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How Leaders Build — And Destroy — Trust

Source | | Carol Kinsey Goman

Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity and honesty of another party. It is the expectation that the faith one places in someone else will be honored. When I asked 537 managers how leaders build and destroy trust, here is what I learned . . .

It’s always a case of follow the leader.

As a leader, you are in the spotlight whether you like it or not. People are going to watch you, discuss your actions, and mimic your behavior — and some leadership behaviors are sure to destroy trust.

Here’s just one example from my interviews: “I was quite open and trustworthy until I started working for a senior management team that is very toxic and who we all know tell lies about their own schedules (working from home, showing up late, taking long lunches, etc.). Now I think it only fair that I do the same.”

Or as another respondent put it: “Leaders should make trust and honesty implicit values and communicate them clearly. But they should also remember that it will mean nothing unless those values are modeled at the top. We’re not blind. We see everything they do, and all-too-often we follow their bad example.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum are leaders who create high levels of trust through behaviors that demonstrate a sincere commitment to this value. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can talk until you’re blue in the face, but you will never create trust unless your sustained behavior reinforces it.

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