In business, in relationships both intimate and distant, in conversation, in government, education, dare I mention places of worship, throughout our lives, trust is the fabric that holds relationships together. Or not.
We have seen this fabric unravel across society in many ways, in business it ultimately leads to the loss of customers, colleagues, revenue and business failure.
Here are some ways the invisible fabric of trust is unraveled – many will have experienced and acted these behaviours. This is noted here, not to throw stones, but to warn aspiring leaders, personal experience is a hard task master.
Saying one thing; doing another: The fabric of trust is weakened when we act contrary to our words. Our words are an outward expression of our intentions, but if we say one thing and do another thing it is hard for people to identify the real person behind the words. Uncertainty breeds wariness, another word for mistrust. While the loss of one thread may not matter a great deal, the dissonance between our words and actions over time causes more threads to unravel, and the fabric grows very, very weak.
Disingenuous speech: Words that reek of any ‘-ism’ are words that tear at the fabric of trust. What we say matters. Harsh words, abusive language, and sarcastic jokes in the presence of others do serious damage to the invisible fabric of trust.
Making promises that cannot be kept: Your track record is the measure of your credibility. Overpromising may make you look good in a meeting, but incomplete projects are monuments, not trophies. People know who will get things done, and they also know those who merely talk a good game. If you cannot fulfill your promises, you tear a gaping hole in the invisible fabric of trust. Young leaders are especially tempted to overpromise to get a name for themselves. Be careful not to damage your credibility too early in your career through this mistake.
Refusing to apologize after relationships have been damaged: The only possible way for a patch to be sewn on the fabric of trust is through a true apology. An apology can repair the fabric of trust, but like a piece of cloth, there will always be evidence that it was once torn.
There are many, many books on the value of trust in leadership … for good reason. For many, the greatest compliment anyone can provide in business is “I trust you to get this done.” When as individuals or organisations earn trust, they begin to earn confidence and from that influence. President Dwight D Eisenhower expressed it like this, “…the supreme quality for a leader is, unquestionably, integrity…”
While doing the opposite of what has been said above will help maintain trust, to build and strengthen that fabric of trust we could add some things that as leaders we could practice.
Exemplify humility: people won’t trust you if you see you are driven by ego, jealousy or a belief that you are better than they are.
Demonstrate your support for others: Zig Ziglar said “help enough people to succeed, and you will succeed also.” Nothing develops or displays your character and builds trust than putting others first.
Encourage two-way participation with the people you want to influence: trust creates circumstances where people will listen to you and follow you. Listening, not just hearing, is a gift few leaders truly have. When we do this as leaders however we will have included others in our personal or organisational success do we find it having that longevity that is so often lacking.