Leadership is an A.R.T. – Part 3 of 3

By Tom Davidson

Trust is at the heart of the art of leadership. Here are three things you can do starting today to earn and receive trust. 

New managers often want to know how to get people to do what they want them to do, an approach that naively smacks of manipulation. What they don’t know is that any approach that even hints at manipulation will be sensed as such by others and therefor is doomed to failure, if not in the short-term then the long run that proves the truth. Truth is the basis of trust, the third principle of artful leadership.

• A – CommunicAtion
• R – Relationship
• T – Trust

It’s well-known that trust is fragile, but Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina (Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2006) explain something less well-understood, that trust is eroded not exploded. Like friable soil, most trust is washed away in small increments, minor events over time. But like rings in a tree, you can also build it slowly, in small additions over time. Here are three things you can do starting today:

Give Trust to Get Trust – Start by trusting others to do their best, to do their jobs and to do what they say they’re going to do. Give them clear expectations, resources and milestones, and then get out of their way. When you trust them, they will trust you more in return. Will you be disappointed? Occasionally. But the rest of the time you will be rewarded with loyalty, hard work and results.

Be Congruent – Great leaders are predictable. They are rooted in deeply held values and beliefs that they truthfully communicate to others, and then take action that is consistently aligned with those principles. Your followers may not always agree with your standards, but when you are congruent, they will always know where you stand and respect you for it.

Admit Mistakes – The easiest thing to do and the fastest way to build trust may be the most rarely used – admitting mistakes. Not to be confused with misdeeds, mistakes are unintended errors, usually from new experiences, naiveté or oversights from lack of practice. See these as opportunities for building trust, and hurry to admit your mistakes. In most cases, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome and you will prove that you can be trust.

Trust is at the heart of the art of leadership. Build it well and at every opportunity, and you will enjoy a long, rewarding and accomplished career as a leader. Treat trust carelessly, and you will pay a heavy and long-term price as a leader.

What do you think of the idea of giving trust to get trust or admitting mistakes? Would you agree that the best leaders you’ve experienced were the most trustworthy, or have I missed the mark? What trust-building tips do you have for others?

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