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The Secret to Creating Unwavering Loyalty and Inspired Collaboration

This article was originally published at LinkedIn.

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In a recent conversation, I found myself being protective and mistrusting, questioning the relationship - do I trust you? Do we trust each other? What is the importance of trust and how does it affect our relationships?

What is your definition of trust?

Trust is the cornerstone upon which all successful relationships are built, personally and professionally. This can be seen in my PAR framework for advancing relationships - trust is an important component of social capital and advancement in an organization. Like any other character trait that impacts performance, trust can be developed over time by anyone willing to make the effort. A recent Gallup study revealed that when employees don’t trust their leadership, only one in twelve are engaged. However, when leadership builds an environment of trust, there is more than a six-fold increase in engagement levels.

In this article, I discuss some of the building blocks of trust - authenticity, leading by example, shared responsibility, and transparency and openness. When these key elements are missing, there is the risk of falling into a pit of mistrust that can lead to an unproductive environment and unfruitful relationships.

When trust is absent, everyone's energies are spent protecting themselves rather than cultivating the relationship, serving customers, achieving results, and/or advancing the goals of the organization. Left unchecked, mistrust festers and grows until it negatively affects morale and productivity throughout a team and/or organization.

Trust is a basic requirement in the workplace, just as it is in every other human interaction. Across a range of industries, the growing importance of trust and its impact on employee engagement and performance has been widely acknowledged. Nearly all advice regarding managing people implicitly assumes that there is some baseline level of trust within the relationship.

Trust can transform someone into your biggest advocate, resulting in unwavering loyalty and inspired collaboration, both in business and personal relationships. It can be the difference between an employee displaying loyalty or the employee hopping from one company to another to find a trusting environment. Building and maintaining trust is a crucial success factor in the workplace, and one which can be directly influenced by you as a leader.

How do you create trust? What’s more, how do you keep it alive?

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Authenticity Matters

Authentic leaders are effective for a reason. True authenticity builds trust; inauthenticity destroys it. By being honest about your intentions and feelings, you show people you're human, not a superhuman manager who's impossible to please or impress.

Particularly in a role that requires you to manage people, it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to be someone you're not. Success imposes more pressure to be ‘perfect’. Authenticity sounds like an easy thing to achieve; however, it's challenging because it requires us to be vulnerable enough to let people see us as we really are instead of the way we think we should be seen. By being open about your feelings, motives, actions, decisions, and mistakes, you invite employees to see you as human, not as an almighty authority figure. They are more inclined to trust your decisions and actions when they feel like you are one of them.

Do you demonstrate authenticity? Are your own actions causing people not to trust you?

Lead by Example

The real basis for trust is your behavior. You’re probably familiar with the term "walk the talk". Trust is built on actions, not words. Your behavior is a signal to your team and those around you of what's expected of them. One reason for a low-trust culture is leadership’s inability to demonstrate trustworthy behavior, leaving their team(s) unable to believe that they will behave any differently than they have in the past. What your team sees is more (or as) important than what they hear from their leader. Therefore, if you fail to mirror back to your team trust-inspiring behaviors, you are unlikely to earn their trust.

Regardless of whether you're a CEO or a first-time supervisor, your people judge you based on what they see. Consequently, trust plays a very important role in how willing an individual is to accept new ideas, change their behavior, and move forward. To build trust, you must be able to show through your consistent actions - that you can be trusted.

What actions do you demonstrate consistently to show trustworthiness?

Encourage Shared Responsibility

Shared responsibility is fundamental to the notion of teamwork and building trust. By encouraging and trusting employees to feel personally invested in the outcome of their work, you're setting them up for greater productivity and higher morale – two key components of any high-performing organization.

Shared responsibility encourages employee involvement and helps foster a sense of trust and partnership between teams. It reinforces their sense of ownership for the success of the company, which subsequently motivates them to take pride in their work and achieve results. When people trust you and feel like they're working with you as opposed to for you, they're more likely to actively participate in achieving greater team cohesion and better results for everyone on the team.

 How are you at sharing responsibility to build trust?

Practice Transparency and Openness

Be open in your communications with staff members by communicating in ways that encourage feedback and dialogue. If possible, explain the rationale for decisions made and what options were considered; then listen to what people have to say in response and consider changing course if necessary. Being open about the decisions you make builds trust— even if the answer isn't what people want to hear. If someone disagrees with your decision, they are likely to feel better about it if they know that the decision was made in a fair and thorough manner. However, if they don't know how or why you made your decision, they're likely to assume the worst — that the decision-makers acted arbitrarily or were biased, creating a lack of trust. 

Again, trust is the cornerstone upon which all successful relationships are built. Teamwork in an organization is built on trust. It is a character trait that can be developed over time; be consistent in your actions as you use the building blocks of trust - authenticity, leading by example, shared responsibility, transparency, and openness to build trust as a leader - to create a productive environment and fruitful relationships.

In what ways do you create trust as a leader or team member? How do you keep trust alive? 

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Rubina F. Malik, Ph.D., is a senior assistant professor of business administration at Morehouse College.