What does real trust in leadership look like?


Trust is often touted as something that leaders need to build in order for their team to be successful. But why do leaders need to work so hard at it? And what does trust really look like for teams?

There are lots of reasons why leaders might be making a conscientious effort to build trust in their team. It could be that they’re a new leader, looking to find their feet and create a team that works well together. They could be a more experienced leader coming to a team that’s been burned by an untrustworthy leader in the past. Perhaps they’re just bringing new people onto the team and want to make sure that trust is a priority for new and old team members alike.

Whatever the reason, building trust is an ongoing process for leaders. With good reason, too – there’s a neurological connection between trust, leadership and organisational success. In fact, when compared with people at ‘low-trust’ companies, those at ‘high-trust’ organisations reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burnout. Trust is a powerful thing.

Where are leaders going wrong? 

The problem is that many leaders know trust is important, but they have nothing backing this belief up. Trust isn’t written into their manuals or policies or procedures. The behavioural playing field that they want their team to work in and the expectations that each team member should respect are not documented anywhere.

Having this documentation isn’t to make everyone feel like they have a set of rules they should be following, but it helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page and a foundation of trust is being built. When trust is a documented part of the team, it makes it easier for the team to help each other commit to that trust each day.

Know the difference between trust as a value and trust as an expectation

Most organisations have trust or something similar as a value – it’s written somewhere in their documented values or ethos, or mentioned briefly at the beginning of an onboarding document. Having trust as a value is important but it’s not the same as outlining the expectations you have, as a leader, of what a team based on trust looks like.

Outlining trust as an expectation is about being specific about behaviours. This means being clear in what you think all team members should be doing to create a trustworthy environment, as well as what they can expect you will be doing as a leader to support and foster this trust.

Trust as a value looks like: “We are an organisation that is built on trust.”

Trust as an expectation looks like: “We show support for our team members, even when mistakes are made.”

Trust behaviours in organisations are varied – your organisation’s expectations will differ from the above example and you may have dozens of expectations.

It’s important to think deeply about what really matters when it comes to trust in your team. Ask yourself what trust looks like in action and, if you’re not sure what it looks like, think about the things your team does and ask yourself what it would look like if they stopped doing them. That will show you what’s building trust and what’s not. Be specific in your expectations to ensure that every team member is on the same page.

Are you ready to build trust as an expectation? People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.