In fact, Amanda Setili, author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets, says it’s more important now than ever before. Why? Because without trust, you will never create the deep engagement and sense of safety people need to take risks, disagree, and innovate.
“An organization without trust is inefficient and is often stagnant,” says Setili. “It experiences many stops and starts, as people wait for the approvals they need and verify that others have done what they said they were going to do. People fear being the one to bring the ‘bad news.’ Problems fester and grow, rather than being promptly addressed. Leaders fear taking the risk to move to something new,” she adds.
It’s critical that you do everything you can to avoid damaging your employees’ trust. To do so, Setili says you must avoid these mistakes:
- Avoiding conflict. Arguments between staff occur, you will have to make unpopular decisions, and problems arise that you must address. If you’re a leader who avoids all that, transparent communication can’t occur, productivity falters as decisions take forever to be made, high performers get fed up and leave, and in general you’re seen as weak or wishy-washy.
- Focusing on compliance, rather than achieving shared goals. Emphasis on rigid rule-following can be dangerous. Better to make the end goal crystal clear to everyone and then trust employees to do the right thing.
- Keeping your weaknesses a secret. It’s tempting (and human) to try to cover up or at least minimize our own shortcomings and mistakes. Yet Setili says we should be doing the exact opposite. The best leaders are those who realize—and are willing to admit—that they don’t know it all and aren’t “the best” at everything. Plus, people appreciate vulnerability. Not only does revealing our weaknesses make people like and trust you more, it lets them know upfront what to expect, so they can act accordingly.
- Refusing to ask for help. When things go wrong, your impulse may be to keep information to yourself, hoping the problem will go away. That not only damages trust, it vastly reduces the chances that the problem will be resolved quickly, since problems swept under the rug tend to get worse, not better. Instead, tell it like it is. Just say, “I’ve got some bad news to share.” (You may actually feel a surge of relief just to have said the words.) Then explain what the problem is and suggest two or more alternative actions that might be taken to address it.
- Failing to communicate enough. In times of uncertainty, it’s especially important to communicate. Don’t leave people hanging. Where there is a communication void, people will fill it with the worst possible scenario. It’s always better to tell the truth—even when it’s bad news—than to be evasive or silent.
- Breaking promises. This is basic, yet many leaders fail to do what they say they are going to do. That can have a devastating effect on trust. It takes only one broken promise to lose all the ground you’ve gained. “Employees trust us when we act predictably and consistently with what we promise. Think carefully before you make a promise, because it’s crucial that you fulfill it, or at least communicate why you are no longer able to do so,” says Setili.
Of course, leaders are only human and none of us are perfect. You’re almost certainly going to recognize some of these mistakes in yourself—and that’s okay. “We all need to become worthier of the trust of others,” she says. “Just as every company is on a growth journey, so is every leader and every employee. We all have flaws, but the good news is that when we make a deliberate choice to build trust, our company becomes more successful and a better place to work.”
Amanda Setili, author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets, is president of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates. An internationally acclaimed expert on strategic agility®, she gives her clients—including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, UPS, and Walmart—unbiased and laser-clear advice on how to respond quickly and intelligently to a changing marketplace.