The focus on building a high performance culture is increasing at many organizations, and rightly so. But the need for building trust is equally important. This is not solely an ethical issue, isolated from productivity. Trust is a driver of high performance.

What’s so important about trust?

Trust enables commitments to be undertaken in high-risk situations. Trust enables coordination without coercion or competition. Trust reduces stress. Trust leads to creativity in problem-solving.

Trust and leadership are intrinsically linked. If we don’t trust in leadership, we simply will not commit ourselves. Three leadership traits needed to build solid credibility and trust are unified commitment, transparency of intent, and affection and respect.

1. Building Trust through Unified Commitment

A critical trait required for collective leadership to build trust is unified commitment. This means that individual team members forego personal motivations, intentions, and objectives in favor of the goals and common interests of the team. No matter how tense and controversial the leadership meeting was, once the leadership team leaves the room, it speaks with a unified voice. Of course, leadership team disagreements and their consequences have to be discussed and handled, but within the leadership team, not in the public space. Collective leadership that actively builds trust will create much more impact than any individual leader can achieve alone.

2. Building Trust through Transparency about Intent

Observers can’t see inside our heads, they only see our behavior. So, they make assumptions about our intent—often wrong assumptions. It’s important to declare what one is all about, how one prefers to operate, and what one expects to achieve. To be effective, declared intentions must be genuine and must be rooted in a clearly defined mutual benefit. In his research for The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey found that declaring intent reduces resistance while enhancing commitment—especially in situations where there are new leaders in charge, massive change is under way, or in which employees assume that leaders’ motives are mixed.

3. Building Trust through Affection and Respect

When trust exists, respect and affection are the foundations of interactions. These traits are often neglected or ignored, especially in male-dominated environments. The meaning of affection is often misunderstood and, therefore, seldom tended to with purpose. What does “affection” mean in this context? “Does it mean hugging?” one leader asked me in horror. No. It means consistently demonstrating the genuine desire to be part of and to work with an individual, a team, or an organisation.

Wanting to be part of a team, to drive collective achievement for the greater good of the company, appreciating diversity of thought and diversity in the team set-up, recognizing and acknowledging knowledge and wisdom of others—these are all factors that engender respect and affection. This type of environment creates trust, not as an exceptional state, but as the normal way to work together.

Trust is a Business Driver

Multiple studies show that high-trust companies outperform low-­trust companies. In other words, trust is a business driver! Taking the time for your organization to give real attention to consciously building trust into your relationships and operations will pay significant dividends. In fact, it’s a prerequisite to high performance!

For more insights on building trust in your organization, see Karl-Heinz Oehler’s TRANSFORM article, “Trust and Leadership.”


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