Trust is important, not only in your personal life, but in business as well. But enjoying the trust of coworkers and the people you manage is only the tip of the iceberg. The most important responsibility of a business leader is to create a culture of trust throughout the organization.
Perhaps the most crucial linking pin connecting great leaders and their vision is the personal value system they demonstrate and teach to others, which becomes ingrained in the fabric of the firm: the so-called “corporate culture.” Today’s best leaders realize that a strong corporate culture is the glue that unites people and provides them with a raison d’etre that’s bigger than any product or service.
Executives and managers set the tone for the kinds of behaviors that will be tolerated in a culture of trust. To do so, they have to model desired behaviors and let go of rule-breakers. This means establishing zero tolerance for rudeness, disrespectful behavior, abuse, discrimination, backbiting, and bullying. Allowing these traits to flourish will destroy morale, diminish productivity, damage the company’s reputation, and encourage dedicated employees to leave.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s recent tribute to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on his possible retirement demonstrates the lasting importance of establishing a culture of trust. What Wilson remembers most about Manning isn’t his Super Bowl wins, but a moment they shared at a quarterback camp in Louisiana when Wilson was a 10th grade student. Wilson wrote in an article in The Players’ Tribune, published Feb. 8, “You inspired me to work hard. To be disciplined. To be respectful. To take notes. You inspired me to love the process. To love the sweat. To love the tears. But most of all … You inspired me to love the game. Thanks, Peyton. If this is it, Thanks.”
Here are five important ways business leaders and managers can develop a culture of trust that employees will remember:
- Lead by example. Model trust, fairness, honesty, thoughtfulness, transparency, and integrity. To be trusted, be trustworthy. If a colleague tells you something in confidence, then keep it confidential. If an upcoming merger or promotion is in the works, and you are trusted with keeping it under wraps until details are final, then don’t leak anything about it. Deal with people fairly, pay them fairly, and be honest in all your business dealings.
- Show your commitment every single day. Work alongside the people you lead and work hard. Get in the trenches and get your hands dirty periodically. If you manage a warehouse, manufacturing plant, or factory, make it a point on a regular basis to get out of your office and visit the production floor. Talk to the employees, get to know their names so you can address them personally, ask them how things are going, and pitch in if needed. Ask them if there are any glitches that need correcting. The best leaders don’t stay in their offices and interact just with their executive team; they frequently interact with employees at every level and in every facility of the organization.
- Acknowledge and reward success. People want to be acknowledged for a job well done. When you recognize others for doing well, they will be more likely to trust you and follow your lead. If it’s a small business, thank those who do a good job with a personal handwritten note, a lunch out, or a small gift card. Large businesses should have an employee reward or recognition program to acknowledge employee successes on a regular basis.
- Build coalitions and maintain civility. Civility and compromise are essential to getting things done. Lots of people think that if you compromise, you’re weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leaders who compromise come across as caring and trusting leaders who put others before themselves. Incivility impedes productivity — and profits.
- Transparency counts, especially when dealing with the public. Come clean after a public relations crisis. Or, better yet, avoid a crisis in the first place. Here’s some sage advice from media and crisis communications consultant Norm Harman, a former broadcast journalist and longtime public relations executive who established a media/crisis communications training business in 1988. “A media interview is probably the most important thing any executive or leader will do, and they need to prepare for it. The most dramatic media failures occur when executives tried to “wing it” or bluff their way through an interview. The executive often ends up saying something dumb or provocative that becomes a headline and a repeated sound bite. Public trust in the executive goes out the window.” Hartman adds, “Never go off the record. And ask your interviewer three key questions: What is the story about, what information do you want from me, and whom else are you talking to? Always have one key message for any media interview.” Finally, Harman advises, “Don’t focus on yourself. Readers/viewers don’t care what the person being interviewed thinks or does, they want to know about what concerns them, what addresses their problems, what they can or should do to make their lives better.”
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