How to Build Trust With Your Team As a Leader (19 Ways)

Does your team trust you?

I mean, really. Do they?

I want you to think about bosses you’ve had in the past that you couldn’t trust. If you can’t, think of coworkers.

How did that affect your relationship with them? How did that affect the way you worked with them? How did that affect their influence with you?

Trust is important. If your people can’t trust you, it’s going to hurt your ability to lead – A LOT.

If your team (or even others) can’t trust that what you say is the truth, are looking over their shoulders to protect themselves because they don’t trust that you have their back, if they can’t rely on you to do what you say, if they can’t trust you to keep confident what you tell them in confidence – how effective do you think you will be?

I’ll give you a hint: Not very effective.

To lead effectively, you must be someone they can trust.

How do you that?

That’s what we will discuss here. Let’s dive in.

1. Tell the truth

This one just makes sense. If you want people to trust you, you need to be someone who tells the truth.

You don’t lie or twist the truth toward your end, you tell people the truth. They know what you say is true.

You don’t lie to cover up mistakes or hide something. You speak truth.

Many of the other ways to build trust can help with trust, but if you are one who lies or doesn’t follow through on their commitments, many of the other ways wont matter. Speaking truth and being trustworthy matter. 

2. Show trust

Have you ever been in the situation where you aren’t trusted (even though you should be). Your boss or whoever is constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doing it right.

You aren’t given information because they don’t trust you with it.

How does that make you feel? How engaged and loyal are you? How much influence do those people have with you?

My guess is not much.

Give trust to your team. Trust them with information (see next point). Keep them in the know.

Trust them in their work. This doesn’t mean you blindly trust them with no guidance or check-ins or accountability. You do provide clear expectations, the support they need, and accountability, but then you trust them to get their work done, providing whatever guidance needed along the way.

If you feel you can’t trust your team and that you have to “control” them, that, my friend, is a sign that you need to work on your leadership. It’s you that is the issue, not them.

When you trust others, it builds trust in return.

3. Communicate honestly, clearly, openly

Hiding information or taking too long to share information can build distrust. When you don’t trust your team enough to let them know what’s going on or you hold information as a powerplay, it builds distrust with your team.

Instead, be as honest as you can with your team. Unless it’s something you legally, etc. cannot share, share. This not only builds trust, but when your people have all the information, they can make better decisions and do their jobs better.

Think about how you feel when people trust you with information, or vice versa, they withhold information.

Show trust. If you feel you can’t, reread the second-to-last paragraph in #2.

how to build trust communicate

4. Take ownership (don’t blame)

Have you ever had a boss or just been around a coworker who never took responsibility for what they did or for what they were responsible for? They always blamed their team or circumstances or other people?

It doesn’t inspire much loyalty, does it?

What about someone who says “It’s on me. I messed up. Here’s what we are going to do to fix it.”

Which one inspires more loyalty and has more influence with you? My guess is the second one.

Be a person who takes ownership. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can always control your response.

As a person, you are responsible for everything to do with you. As a leader, you are also responsible for your team and their results. If they mess up or don’t meet expectations, your boss isn’t going to go to them about it, he/she is going to go to you.

Blaming makes you weak and you lose trust. Taking ownership and working to resolve it makes you look strong.

Be a leader who takes ownership.

5. Pass the credit

Jim Collins in Good to Great said that great leaders pass the credit for the good and take ownership of the bad. He also said not-so-great leaders do the opposite. They take the credit for the good and pass blame when things go wrong.

Let’s look at you. Metaphorically close your eyes (because, I mean, if you close them for real, you won’t be able to read the rest of this) and go back to a team project you were a part of in school or even at work. You worked so hard on the project, but then, when someone else presented the project, they took the credit for it.

How did (or would) that make you feel? How does that affect your trust in that person?

Don’t be like that. Pass the credit. It will build trust goodwill with others and will make them want to work with you more.

6. Be genuine

Ever been around someone who was fake?

Or have you ever had a boss or just anyone who pretended to care about you, but you knew it wasn’t genuine? Or they gave you “praise” about something, but you know it was just to “show appreciation” but they didn’t really care?

Yeah, not cool. They’re not someone you would really trust and want to follow, is it?

Don’t be like that.

Be genuine. Being fake is the same as lying to people. When you pretend to care or give fake praise or appreciation, people notice, and that hurts your trust with them.

Do show appreciation, but make sure it’s genuine. Do show care toward people, but make sure it’s genuine.

Otherwise you just hurt you trust with people.

how to build trust be genuine

7. Serve the mission and team over yourself

Your motive makes a huge impact on your effectiveness as a leader in multiple ways.

First, as Patrick Lencioni says in The Motive, if your motive is about you, what you get out of your position, or if you see it as a reward, that’s going to hurt your ability as a leader and you won’t have the impact that you should.

However, if your mentality is that of service and doing the hard work and doing what’s tough, even if you don’t like it, then your effectiveness will grow.

Your motive can make the difference between the success and failure of your team or organization. It’s that important.

In that, it affects trust, too. Think about it this way: if you have a boss/leader who you know is just about them, their career, or what they can get out of the position (the perks, etc.), how much influence will that person have with you?

How much will you trust them? If you know their #1 is themselves and what they can get out of it, do you trust their decisions and what they say as much?

Likely not.

Your team will recognize your motive. They will see what you are about. If you are about yourself, your team will see it, and it will hurt their trust in you and, with that, your ability to lead.

8. Build a culture of safety (not of compliance)

The culture you build matters (and part of this goes back to the #2).

First truth: you have a culture whether you intentionally created one or not. There is one, so it’s probably a good idea to be intentional about it.

Second, if you build a culture of compliance and fear, not only are you hurting the impact and results you can get as an organization, you are destroying the morale and trust of your employees.

A culture of compliance, of fear, is generally one where the bosses/leaders/managers are about walking around to make sure you are doing it right. They are out to catch you doing wrong to “get” you for it.

People don’t feel safe speaking up or making mistakes because of the fear that is created.

When you, however, are about helping instead of compliance, about supporting instead of getting, that makes a huge difference.

When you build psychological safety where people feel free to speak up, disagree, make mistakes, and they know you are there to support and help them in their work, then that builds trust with them.

Again, there is a difference between a safe culture of accountability and one of compliance.

Be intentional about the culture you build.

9. Keep confidentiality (and don’t gossip)

I mean, if you know someone will share whatever you tell them with others, even if you ask them not to, you aren’t going to trust that person, right?

If you find out someone talks negative about you behind your back but with smiles on their face when they see you, you won’t really trust that person, right?

Then make sure you aren’t that kind of person.

Be a person who keeps confidences, who doesn’t talk about people behind their back, and doesn’t even listen when others gossip or talk negative about others that way.

Do that, and it will build trust.

how to build trust dont gossip

10. Follow through on your commitments (be reliable)

If you know someone isn’t likely to finish what they said they will finish by when they said they would, or if they will finish it period, you’re not going to have very much trust with them, right?

Especially, if they hem and haw or even lie about it, all that does is destroy trust.

It’s no different with you and your team.

Yes, mistakes will happen, but when they do, own them and work to fix it. But if you keep failing to be reliable, you will be seen as unreliable. If you are seen as unreliable, people won’t believe what you say.

If they don’t believe what you say, well, they won’t trust you. Makes sense, right?

Be reliable.

11. Admit your mistakes

Some leaders hide their mistakes because they fear how it will make them look. They are concerned about their status or how people see them as a leader, so they never want to admit that they may be (gasp) wrong or that they could have messed up somehow.

That’s ridiculous though, and it’s a terrible mentality. We all make mistakes and it’s one of the major ways we learn.

When you hide your mistakes and pretend they didn’t happen, that’s lying.

Even if they don’t see it immediately, often your team sees and knows your mistakes, and when you lie to hide them or pretend they didn’t happen, it makes you look fake, and you hurt your trust with your team.

how to build trust admit mistakes

12. Admit when you don’t know

Simon Sinek gives a story of how he was sitting with an executive team during a sales presentation. As the presenter continued to speak, Sinek didn’t understand what they guy was saying, but the rest of the executives seemed to understand as everyone just kept listening.

Sinek raised his hand and said something to the sort of “Hey, sorry, I don’t really get what you are saying. Would you please explain it to me.”

Come to find out, the executives didn’t understand either! They just kept going along with it and nodding because they feared “looking stupid” by saying something. They could have ended up spending thousands of dollars for something they didn’t need and would have never used just because no one was brave enough to admit “I don’t understand.”

This mentality can affect all of us. We think everyone understands but us, and we don’t want to look stupid. So we choose to be stupid instead of potentially look stupid.

The thing is, generally, if you don’t know, others don’t either, and by you speaking up, people often silently thank you for doing so.

I also heard another story of how a director was asked to look through the camera at the shot to see what he thought. He did, but it was all black (the lens cap was on). He feared looking dumb because he didn’t know why he didn’t see anything, so he just pretended and said the shot was good.

He kind of lost a bit of respect and trust from his team then.

Don’t be that way. Not only does not asking keep you in ignorance (and you only have to ask the “stupid” question once), but it can destroy trust as well.

When you fake knowing, eventually people find out, and if you faked it, that’s lying, and it will hurt trust.

You aren’t expected to know everything as a leader. If you don’t know, find out. Ask. Don’t fake it.

13. Do what is right, even when no one is looking, even when it’s hard

Just do what’s right.

Even if no one is seeing, eventually it will come to the light.

In so many of the scandals we see on the news, no one thought anyone would find out. They thought what they were doing was secret.

But it came to light.

Be a person who does what is right. Don’t cut corners. Don’t cheat. Do what is right, and that build respect and trust (and keeps you from a lot of potential trouble in the future as well!).

As Lolly Daskal says in The Leadership Gap, “The person with integrity does the right thing even when no one else will, and even if no one else is looking – not because he thinks it will change the world, but because he refuses to be changed by the world.”

14. Use the resources you’ve been given well

You are a steward of what has been given to your charge: your time, your resources (equipment, money, etc.), and your people.

Be a good steward of what has been entrusted to you.

Think about with you and your employees: if they frivolously use the money you allot them, are you going to trust them with more? If they waste a lot of time or always stretch things out to use the “allotted” time for something, how much are you going to trust them with other important jobs or such in the future?

Use what you’ve been given well.

15. Model what you preach (and lead by example)

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t worth with parents, and it doesn’t work with you as a leader either.

When you say something is important, but then you don’t match it with your actions, then people won’t see it as important.

Not only that, you will be seen as hypocritical.

You must match what you say and what you do together. If you say something is important, then treat it as important yourself. If you say your organization’s values are important, then live by them.

If you say you care about your employees, but then treat them unfairly or layoff a bunch just to meet an arbitrary quarterly number, your actions aren’t matching your words.

When you match your actions with your words, it builds trust with others.

16. Care about your people

If you know your boss doesn’t care about you or that the leaders in your organization care about you, how much loyalty and trust does that engender?

If you are just a number to them or just a tool to be used or discarded, how much influence will they have with you? How willing are you to “follow them to the ends of the earth”?

If you don’t care about your people, that will hurt you, A LOT.

Truly care about your people. Treat them as the valuable resource they are. Caring helps build loyalty, trust, and influence.

It also helps you when you give feedback or hold people accountable, because when people know you care, they are more likely to receive it well.

how to build trust care

17. Speak up, even when it’s hard

There’s a level of trust that is built when people see and know that you will speak up, even when it’s hard.

If you feel something is wrong or there is a problem with a decisions, but then you don’t say anything and pretend to agree, that’s being dishonest.

Too many people don’t speak up or disagree because they fear the boss will respond negatively or others will judge them somehow.

However, when you don’t speak up, and you know it’s a bad decision, you are being complicit in that decision. It’s low integrity when you put on smiles and agree in person but then go talk negatively about it later.

Simon Sinek says in Leaders Eat Last, “The most common display of a lack of integrity in the business world is when a leader of an organization says what others want to hear and not the truth.”

Keith Ferrazzi in Leading Without Authority says, “If you ever catch yourself being so deferential to the chain of command that you fail to speak your mind and hide the truth, you are not just letting yourself down, you’re letting the whole company down. You’re cheating your employer. It’s no different than if you falsify your expense report. It’s low-integrity, unprofessional behavior.”

18. Ask for and accept feedback

Being a person who is willing to listen to others and their feedback and consider it builds trust. When you are humble, don’t pretend you know everything, realize that others have valuable input, and then act on that, you build trust.

Sometimes leaders pretend they know everything. They don’t ask but just implement what they “know” is right, and many times these “ingenious” ideas hurt instead of help and just frustrate employees.

When you don’t listen, when people’s suggestions and feedback are ignored, when stuff that hurts instead of helps keeps getting thrown at them, it hurts both loyalty and trust, not to mention motivation.

Be a person who listens. Not only that, be a person who is humble enough to know they have blind spots and room for improvement and asks their team how they can improve and get better, and then thanks them for that feedback.

That’s a great way to build trust (and to grow!).

19. Protect yourself from the appearance of evil

Sometimes it’s not that we do anything wrong or lie, but we put ourselves in situations that give the appearance of wrongdoing.

For example, you and a subordinate or supplier may have been best friends since childhood. If you are not careful, people may see favoritism, a conflict of interest, or other wrongdoing in that. It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t ever work with them, you just may need to be extra careful with that.

It’s vital to build trust as a leader

John Maxwell in Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 says, “Having good character does not ensure that you will be successful in life or leadership. But you can be sure that having poor character will eventually derail you personally and professionally.”

Being a person of integrity, being a person people can trust, is vital not just in leadership, but life.

I encourage you to examine yourself and what areas you may need to work on and improve. The more you are trustworthy as a leader, the more likely you will succeed as one as well.

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