What is the power of trust in leadership?
When trust is present, it creates a positive environment where people feel safe to take risks, share ideas, and be authentic. This fosters innovation, collaboration, and growth, making trust a powerful multiplier that accelerates processes, reduces costs, and increases efficiency. Trust building helps teams step into ambiguity, stay committed to managing the unknown with confidence, and embrace change as an opportunity to learn, grow, and do great work together.
The single most important quality of a great leader is that they have integrity and character displayed in such a way that people know they can trust them. Trust is fundamental in every relationship, and without trust between leaders and followers, there will be no true following and goals will not be effectively reached.
With trust, leaders are enabled to create a safe space for expression, risk, mistakes, and doing so without fear of harmful repercussions. Team members are much more likely to be committed to their work and organizational goals. They are likely to be loyal to the leader and willingly go the second mile as needed.
Patrick Lencioni puts “Lack of Trust” as the foundation of his model in the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a reason. When it is broken, you can expect other dysfunction to follow. So, while there may be other important factors in effective leadership, trust is widely considered to be a crucial foundation for success.
Research repeatedly shows that trust represents a core human need we all have: to trust others, to be trusted in return, and to trust in ourselves. When trust is present, people align around a mutual purpose and feel empowered. When trust is absent, or made vulnerable, work becomes more difficult and everything takes longer. Change is so rapid and ongoing in today’s culture that trust is needed more than ever.
But trust is a two-way street. It’s not just that team members must trust their leaders—leaders must be able to trust their teams. Leaders must trust their team members in order to effectively delegate tasks and responsibilities and to empower them to take ownership of their work. Trust is the most valuable currency being exchanged within a high-performing team. Each leader and team member is either depositing or withdrawing trust in every interpersonal interaction they have. The thing is, nearly all of us would insist that we are personally trustworthy, but it’s likely we don’t trust everyone on the team.
Think about this—you know it is true. What if you don’t trust the competence of a team member? Or what if you think someone is unreliable, withholds information from you, or is willing to throw you under the bus? Whether you ever speak it aloud or if you just have it simmering beneath the surface, you can be sure that these trust issues are showing up in how we lead the entire team. The inability to trust one person affects everyone.
If leaders aren’t focused on trust, everything will falter and suffer. So how can we build trust?
First, make sure you rely on your personal power, not positional power. Invest in individual relationships with your team. Don’t expect them to follow you because you are the boss. Help them want to follow because they know you and they feel seen by you.
Regularly evaluate your own leadership and intentionally develop your competence. Your team needs to see your own competence growing in order to become more competent themselves and to believe in you.
Consistency is necessary across the board. This includes your decisions, treatment of people, upholding values, and personal areas. You are a total package—dropping the trust ball in one area will affect you across the board.
Commitment to the team and to the group goals, the company mission is vital. Team members must be aware you are committed to them, and you must know they are committed to you. Risk and progress can only happen when commitment is central.
Obvious caring is vital. Every person has personal and private feelings and needs. To have those ignored or feel they are unimportant is to be discouraged and feel there is no real place to belong. A leader or team that gives time and energy to communicating genuine care invests in their own future.
To build trust, there must be credibility. Credibility is believability. To trust the goals and directions of the leader, and for the leader to be confident to move forward, there must be a shared sense of responsibility and believability.
Candor, being open and honest in expression, frank but kind communication, is refreshing and confidence building. Emotional trust and safety are critical.
While most leaders show abilities in one or more of these, understanding what each means in building trust and how to practice each will advance you as a leader who is trustworthy.
Leadership trust is vital. Trust means “uncompromised by doubt.” People can’t do their best work if they doubt their leader’s or team member’s intentions or capabilities, the direction or viability of the organization, or if they doubt their own ability to keep up with the demands placed on them. This is especially true in today’s environment of complex change and uncertainty when employees are being asked to do more with less.
Effective leadership requires knowing how to build and keep trust, whether it’s with individuals, on teams, or across the organization. Teams move at the speed of trust—and whole organizations move at the speed of their teams.