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10 steps to building trust that lasts

by Nan S. Russell
in Governance, Leadership, Management

Look around any organization and you will find trust in action. There is some department, work unit, or team where people shine, ideas flourish, and exceptional work happens. That is where trust is.

Savvy administrators realize trust has become a workplace imperative. Knowing how to build and operate with trust in an era of distrust is a leadership essential for anyone wanting great results. But sustainable trust building goes beyond the basics. Effective leaders nurture and grow trust in many ways. Here are 10 ways leaders can grow authentic trust at work.

1. Be Good at What You Do

Content may be king on the internet, but competence is king at work. Competence builds performance trust. The competent performance of your job is a litmus test for believability.

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2. Demonstrate Passion

Passion is not about cheerleading, platitudes, or crank-it-up faux enthusiasm. It comes from an inner desire, determination, and drive. For many, it is making a difference or contributing to the whole. It shows up softly in some leaders; loudly in others, but it is easily discernible by those around them.

3. Operate with Behavioural Integrity

Behavioural integrity is the alignment between what one says and does. No alignment, no credibility. No credibility, no trust. Behavioural integrity demonstrates trustworthiness. Those who build trust do not commit what they cannot control, make promises they cannot keep, or fail to own their mistakes or shortcomings.

4. Care About People

Kindness matters. Trust-building leaders are kind and considerate, operating with compassionate hearts. They see people as individuals, not with gender, generational, or stereotypical biases.

5. Want the Best for Others

Leaders bring out the best in others, helping them to apply and develop their strengths and reach their goals. These are the people who provide challenges and opportunities to help others grow and develop. They enable others to be successful.

6. Listen

Leaders do not listen so they can talk; they listen so they can learn. By withholding their judgment, being present, and engaging in real dialogue, these effective leaders embrace differences, create openness, and facilitate connection.

7. Keep Perspective

In the real world of what matters in life, trust-building leaders have perspective. Certainly, there are crises at work, but they do not yell “fire” with every problem. They step back before sounding the alarm, put setbacks in context, and understand that things do not always turn out great – despite big efforts.

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8. Manage Direction and Work, not People

Those who build trust paint word-pictures to help people see the end vision (or “what it looks like”) to hit the target. They leave the fun in work by setting direction, not dictating details. They clear hurdles, reduce bureaucracy, and make it easier, not harder, for people to get their work done.

9. Say Thank You

Leaders appreciate, value, and acknowledge the efforts and contributions of those they work with. In the words of Arnold H. Glasgow, “A good leader takes a little more than his share of blame; a little less than his share of credit.” They do both.

10. See Beyond Self

For trust-building leaders, it is not about their promotion, bonus, or achievement; it is about something bigger. They link the “why” behind the “what,” and help others view the landscape of purpose. These are the people who enable others to see why and how their work does, indeed, matter.

Building Trust Builds Success

The bottom line in today’s workplace is this: people do not give their ideas, discretionary efforts, commitment, enthusiasm, or best work to people they do not trust.

If you want to attract and retain top performers, enhance well-being, increase service, engagement, productivity, teamwork, and results – then building trust at work is not simply a nice thing to do; it is a strategic one. Trust creates, increases, and sustains organizational results.  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the full version of this article or in Susan Gardner’s article: Say what you do, do what you say and prove it. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


Nan S. Russell is the author of several books, including The Titleless Leader (2012, Career Press) and Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture that Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation (2013, Career Press). She is a former vice president of a multi-billion dollar company, a workplace consultant, and international speaker.

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