The Value of Trust in Leadership

Lori Edwards

Published On: July 6, 2016

Categories: Community, Career 4

Note: Last year I wrote this article for an ebook that never came about. I think it's valuable content, though, so I'm publishing it here.

There are a number of factors that contribute to a successful team environment – productive communication, clear goals, team support, responsibility, effective conflict resolution techniques, and recognition for jobs well done. Any one of these attributes could lend itself to a full article. Trust However there is one characteristic that single-handedly elevates all of these qualities. That is trust. This is actual trust – not just reliability or predictability. A sense of trust allows us to spend less time trying to figure out what a team member might actually be trying to communicate in an email. With trust, a team can be fully invested in the success of the entire team without worrying that a single person might take all of the credit or that someone will become a scapegoat.

Trust makes a noticeable impact in the work place. In her book, The Trustworthy Leader, Amy Lyman states that “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.” A Maritz Research poll noted that it significantly impacts an employee’s desire to remain at the company, invest time in the company and desire to be at work every day. Unfortunately, that same study shows that only 11% of employees “strongly agree that their managers show consistency between their words and actions”. Merely 7% of employees “strongly agree that they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interests”. How widespread is mistrust in management? According to the Edelmen Trust Barometer for 2013, 82% of employees don’t trust the people that they work for. One last surprising fact, Michelle McQuaid surveyed 1000 American executives. Only 36% of those said that they were happy in their job – that’s not the surprising point. “65% say a better boss would make them happy while 35% choose a pay raise”. It’s the atmosphere of the workplace that makes the difference.

Even though there are any number of reasons that trust in the workplace is beneficial, many companies operate in a punitive or fear based culture. In those cultures, the primary focus of both employer and employee is to get as much out of the other as possible before one or the other terminates the association. Neither employee nor employer have any expectations that this is going to be a supportive or long term relationship.

Taking the steps to create a trust based team, especially if your work culture is not trust based, can be challenging but well worth the effort. The most difficult part of being a trustworthy leader is that you need to trust first and this is impossible without some level of vulnerability. Something as simple as believing that a team member has the same goals that you do, does open us up to being let down. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce”. We understand that vulnerability is important in our personal relationships, but it is equally as important in our work relationships. As leaders, we need to demonstrate the behavior we want our teams to exhibit. Our team members will be far more willing to place trust in us, if we’ve already placed our trust in them.

What are some of the traits of trustworthy leaders?

Communication – Communication is essential in building and maintaining trust. So much so, that I’m going to break this out into a few subsections:

  • Feedback – The trustworthy leader provides timely, constructive feedback. This can be to recognize that everything is continuing on track or to make people aware that they may be heading off track and provide suggestions on corrections. In addition to providing feedback, leaders should encourage feedback from their team members.
  • Transparency – Unfortunately, it’s almost expected that there are ulterior motives or hidden agendas during communications with superiors. Also, unfortunately, this is one of those issues that can only really be proved out over time. Regular communications regarding any changes or updates can help to build that trust.
  • Follow through – A leader’s words and actions should be aligned. Do what you say that you’re going to and if, for some reason, you can’t, communicate that as well.

Accountability – It is very easy to look at this as a means for punitive action, after all one of the words in its definition is liable. This doesn’t have to be the case, though.

  • Responsibility – A synonym for responsibility is trust. Providing opportunities to be responsible conveys trust in the team. Each team member should have specific responsibilities. If possible, that assignment should tie to the team members’ strengths. Not every task will have the same amount of workload or visibility, but leadership should ensure that this evens out over time.
  • Admitting fault – It goes without saying that things will go badly at some point. Failing to update bad processes will only lead to continued problems. In an environment with workplace trust, it is far easier to reveal mistakes, understanding that this knowledge will be used to avoid similar issues in the future. A trustworthy leader should also disclose when they have made missteps and the changes that they have made to ensure they don’t happen in the future.

Respect – Respect is typically given as a result of trust and there are ways that you can demonstrate that respect for team mates.

  • Time – Time is a limited resource and should be handled as such. For instance, not all communications require meetings. Meetings should be reserved for those items that require discussion. Additionally ensure that work is distributed evenly where possible, remembering that the workplace is just a part of your team mates’ lives. Keeping a healthy work/life balance helps to secure a happy team.
  • Individuality – As much as you can, learn about your team, especially as far as their preferred communication style. Not only will the communication be more effective, but your team members will take note.
  • Recognition – Recognition is not just about public announcements and plaques. Recognizing the smaller achievements is not just a feel good moment for team members; it also lets them know that you’re paying attention.
  • Opportunity to contribute – The hope is that you have hired good people, so let them weigh in on projects where it’s appropriate. In doing this, the members are much more engaged and invested in the success of the team as a whole.

None of the items above take any skills that leaders don’t already have. In fact, it actually takes advantage of how your brain wants to work. In a scientific study at Emory University in Atlanta, it was “discovered that the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy.” It is in an environment of trust that we truly see leadership. We move from ‘managing’ employees to actually leading teams. In doing that, we help to create those leaders who will follow in our footsteps.

Lori (@loriedwards) has been with SentryOne since 2013, and has recently transitioned from her role as Senior Solutions Engineer to Training Manager. She is responsible for all learning strategy and architecture, including building, executing, measuring, and evaluating training for SentryOne. Lori is also currently serving as a Director at Large for PASS. Lori shares tips and tidbits for DBAs picked up over years of working as a DBA, as well as stories about her job here. Whether you are a new DBA who wants to learn or someone interested in learning about what it is like to work for SentryOne, be sure to check out Lori’s blog.


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