Organisational and leadership author, Stephen Covey, has identified the ability to ‘establish, extend, and restore trust’ as the ‘key leadership competency of the new, global economy’.
According to Covey, the number one role of a leader is to inspire, build and sustain trust. For organisations, the effect of trust goes beyond leadership; it has significant impact on a company’s ability to innovate.
Consider the following account of a person who was publicly berated by his boss:
In one sense, the experience reminded me of military training: the drill sergeant yelling obscenities in the face of the new recruit in an attempt to break him. In some weird way that behaviour has an objective, this experience left me feeling humiliated. I felt like a small child being told off in front of his siblings. It had a crushing and lasting impact on both me and the other people present.
For my boss, the concept of leadership was about control, wielded in such a way that we were left with no doubt as to who the person in authority was. She had control, but she didn’t have respect, and certainly didn’t have the trust of her staff.
Fortunately (hopefully) this kind of behaviour is not the norm in workplaces. But nonetheless, it highlights an important lesson for any leader, regardless of their concept of leadership: Trust is key and trust is gained by always being calm and controlled.
Once lost, trust is very hard to get back. In the above example, the leader chose to throw trust away by treating people abysmally, but trust can be lost by less extreme leakages such as incompetence, poor listening skills, poor decision-making, and a whole host of other reasons, but essentially through what can be summed up as poor leadership.
When I go to see my boss it is usually because I have a problem that I am having trouble solving. Sometimes it is because I need to confess that I have ‘stuffed up’, and as a result a complaint might be coming their way.
While an awkward situation to be in, I feel a sense of trust because I know she will calmly listen to me. I know what I am getting every time. She is predictable, calm, controlled.
It has been a tough week for me as a leader. I have had little sleep. I know when I am sleep deprived my ability to control my emotions becomes compromised. Knowing this about myself is the first step in ensuring that I remain calm and level-headed. I need to take more breaks, walk and get some fresh air, eat well and not rely on coffee.
How do the people who to look to you for leadership describe your demeanour? Are you predictable? What are your triggers? For me it is a lack of sleep, for others it can be a fear of making a mistake.
The first step to developing trust in your leadership is knowing yourself and what your triggers are. With that knowledge you can create strategies to ensure that you can always be controlled in every circumstance.
 Covey, S. (2006). The speed of trust. New York: Simon and Schuster.