Trust is a kind of “psychological contract” between persons in organizations. Zigarelli (2005) defines this “contract” further: “It simply means that employees perceive that there is an unwritten bargain in place between employer and employee. The employee’s end of the bargain is to do a decent job and to function within the established rules of conduct for the workplace. In exchange for this, the employee believes the employer has obligations in the areas of pay, promotion, job security, work assignments, hours required, and so on.”
Trust is critical in an organization because people will only take creative risks when they feel secure. Elmer (2006) defines trust as, “the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.” In the leader-follower relationship, both parties contribute to the level of trust that exists between them. Consequently, if a person inherently lacks trust in his or her leaders without just cause, that relationship will be quickly deteriorate and eventually everyone loses.
Scheld and Dodrill (2003) researched whether or not Christian organizations have intrinsically high levels of trust. They surveyed over 15,000 employees of these organizations and the results show that simply being a Christian organization doesn’t mean immunity from low trust levels. The authors identified specific organizational attitudes, norms, and values that influence trust. The five key factors they discovered (in order of significance) were: a) concern for employees, b) openness and honesty, c) identification [with the mission, vision, and goals of the organization], d) reliability, and e) competence.
The move toward building trust in an organization begins with the leader. Zigarelli (2005) reminds Christian leaders that the “principle of reaping and sowing is in full operation here. Trust begets trust, distrust begets distrust.” He encourages Christian leaders to permit trust-oriented questions to enter the decision-making processes of their organization. He suggests questions such as: “Will my decision have the effect of increasing or decreasing the trust that employees place in me?” “Will the manner in which I am reaching this decision make my employees suspicious?” And “If I were on the receiving end of this decision, would I trust that the decision maker had my best interests in mind?”
Mike Henry offers these lists of trust building or breaking behaviours in two separate blog posts:
Trust building behaviours
- Give Win First. No one ever created a win-win relationship without letting the other person win first. If you refuse to let the other person win, you force everyone to contract and withdraw.
- Listen and learn. Attention, focus and time are scarce commodities. Consider how much (or little) time you spend focused on a single activity or person. Actively listen to others and work to understand them twice as long as normal today.
- Appreciate and value others. Simply forcing yourself to listen and focus doesn’t mean you will learn. Appreciation is the point at which you engage. Bring energy to maintain the connection with others out of your own internal desire. Appreciating and valuing another person builds trust. (Hat tip: Monica Diaz’s book “Otheresteem.”)
- Remember what you hear and see. If you appreciate something, you will process and consider it in a way that will help you remember. As you remember what you hear and see, others rest more in their understanding of you, and that builds trust.
- Trust others. Nothing betrays trust more than the lack of trust. Most often, people who won’t trust others do so because they can’t be trusted either. If you would never steal from someone else, why are you always afraid the other person will steal from you? Trust first.
- Find solutions. Begin with the belief that the other person can succeed. Don’t tell them their idea won’t work. Help create ways to make them successful.
- Make a sacrifice. Sometimes the solution to someone else’s problem is a sacrifice on your part. Be willing to be the solution to your teammate’s problems.
- Learn from your mistakes. Don’t make the same mistake twice. People will forgive errors made by genuine people attempting to do the right thing. Work hard to avoid repeat mistakes.
- Make it right. Even though errors can erode trust, you build trust when you fix a mistake well. Be proactive and do the right thing.
- Give generous credit and praise. People want to matter. If you help people be important and valuable, you become valuable.
- Do what you say. It all comes down to this. If you are not capable of delivering, people will like you but not trust you to lead.
Trust breaking behaviours
- Practice creative paranoia. Remember, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
- Make commitments to get others to do something. Choose what you do based on how you feel at any given moment.
- When someone suggests an idea, show them everything that’s wrong with it. They’ll love you for speaking the truth.
- Point out the mistakes of others. “Hey, they can’t get better if they don’t know where to improve!”
- Take credit for every good thing that happens on your team.
- Keep score on who drops the ball and remind frequently.
- When your leaders ask about a mistake that was made, make sure and let them know which team member made the mistake.
- Change your mind frequently with little reason or input.
- Speak in vague terms. If they go off and make a mistake based on their misunderstanding, that’s they’re fault.
- Look out for Number 1. Let’s face it, no one is more important than you. You’re at the center of the universe. If you don’t look out for yourself, who will. So make sure you get yours. After that, you’re free to try to be fair to others.
Elmer, D. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christ-like humility. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, p. 77.
Henry, Mike. (July 19, 2011). 11 Ways to Build Trust in Your Team. Smart Blog on Leadership, Message posted to http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2011/07/19/lead-change-post/
_________. (July 20, 2011). Top 10 Trust Killers. Lead Change Group. Message posted to http://leadchangegroup.com/top-10-trust-killers/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Scheld, K. & Dodrill, C. (2003). How High is Your Trust Level?: 5 Steps to Creating a High-Trust Organization, Christian Management Report, December 2003.
Zigarelli, M. (2005). Building Trust in Your Organization. Regent Business Review 18, (July/August)