What is hard won, easily broken, and almost impossible to work without?

The answer is: Trust.

Harvard Business Review found that employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and burnout and are happier with their lives. Sounds ideal, right?

It’s a topic we talk about with our clients a lot. In 2023, The Work Project revealed that only half of people believe their senior leaders are transparent (aka trustworthy).

Trust – or more often a lack of it – in leadership comes up in nearly every listening session we run. It can be caused by contradictions in what a leader says, and what a leader does, poorly communicated decisions, a lack of listening or empathy, micro-management and by apportioning a sense of blame if something goes wrong or ridicule if someone speaks up. The list goes on.

Without trust, unhealthy toxic cultures with poor employee experiences tend to emerge. No one wants that. When trust is broken, it can feel impossible to rebuild. The good news is that it’s not.

Here are my top five tips for leaders looking to build trust….

  1. Really listen to your people. Listen with the intent to understand, not respond. Use the insight you hear to guide your decisions. Then listen again, to make sure things are improving. Course correct if they’re not.
  2. Do what you say you will. Sounds super simple, but consistently keeping your promises means people will trust what you say.
  3. Tell the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Your people will respect you for your honesty and openness. If you have hard things to share, communicate with care and tact, but don’t keep quiet. And, if you aren’t sure how, use a credible comms partner to help you navigate this.
  4. Give space to make and learn from mistakes. We’ve all made them. Often, they teach us our most valuable lessons.
  5. Ask for help. You don’t need to know all the answers. Gone are the days of leader’s who are super heroes. Asking for help when you’re stuck, shows your team you trust and value them.

At an organisational level, it takes an incredibly strong shift towards human leadership. The right employee listening strategy that acts as an insight led trust barometer. An understanding that it will take time. And an ongoing commitment to building a healthy culture, from everyone involved.

We’d love to hear your top tips for building trust…