Trust is the cornerstone of leadership. To be effective as a leader, you must gain the trust of those people you want to influence. If they can’t trust you, how can you expect them to follow you? And conversely, you have to demonstrate your trust in them. It is a two-way street.
Yet this is the biggest mistake that we see leaders make – failing to convey that sense of trust. We concede that trust is a bit of a nebulous concept, which is unfortunate, because it is so critical to leadership. But in our definition, it is the sum of your character, your values, and your integrity, which in this case is the ability to stay consistent with your values. These are the things that create and maintain trust.
I like to think of trust as a bank account, held by those who you want to influence. When we do the things we say we are going to do, and when we clearly live up to our values, we make deposits into that account. Our “trust fund” grows.
But if we don’t follow through, don’t deliver on the commitments we make, or fail to live up to our values, we make withdrawals from that account. If we have built up the account well enough, we can survive an occasional small withdrawal. But unfortunately, it doesn’t take many withdrawals to deplete the account. That’s why it’s so important to inspire trust in everything you do.
So how can we make sure that as leaders we are not making this big mistake? The most important thing is to focus on our character. So many leaders out there fail to communicate their character and their values. Part of the reason for that is they sometimes aren’t really clear themselves on what their values are.
I like to challenge the leaders that I work with to become crystal clear about their own values. One way to begin that process of self-discovery is to take the time to think them through and write them out on paper. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What do I really stand for?
- Who am I as a leader?
- Who can my followers count on to show up day in and day out as their leader?
Once you truly know your own values, you can apply them in your daily interaction with those people you want to influence. That is the essence of character, when you live your values, and demonstrate those values on a day-to-day basis.
To be sure that your followers are as clear as you are about your values, you need to take the time to tell them. Take a few minutes at the start of your next team meeting to talk about what is most important to you, what you value, and why this is important to them and to your organization.
It may be your work ethic, your integrity, or your desire to serve others. Whatever your values, a clear statement like this helps your followers see that you are living up to them and helps you gain that essential element of trust.
Do this, and I guarantee you won’t be one of those leaders who make this “biggest mistake.”