduced to some steps on how one paves a path towards enduring trust. The first one involves “effective communication”. When we communicate effectively with another person we create an opportunity that moves the relationship to the next level of “real understanding.” This step occurs when people have communicated to the point of a truly honest and deep understanding. These two steps combined can ultimately lead to the third and final one of “mutual respect.” Mutual respect is the last component which leads to trust; it is deeper and must come from communication and understanding. Once a relationship has experienced this level of mutual respect, it allows the individuals involved to experience a stable, long-term trusting relationship. It is a feeling that binds people together over time, through trials and tribulations whether in their personal or professional lives.
In conclusion, trust in leadership is the fundamental basis for a productive, satisfying and fun business environment. Mistrust warps working relationships and undermines people’s confidence not only in themselves, but also in those whom they work for and with. As a leader, you need to provide trust, since the only way to prove that it exists is by experience. Trust is truly a gift, and as a leader, you need to know it begins with you.