Trust in Leadership: Why It’s Needed, and How to Build It!

In today’s complex business environment, trust in leadership is more critical than ever. According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, people expect the private sector to lead the way in these tumultuous times. According to the report, business remains the most trusted institution, with confidence in government and media at an all-time low. 

The Edelman study found that people around the world are looking to CEOs and other business leaders to be trustworthy, remain true to their stated values, and advocate for civil discourse and reliable, accurate information. 

Why Business Leaders Should Care About Trust

Trusting one another is the foundation for almost everything people do. It is the foundation of laws, contracts, and personal and professional relationships. It also has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Harvard Business Review found that when organizations have high trust levels, employees are 50% more productive, 76% more engaged, and have 74% lower stress levels than their low-trust counterparts. 

When trust is low within an organization, turnover increases, morale decreases, and productivity declines, ultimately impacting the customer experience. When that happens, the customer will also lose faith in the company. Lack of trust can erode relationships and reputations; once broken, it is hard to repair. 

Three Elements of Trust

1. Authenticity 

One of the most common reasons people distrust someone is that the person is “fake” or pretending to be something they are not. Leaders that withhold their authentic selves or keep team members at arm’s length are often seen as dishonest. When people feel that you are concealing information or being inauthentic, they will be less willing to be vulnerable or share ideas and information. 

Authentic leaders do their best to act with integrity and sincerity. To do this, they work on building their self-awareness, practice communicating with transparency and try to always keep their word. 

2. Empathy

If people perceive that their leaders care more about themselves than other people, they are less likely to believe in their leadership ability. It is common for leaders to be seen as lacking empathy in the workplace, so paying close attention to behaviors that might signal a lack of empathy for others is essential. 

Leaders must check in with team members, listen to what they say, and show concern and compassion when needed. In today’s work environment, it can be easy to forget the importance of making eye contact in meetings, avoiding multitasking when someone else is speaking, or not interrupting one another. Demonstrating empathy can be as simple as remembering to have basic etiquette. Small actions can go a long way to show people you care about them. 

3. Judgment

Great leaders are known for their innovative ideas and good judgment. When stakeholders don’t have faith in a leader’s ability to make logical decisions or create fair policies, it damages their confidence in the organization. This element of trust can be difficult because it is largely based on perception. 

However, leaders that learn how to communicate their ideas effectively and use storytelling to explain complex thoughts are often perceived as having good judgment. Alternately, leaders that make decisions and start initiatives without effective communication are often perceived as having poor judgment or ulterior motivations.

How to Build Trust in the Workplace

Learning how to build trust is a core responsibility of leadership. Every leader needs to be aware of how their actions impact their perceived trustworthiness and how to create trusting relationships at work. There are simple things any leader can do to start building leadership trust each day. 

  • Recognize that trust is earned. Building trust is hard work, and it takes time. To achieve a high level of trust, leaders must consciously align their actions with their values every day.
  • Extend Trust to Others. Trust is a two-way street, and leaders must extend trust to their employees if they want to be trusted by them. Empower team members to make decisions and manage their time.
  • Don’t just ask for feedback – act on it! One common mistake is conducting an employee engagement survey and failing to follow up with the employees afterward. Asking employees how they are doing is not enough. Leaders should circle back to show appreciation for the information and communicate what actions will be taken going forward.
  • Focus on accountability. Leaders must hold themselves accountable to promises made and expectations they have set. Likewise, they must encourage employees to be accountable. Building processes for accountability can ensure that it is embedded throughout the organization. For example, having a debrief and evaluation after completing a project to look at what went well and what did not in order to improve going forward.
  • Invest in employee development. Showing your employees you are willing to invest in their potential is an excellent way to show your confidence in their abilities. It also demonstrates you care about their career aspirations and are eager to help them succeed.