How leaders can cultivate understanding and trust

By August 16, 2013All

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Great leadership is reflected by the trust and confidence your team has in you. If they trust you they will go through hell and high water for you. Trust and confidence is built on good relationships, trustworthiness and good ethics. Creating a climate of understanding and trust encompasses an environment where people feel they are safe to voice their opinions.

Building a culture of trust and openness whereby people are comfortable to speak up. It can be encouraged by any leader who can be open and honest with the people they lead. By being open you will encourage others to be themselves and know what they really think, feel and believe.

Building a culture of understanding and trust doesn’t mean you won’t face issues, conflicts and disagreements. What it does mean is that these are brought into the open and dealt with rather than creating a team frustration.

Where do we begin in engaging people to build these relationships, and in creating a climate of understanding and trust?

Lead with questions, not answers

Great leaders use questions to gain better understanding. They don’t use questions as a form of manipulation or finding ways to blame other people. Great leaders use informal gatherings where they can meet with the people they lead on a frequent basis without any scripts, agenda or set of actions to discuss. Questions like

  • Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Can you help me understand?”

These questions come from your intent to understand situations better and allow people to share their own perspective by finding solutions together.

Engage in a dialogue and a healthy debate

Part of cultivating a culture of understanding and trust is to encourage more of a two-way communication around your team. Leadership is about those relationships we nurture through meaningful dialogue that energized people to contribute instead of pulling back.

Get to know your team; the easiest way is to join them at lunch or on their breaks. Be visible and interested. It’s not just about listening; it’s about the ability to connect and value important conversations.

  • Demonstrate you are genuinely keen to hear what your team has to say.
  • Be open and show that their thoughts are valued and make a difference.
  • Share your own thoughts and opinions to encourage discussion.

Clarifying expectations

Many relationship difficulties are often rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and company goals. Unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment and withdrawals of trust. The leader must make a real investment of time and effort up front, which will save great amounts of time and effort in the long run. When expectations are not clear and shared, mistrust becomes compounded, turning into personality clashes and communication failures.

Apologize for mistakes

A culture of environment of understanding and trust is not about perfection. It’s about allowing mistakes to happen as long as people are honest about them. A great leader has the opportunity to lead by example when he or she makes mistakes.

They have the courage to be vulnerable with the people they lead. When people see their leader make mistakes and willing to admit them, they begin to notice a trustworthy leader that places the interest of the team above his own his or her personal interests.

Share the wisdom

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Seshagiri Rao K says:

    Mr. Tal Shnall, I have a small query, arising out of keenness and interest to know and understand. TRUST IS THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF LEADERSHIP IS BUILT. The strength of the structure is borne totally by the foundation. I conceive that most of the Leaders agree on this assumption. No intent to drag into or disgrace leaders from this field. Please do not see the question from that perspective.

    Most of our present day Political leaders have reached the present stage by following the above principles. Today, many of the popular leaders, their statements and acts are viewed with scorn. Can you explain where and how they lost the trust?

  • Tal Shnall says:

    Well they actually have not followed the above principles and that’s one of the reasons we are where we are today. They lost the trust and understanding because they want to look good and would do anything to make themselves appear as a strong leader.

  • Steve Broe says:

    the ability to ask good questions does bring people closer together and supports trust. when a good question is asked the other person must think about it and develop their broad perspective about the situation. Good questions help us connect intellectually and emotionally. By contrast, giving orders rarely does that.

    Thanks Tal for creating this discussion!

    • Tal Shnall says:

      Thank you Steve. As Always I find your insights very thoughtful and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your feedback as I do appreciate our genuine connection.

  • Seshagiri Rao K says:

    Your suggestion infers that either: (a) Leaders have become Leaders without earning Trust of the Public not earned; or (b) they have earned the Trust, without following the above principles; or (c) they have earned Trust following some other principles and have since failed to stand up to the expectations of public in placing the Trust on the Leader.

    Which one of the above, in your view is right and further, let us know how the damage can be curtailed and maintainable Trust rebuilt, in your analysis.

  • Seshagiri Rao K says:

    What I like to know is whether the Political Leader(s) did earn Trust in the first place. If they did, then obviously it was not by following the principles mentioned by you but by following some other principles.

    Secondly, I would like you to provide a means: (a) to contain the damage caused by losing the trust; (b) ways and means to curtail further damage; and (c) methods by which the Trust can be rebuilt.

    I accept that building something like Trust is difficult. But rebuilding it is far more difficult and challenging in comparison to building. Hence, as we tread the path of building Trust, we must be conscious of the pit falls. In short merely building Trust is not adequate, we must also analyse our strengths and weaknesses, before building the Trust, so that we do not fail to stand up to the expectations of those who trust us and place the responsibilities on us, which is a reflection of the Trust placed.

    • Tal Shnall says:

      Seshagiri, thanks for the questions which maybe difficult to answer all in the comment section 🙂 I think that’s the part we are missing from our political leaders is the ability to admit errors in judgments and coming back to the people and share with them what they learned from different situations to be more open and forthcoming. Acknowledging where they went wrong in an open manner would be a good start. I hope I am on the right track for your questions.

  • Isaac says:

    What is trust? Isn’t it absence of fear? U cannot trust anyone who generates fear. Look at all the great leaders – Jesus, Buddha , Gandhi , Obama …..they loved people so much and never used fear as a tool to lead others. That’s how they built trust. Anyone can do this.

  • Seshagiri Rao K says:

    Mr. Issac Trust works in different layers. To go by your own post, people under ruthless autocrats feign Trust – to protect their family. The second line is not in a position to comprehend this ‘fine’ line and proceed. By the time it comes to next generation (third line), the Trust has been ‘tested’ and ‘developed’ by their forefathers and hence does not need a re-verification. Thus, in a way, ‘Trust’ is inherited, like family property.

    The argument may sound far fetched, but I suppose that’s the way things go about, as, we have neither ‘time’ nor ‘patience’ nor ‘energy’ to keep reviewing the steps/measures taken by our predecessors, on every aspect. Further, should we resort to such re-verification, we can not progress further, as life time of each generation is spent purely on this aspect. We would be circling around the same issue(s) – generation after generation.

  • Miriam says:

    there are times that you are genuinely interested to hear what your team is about to share but how do you deal with them when they tend to shy away from you when you try to come close to them?

  • […] How Leaders Can Cultivate Understanding and Trust by Tal Shnall. Key quote: “When people see their leader make mistakes and willing to admit them, they begin to notice a trustworthy leader that places the interest of the team above his own his or her personal interests.” […]

  • Seshagiri Rao K says:

    Mr. Miriam, as I see it, there could be two reasons for this shying away:
    (a) there are times you are genuinely interested to hear what your team is about to share – implies it is always or regularly, in which case, it is difficult for the team to become aware of ‘the genuinely interested times’; secondly, the team would shy away from the leader on two occasions – (i) as an expression of respect and (ii) when they are yet to understand and analyse your personality.

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