How Great Leaders Use Two Kinds of Trust to Build Great Teams

Authentic leaders develop trust by being reliable and believing in the good intentions of others. Discover why these forms of trust are critical in building relationships and how compassion plays an important role in both. 

Do you identify as a leader? I didn’t for a long time in my career, even though I was being asked to evolve into leadership positions. 

At one point, I even told my mentor, “I just don’t see myself as a strong leader.”

This mentor knew the makings of a great leader. He’d served as the CEO of various public and private companies and sat on nonprofit boards throughout his career. He pointed me to the book Discover Your True North by Bill George. 

Bill talks about how the era of Jack Welch and GE, where the smartest people in the room evolve into leadership roles, is over. Today, the great leaders have high emotional intelligence, care about the people they lead, and are very good at building teams.

Reading this at 52-years-old was revelatory. I thought, “That sounds like me.” I genuinely care about people — who they are, their interests, and their development — and I know how to build strong teams. I continue to lean into these strengths and they’ve led me in my journey of what I call authentic leadership.

Authentic leadership has three components:

  • Vision
  • Relationships
  • Courage

In part one of this series, I wrote about creating alignment around a shared vision.

Today, let’s focus on the second component: building strong relationships. As a leader, you can’t develop strong relationships without trust.

The Two Pillars of Leadership Trust

The most fundamental factor in building relationships is trust. In our Management Development Course, we teach how to establish the two pillars of trust with those you lead:

  1. being trustworthy, and
  2. trusting others’ intent.

Consider the strong teams you’ve been on in the past. Or the teams you’ve observed around you. Did these pillars of trust play a role in the team dynamics?

Establishing yourself as trustworthy means the people you lead know:

  • You do what you say you’re going to do.
  • They can count on you to have their back.
  • We’re aligned as a team and headed in the same direction.

Next, you need to be able to trust the intentions of others. It’s vital that we believe people are doing the best they can based on the circumstances they’re in.

Will you get disappointed once in a while? Sure. But when people believe they are trusted, they’ll lean into that and behave in a trustworthy way.

Trust Doesn’t Happen Without Compassion

Trusting others’ intent isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s impossible if you overlook the element of humanity in leadership — I believe this is where having a high level of emotional intelligence is a game changer.

I often do an exercise with the groups I teach where I ask:

“Within the last six months, have you experienced a major obstacle or difficulty in your life?”

Each time, about 80% of people say yes. They are either currently going through a significant challenge or have done so recently.

Think about that for a minute.

At any given moment, eight out of 10 of the people on your team are dealing with (or just went through) something difficult in their lives.

Think about your own life.

  • What challenges do you deal with in your family?
  • In your personal life?
  • Your health?
  • Your professional life?

We lead human beings who have full lives outside the workplace. Keeping our humanity in mind, setting aside judgements, and approaching conversations with compassion is critical in earning trust and building relationships.

I’m not saying that we don’t have to have difficult conversations as leaders, because we do. But rather than snap judging others’ behavior, we can take a moment to check in with them. If someone needs to talk to us about things deeper than a business decision, we can be present and listen.

Having compassion and empathy shows you’re someone who can be trusted. And the compassion you have for each individual allows you to trust their intent. This sets the foundation to build strong relationships and strong teams.

With these relationships and a clear vision and alignment, the only component of authentic leadership that’s missing is courage. That’s what we’ll explore together next week in part 3 of this series on authentic leadership.

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