The makings of a trustworthy leader

Benjamin Kluwgant · 26 Aug

Being a leader within an organisation is a challenging role in many ways. Knowing how to gain the trust and respect of the team is one of the key ingredients to overcoming the challenges associated with leadership and to achieve the best results.

The leaders of an organisation are the ones who are in the optimal position to drive and inspire their subordinates to maximise their potential as workers and play their respective roles in reaching both the company’s and their own goals and targets.

Good leaders also determine what those goals are and who within the team is best suited to complete each task, with the intention of achieving the common goal ­­of workplace productivity.

There are a number of qualities that genuine leaders tend to possess. These often include passion, sincerity, diligence, integrity and industry experience. But, in order for a leader to leverage those qualities to achieve their desired results, they need to develop relationships with their employees that are based on a strong foundation of trust.

Years of experience, tremendous talent and an impressive track record won’t be of any help if the team members can’t trust their leader.

What is it about trust that is so important?

Relationships are only as strong as the trust that the two parties have for each other.

Take spousal relationships for example. When two partners mutually trust and respect each other, they are far less prone to conflict and end up remaining together for longer. When they trust each other, they are happier to spend time with each other and are pleasant to be around.

Conversely, a couple in a relationship that lacks inherent trust can turn ugly very quickly. The couple become unhappy, attributes like loyalty and faithfulness become trivial and the two parties look for reasons not to be with each other.

Eventually, those types of relationships tumble over like a house of cards.

Considering that people spend more of their day at work than they do with their partners, workplace relationships also need to be built on trust and respect in order to be productive and long-lasting.

When team members don’t trust their leaders, the environment and culture of the workplace becomes one that lacks integrity, doesn’t inspire ambition and exists without respect. Group members look to cut corners, they miss deadlines and settle for subpar and mediocre results. Ultimately, the results are always going to be negative.

But, if the company culture is one where teams respect their leaders, the organisation will thrive like a well-oiled machine that is poised to achieve great things.

How to earn your team’s trust

Trust isn’t something that just happens overnight and then sticks around forever. If a leader wants to gain the trust of their subordinates, they need to work hard to earn it – and work even harder to maintain it.

While there are many different ways that trust can be properly earned and well maintained, there are four basic pillars that genuine trust stands on.

1.     Show them appreciation

In order for a team to work cohesively, its leader needs to focus on making each person feel like their presence and involvement makes a difference.

If a leader creates separation within a group and causes some team members to feel like their job has less of an impact than what has been delegated to others, the group as a whole will have a hard time trusting that leader. Each team member needs to be treated equally and shown the appreciation that they deserve.

That said, appreciation can’t be something that is shown as a once off gesture. If each group member can be confident that their hard work is always going to be recognised and valued, only then will they trust that the leader will steer them towards success.

2.     Let them know that you’ve got their back

Knowing how to handle the private information that your team members tell you is a key part of being a trusted leader.

Whether it be about a challenge in their personal life, a disability, or if they disclose information about unlawful activity in the workplace (in other words, a whistleblowing disclosure) if the leader wants to be trusted, they need to treat the information as completely confidential, only sharing it if absolutely necessary.

If a team member knows that they can confide in their leader and that the leader has their back, a sense of trust will be felt between them – a trust will also be clearly apparent in many other areas of work.

3.     Make it clear that you care about your job

Leaders are the ones who set the tone for the way their teams go about their jobs, and the ones that take their jobs seriously are far more likely to be considered trustworthy by their subordinates. 

When leaders show that they are sincerely devoted to their roles and that they genuinely care about the success of the organisation, their subordinates tend to follow suit – most of the time because they trust them.

An employee will only trust a leader who also has skin in the game. When team members are looking to confide in someone or place their trust in someone, it won’t be to a manager who takes a blasé attitude towards their work.

4.    Stand up for what’s right

If a leader is looking to gain the trust of their team members, they need to be able to stand up for what’s right and let people know that regardless of when or why, poor behaviour in the workplace will not be tolerated.

Once a leader shows that they can put their foot down and call out negativity in the workplace as they see it, their subordinates will know that they can place their trust in that leader.

All told, leaders that take these four pillars seriously and are trusted by their subordinates don’t just bring positive outcomes for their specific groups, but also have a tremendous impact on the organisation as a whole.