“As you go to work, your top responsibility should be to build trust.” — Robert Eckert, CEO, Mattel

Opinions vary about which leadership traits are important to success. As my career has evolved, it’s become increasingly evident to me that the foundational skill for all leaders is trust.

When I use the word “trust,” I’m not referring solely to trusting other people. While external trust is important, it’s not the entire picture. You also have to ask yourself, do others consider me trustworthy? And, can I trust myself?

It starts with you! Do you keep commitments? Does your behavior reflect your values? In other words, do you walk your talk? Are your motives straightforward and honorable? Do you truly care about others? The answers have to be “yes” in order for others to view you as trustworthy. You also have to have the ability to deliver results with integrity. Trust is not a soft skill.

Imagine that you are leading a team on an important project – and something goes wrong. Do you first determine who is at fault, or do you focus on correcting the problem without blame? Do you evaluate what role you might have played in the error? For example, did you clarify expectations? Did you listen to questions? Did you ensure everyone was trained and equipped to be successful? If you focus on what’s required for the team to win, rather than on your individual success, you will build trust.

Would the people who work for and with you consider you a micromanager? That rather unflattering trait is indicative of a lack of trust. If you aren’t willing to extend trust to the others on your team, if you doubt their abilities, this will have a detrimental effect on everyone’s success. Your team members will feel undervalued and less motivated. How do you think this lack of trust will affect productivity?

The Speed of Trust

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey notes that in high-trust organizations, things happen quickly because people trust the decision-makers’ intent. Conversely, in low-trust organizations, things move slowly because every conversation is analyzed and second-guessed; people may fear they’ll be thrown not under the bus but be pushed in front of it.

The bottom line: in high-trust environments, productivity goes up, while costs go down. In low-trust environments, productivity goes down, while costs go up. There is a “tax” when trust is low.

Covey believes trust should be the cornerstone of all relationships – business and personal – as it directly affects the four components of credibility: integrity, intent, capability, and results. When you operate with deep honesty and a general concern for others – trusting them and yourself – the result can be a positive and significant boost for you and your career.

Learning to Trust

A number of years ago I had a firsthand experience of what can happen when trust isn’t part of your professional toolkit.

I hired someone to do our books. Over time she picked up many more tasks but didn’t exhibit the ability to make decisions. She ran every decision by me first, to the point that I was frustrated. Then it dawned on me: I had never told her I trusted her, nor had I stopped directing her.

Grrr! That was on me; I’d neglected to let her know how much I trusted her, so she felt limited. I corrected my behavior, and years later this person is a fully engaged professional whom I consider a valued partner. A win for me, for this partner, and for our organization.

The lesson here is simple: decide if you trust yourself – and then practice extending trust to others. Don’t fall for the myth that trust is soft or touchy-feely. High-trust organizations don’t buy that, and they are more sustainable than their low-trust competitors.

About Your Columnist

Jaimee Pittman is a co-founder of CWI and a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she writes on a variety of behavioral and performance issues that impact today’s workplaces. Jaimee is president of Baron Center, Inc. (BCI), a consulting, training and coaching organization known for its pioneering work in workplace violence prevention. The BCI team has been servicing clients discreetly, safely, and successfully for over 20 years. The BCI team of workplace behavior specialists’ mission is to positively impact those we influence, today and in the future.

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