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Building Trust for Performance

Sean Lynch, March 6, 2017


Leaders ask a lot of their followers. People are asked to follow leaders into the unknown or the potentially perilous, change work habits or attitudes, and commit to the team or the organization. Following a leader requires them to demonstrate faith, persevere through difficulty, cooperate, and collaborate.

Without buy-in, however, people won’t follow a leader towards change, commitment, or collaboratation. So how do you achieve buy-in? By cultivating trust. Trust is the glue that binds followers to their leader. Trust is the difference between an office of employees and a high-performing team. Trust creates committed individuals and prevents negative workplace experiences.

I recently visited two different locations in the same organization. Both were led by capable individuals. In one location, the leader was actively working to build trust. She regularly held team meetings to keep everyone informed. She was as transparent as possible with the team. The whole team ate lunch together once a week. The team was engaged, having a positive experience, and working to add value to colleagues in other parts of the business.

In the other location, people did not leave their office or cubicle. There was no spontaneous conversation in the hallways, and employees did not seek out their “customers” in other parts of the business to collaborate. Tasks were being accomplished, but intensity was absent.

Teams can’t be commanded to trust. Trust must be earned in ways that are meaningful to the team. Build trust through performance with these actions:

  • Understand and meet the standards of others. We usually strive to meet standards that we think are important. The standards others judge us against, however, may be very different from our own standards. If timeliness has been important in your organization and you’re constantly late for meetings, you are not meeting the standards of your team and demonstrating credible performance.
  • Maintain a narrow “say-do” gap. Keep the difference between what you say you’re going to do (or, what you are supposed to do), and what you actually do, as narrow as possible. Be consistent. When you promise the report by Thursday, make it happen Thursday.
  • Clearly communicate intent and expectations. Don’t assume or take for granted that people know what they are supposed to do. Communicate consistently and clearly what to do, what’s expected, and what’s intended. Ensure everyone is on the same page, so that people can act in ways that are consistent with the intent of the project even when you’re not around.
  • Hold people accountable. Accountability is hard, but it isn’t personal, or unfair. With clear, well communicated standards and expectations, holding people accountable simply entails comparing their performance to the standard. Holding people accountable creates opportunities to develop individuals and elevate team performance.

Don’t just show up and expect to be followed. Leaders must earn trust. Credible performance is one way to earn that trust.

Looking for more on leadership accountability? Check out Sean’s interview with Business Confidential Now here!

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