building trust

This statistic stopped me cold: 60% of the participants in a 2009 international study has more trust for a stranger than they did for their boss.

Yikes, how sad.

In thinking back over the the bosses I’ve had, there were a few whose word I didn’t have faith in. I knew they didn’t have my back or were unlikely to be transparent in what they said or did. 

“The truth is that trust rules,” writes Pamela S. Shockley-Zalabak in Building High-trust Organizations. “Trust rules your personal credibility. Trust rules your ability to get things done. Trust rules your team’s cohesiveness. Trust rules your organization’s innovativeness and performance. Trust rules your brand image. Trust rules just about everything you do.”

5 elements

The handful of bosses who had my firm belief in their reliability were masters of five elements.

They were a transparent communicator

They came, they listened, and they spoke without hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They avoided making almost-certain-to-bite-you-in-the-butt-later remarks like “This is the last time we’ll have layoffs” or “This is the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

They practiced consistent consistency

There were no say-do gaps. They did what they said they were going to do. They advised us of their shortcomings. Problems weren’t glossed over and/or ignored; they were resolved. 

They defined clear roles, responsibilities and expectations

They made it clear what they expected us to do and how they generally wanted it done. We knew ahead of time how our performance would be measured. They expected us to take care of our job duties and didn’t micro-manage. If we fell short, they told us where and how and coached us on doing better next time.

They gave equal consideration to all

These men and women lived out fairness and justice in how they allocated outcomes, dealt with processes, and handled interpersonal treatment. They didn’t play favorites nor use platitudes like “You’re the greatest.”

They had character  

We wanted to follow them. Research tells us that perceptions of a leader’s characteristics, things like integrity, credibility and fairness, shape how employees will behave in the workplace. “…individuals who feel that their leader has, or will, demonstrate care and consideration will reciprocate this sentiment in the form of desired behaviors,” writes professor K.T. Dirks. Authentically walking the talk is important.


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