- Building trust in the workplace starts with establishing credibility
- Leadership and trust require self-reflection and honesty
- Read our extensive guide on Effective Leadership: How to Be a Better Leader
Trust has many layers. In the book The Trusted Advisor, the authors David H. Maister and Charles H. Green put forth the "trusted advisor formula": the numerator of credibility + reliability + intimacy divided by the denominator of self-orientation, which Maister and Green define as a too-narrow focus on your own interests. Leaders have to have some self-orientation because, without a strong point of view, they bring no value. But too much self-orientation can seem highly self-serving. When coaching leaders to build trust through strengths, I find this formula to be rather helpful.
Trust building begins by thinking about each of the components. Let's start with credibility -- credibility points to a leader's competency and believability. A credible leader is someone people will follow because he or she gathers the facts and forms a well-thought-out opinion that leads people in a viable direction for the goals they are trying to accomplish. Leaders need to ask how their strengths help them be credible, specifically:
- How can my strengths help me to be a competent leader?
- How can my strengths help me to bring good and credible information into my decisions?
- How can my strengths help me to involve other experts to inform my decisions?
As a leader, if I can leverage my strengths to help me become sharper about these questions, I can create stronger credibility with those people whom I lead. Reliability can be treated in a similar way. Reliable leaders do what they say they will do. Reliability is about holding true to commitments. A leader should consider these questions:
- How can my strengths help me be seen as a leader who lives up to the commitments I make?
- How can my strengths help me to make sure that I commit to things that I am absolutely certain I can follow through on?
Intimacy, on the other hand, isn't so much about how you're seen as how you are. Intimacy is about building deeper connections with followers. We are all human beings with full lives that don't cease to exist within the four walls of work, and intimacy requires caring about people beyond just what they can do for us at work. As a leader, we should consider these questions:
- How can my strengths help me be approachable and vulnerable as a leader?
- How can my strengths help me be curious about others as human beings rather than just employees?
The last piece of the formula is self-orientation. In this formula, self-orientation diminishes the overall strength of trust. It's hard to trust leaders who exploit, or appear to exploit, their teams and companies for their own interests. Keeping this in mind, leaders should ask themselves these questions:
- How can my strengths help me to keep in mind what is best for the greater mission of the work we are doing?
- How can my strengths help others to see the greater mission of the work we are doing?
When working to build trust, these questions can certainly help leaders look more deeply at who they are, what their strengths are and what this means as it pertains to enhancing the elements of the trusted advisor formula. If our people see us as believable forthright leaders who care about them and who do what is right with the broader mission in mind, then certainly trust can grow.
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