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Three simple and essential questions about how to win trust

  1. What is trust?

Our academic colleagues have been debating the definition of trust for over thirty years and they still haven’t reached a final agreement. However, all definitions of trust agree that it involves these three components:-

  • Risk – to trust someone involves making ourselves vulnerable
  • Hope – when you take the risk of trusting someone you hope they won’t let you down
  • Reasons and Feelings – I make a decision to trust you partly based on the evidence and partly on my feelings

With this in mind my own favourite definition of trust comes from Professor Denise Rousseau who said ‘Trust is a psychological state in the mind of the person who is doing the trusting’. The significance of this definition is that it makes it clear that a leader cannot force anyone to trust them, it is their decision and it is highly subjective. You cannot control trust but you can create the conditions in which it is more likely to happen. And this is why the opposite of trust is not distrust but control. If you control people rather than trust them then it takes the risk out of the situation but it also removes the hope as well.

three questions about trust

  1. Why bother with trust?

The organisation ‘Trust Across America’ has been tracking the performance of America’s most trustworthy public companies since 2009. Those companies have produced an 81.6% return on investment in that period versus the 46.3% return of the 500 largest listed companies in the US. In a separate piece of research, Dr. Fred Kiel collected data on 84 CEOs over a seven year period and found that, what he termed, ‘high integrity’ CEOs had a multi-year return of 9.4%, compared ‘low-integrity’ CEOs who generated a mere 1.9% over the same period. These are numbers that should make business leaders sit up and listen.

Trust has always mattered but it matters even more in a world where nothing can be hidden. Transparency of information has revealed abuses of trust across the whole spectrum of leadership – business, politics, religion. Look at the recent revelations arising from the leak of the Panama Papers which led to the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson. In the past, this information would not have come to light, but due to social media the truth is harder to hide. As a result, we have become cynical to those in positions of authority including business leaders. The 2014 Edelman trust barometer revealed that only one in five people trusts business leaders to tell the truth. That is a shocking statistic.

  1. How do I build trust as a leader?

As Einstein quipped, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not’. I’m an executive coach so I’m interested in helping leaders change their behaviour. Now, part of what gets them from A to B is knowledge but knowledge is not enough on its own; they need to change their behaviour to make the knowledge stick. To change behaviour requires new habits. Some people think that you can’t change your habits but I think you can; it’s simply a matter of motivation. We all know people who have given up smoking – it probably wasn’t an easy change to make, but they did it once they summoned the will to take action and make it happen. So when leaders decided to take their trust-building skills up to the level expected by diverse, 21st century stakeholders they will need to build new habits. It comes down to taking action. The author David Marquet summed it up nicely when he said, ‘Bosses think their way to new actions whereas leaders act their way to new thinking’.

Here are the nine habits that leaders need to act into their thinking in order to inspire trust:-

  • Ability
    • Choose to deliver
    • Choose to coach
    • Choose to be consistent
  • Integrity
    • Choose to be honest
    • Choose to be open
    • Choose to be humble
  • Benevolence
    • Choose to evangelise
    • Choose to be brave
    • Choose to be kind

John explores the nine habits that inspire trust in his new book, ‘The Trusted Executive: Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation’. Available to order now via Amazon UK.

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