by Gerri Vereen
Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices. –Warren Buffet
Among all the attributes of the greatest leaders of our time, one stands above the rest: They are all highly trusted. You can have a compelling vision, rock-solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative insight, and a skilled team, but if people don’t trust you, you will never get the results you want.
Trust is an essential ingredient for effective leadership and teamwork and achieving satisfaction from one’s work. The payoff goes to both the top and bottom lines. In a 1999 study of Holiday Inns, where 6500 employees ranked their trust in their manager on a score from 1 to 5 points, a one-eighth point improvement in trust scores could be expected to increase annual profits by 2.5% of revenues or $250,000 per hotel.
In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, he says that trust is the most powerful form of motivation and inspiration in organizations, and that it’s the ultimate source of influence. On the other hand, low trust in a leader slows down communication and decision making, and hinders relationships and results. His research found that only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in their leaders.
How does trust and distrust impact others?
Trust looks like this: I trust that you and I share the same view of reality. I trust that you will have my best interests at heart (you care about me); that you will not cause me to fear you. I can be open and candid with you and share everything that’s on my mind.
Distrust looks like this: You and I see the world very differently. We disagree on what’s important. I feel you have your own interests at heart, not mine. I am afraid to share what’s on my mind for fear you’ll use it against me.
Our level of trust is often changed, by the way we share information — that is, through conversations. Conversations trigger physical and emotional changes in our brains and bodies through altering the amounts of two of the most powerful hormones that affect social interaction: oxytocin, which enables bonding and collaboration, and testosterone, which enables our aggressive behaviors.
Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University, states:
Trust is a phenomenon that is enhanced by oxytocin, which gets people to be socially interactive. Then you have the amygdala, which is the sentinel along with the prefrontal cortex, paying attention to decide if the interaction is going to be rewarding or punishing. If the interaction is punishing we feel more aggressive and untrustful. We have to be wary and we move into protect behaviors.
Oxytocin reduces the anxiety we naturally have when around other people. Second, it motivates us to cooperate with and help each other. That’s because oxytocin also modulates dopamine, the brain’s “do this more” reinforcement chemical. Dopamine makes it feel good to collaborate and connect with others, which means that working together is something we evolved to enjoy.
To trust someone, especially someone unfamiliar to us, our brains build a model of what the person is likely to do and why. And the other person intuitively does this about us, too. That means we are constantly engaged in a two-sided trust game: Should I trust you? and How much do you trust me?
So, how can you lead with T.R.U.S.T.?
Below are five characteristics of a conversation which can help you elevate the level of trust, create well-being and connectivity with others.
Transparency: being more open with team members about your intentions, aspirations and objectives. When team members don’t know your intentions, they feel you may have hidden agendas, even if you don’t. Share information and be open to discuss why you do what you do — this turns threat into trust.
Relationships: building relationships before working on tasks is paramount and provides a foundation for both handling difficult issues and identifying aspirations. Focus on getting in sync with the needs of and aspirations of your team to create strong bonds.
Understanding: appreciating your team’s perspectives and points of view strengthens bonds of trust. Listen and ask more questions. Minimize fighting for your point of view and maximize exploring others’ perspectives.
Shared Success: defining success with others creates a shared meaning about what is and isn’t important to work on together. By defining success together, everyone contributes to co-creating the future we believe in.
Truth-telling: regular, open and nonjudgmental discussions as part of the collaborative problem solving; identification and discussion of “reality gaps” and effort to close gaps for mutual success. Working and narrowing the reality gaps with others creates alignment and builds bonds of trust.
Trust can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Trust is like a forest. It takes a long time to grow and can burn down with a just touch of carelessness. But if you focus on elevating trust, you can create trusted relationships—whether with employees, customers, or fellow leaders—that will drive results and the bottom line.
For more information on building trust, check out Dr. Mary Key’s new book, Seizing Success: A Women’s Guide to Transformational Leadership.