5 ways leaders can increase a culture of trust


What are you doing every day to strengthen the culture of trust with your employees and customers?

In our recent sales coaching research, 76% of the firms told us coaching is a critical driver of success. As Lou Cimini, Vice President of Human Resources at Samsonite, explains it, the power behind coaching is that it allows the leader and the salesperson to “arrive at a common path—an agreed upon output—and in some cases, the tactics to get there, and then the employee has what they need to go out and achieve those goals.”

But before they can arrive at that common path—in fact, before the coaching process even begins—the employee has to be receptive to coaching. And more than anything, that requires trust.

Trust and the Coaching Relationship

To understand why trust matters, consider your own experience. If you don’t believe your manager’s primary objective is to help you reach your personal and professional goals, then you’re probably not going to be very receptive to what they have to offer. Unless they can create an emotional connection and show that they understand it’s about you, not them, then the relationship’s not going to make it very far. And that means you’re not likely to get the full value of those coaching conversations.

As the manager, building a receptive environment for coaching takes some time and effort, but the value extends well beyond the coaching conversations themselves. When people trust you, they will work harder, listen better and be more forgiving of mistakes or misunderstandings. When trust is low, there’s more resistance, and communication simply doesn’t work as well.

In his work on The Neuroscience of Trust, Paul J. Zak notes that, where there’s high trust, employees are more productive, energetic, collaborative and more likely to stay longer with the company. Not only that, “They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”

Trustworthiness doesn’t come from specific managerial or coaching skills alone, however. It also requires a mindset that is others-focused. To have honest, open discussions with your employees, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and be willing to do the work to establish common ground, connect emotionally and break the barriers to pre-occupation.

In the coaching engagement itself, the manager’s responsibility for creating trust in the relationship includes such actions as:

  • Establishing rapport before initiating the coaching dialogue
  • Setting aside your agenda and focusing totally on the person
  • Recognizing and adapting your communication to their Behavior Style
  • Communicating your sincere interest in that person’s development

5 Ways Leaders Develop a Culture of Trust

As Gallup pointed out in an article exploring the potential trust crisis many companies are facing, “Strong ethical leadership is a big part of what gives employees and customers the confidence to invest in long-term relationships with organizations.” Here are 5 leadership actions you can take to begin forging these all-important trusting relationships:

  1. Clearly communicate expectations to each person. Don’t assume they know what you’re thinking or would respond to the same internal motivators that you do. Communicate with their perspective and behavior style in mind, not your own.
  2. Show you have their best interests at heart by what you say and do. Realize that sometimes actions speak louder than words. If you talk a good game but show through your behavior that you’re really looking to “catch and punish” rather than coach and develop, your employees will see right through it.
  3. Follow through on commitments given and received. This isn’t just about what you’ve committed to your employees but also about your employees’ commitments to you. If you can’t be trusted to care about whether or not they follow through, then they won’t care either.
  4. Be truthful and authentic, even when it isn’t easy. As a manager, you’re going to have to deal with tough issues from time to time. Conversations about performance problems or other challenges are never easy, but when you’re candid about the issues and show that you have their goals and success in mind, you’ll actually strengthen the relationship.
  5. Model trustworthiness with your team members and customers. Plenty of companies have value statements that tout a commitment to trust and integrity. But that doesn’t mean those qualities automatically translate into everyday behaviors. Through their own actions, managers are the ones who set the standard. Your employees will notice and follow your lead. And that means your customers will notice, too.

While trust is the cornerstone and foundation for productive relationships and high-performing teams, it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s built and maintained by many small actions over time. It’s also not a matter of technique; it’s about character. We are trusted because of the way we live our lives and manage relationships with people.

What are you doing every day to strengthen the culture of trust with your employees and customers?


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