15 January 2023 |

Building Trust in the Workplace: A Leader’s Guide

By Jacob Espinoza

Trust is the foundation for success on any team. It’s the first step in creating a healthy organization and will establish a foundation for growth. And it’s easy to overcomplicate the process of building trust.

Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Patrick Lencioni lists developing Trust as the foundation of building high performing teams in his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

If you don’t know where to start building trust, start here:

Always do what you say you will.

This concept is easy to understand but difficult to execute. People are complex. Business is complex. And life is complex. And as a leader, you have to focus on all three–often at the same time.

You have commitments to your business, employees, family, and friends. You show the people around us they are important to you by showing the promises you make to them are important.

You likely have developed the ability to multitask like a master, but as things continue to change and evolve, commitments can be missed, especially if you don’t take the time to create systems for follow-up.

Remember this: No commitment is small. 

When you miss commitments, your team will wonder if you lack the character or competence to follow up with them consistently.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Trust is the extent to which leaders walk their talk and do what they say they will do.”

Leaders who were rated high in trust were consistent with these action items:

  • Walk the talk
  • Honor commitments and keep promises
  • Follow through on commitments
  • Willing to go above and beyond what needs to be done

You won’t always be able to control what happens in your business, but you can control how well you prepare and how you respond.

Here are 3 action items that will help you follow up and establish trust:

  1. Assume you will forget

Write everything down in the same place.

Some people like a notebook with their checklists. I like putting things in the calendar and blocking out time to get things done.

Making this a habit requires discipline, but it will show your team how much you value them.

Getting things down on paper will also allow you to look at how you are spending your time to ensure that you are spending time in a way that is aligned with your goals.

Once you have your list, follow this process:

1: Prioritize your tasks

2: Break large tasks into small action items

3: Block out time in your calendar

4: Communicate your deadlines and changes with your team

When you lead a team, things will come up that cause deadlines to be missed. In these moments, be proactive and communicate early. You might not have all the answers, but they will appreciate you sharing what you know.

2. Managing expectations

Before you commit, take time to think about how it fits into your priorities and the team’s priorities. Is this something you can and want to make time for? 

People view a lack of follow-through as either a lack of competence or a lack of character. Those around you will connect the dots for themselves and decide whether they perceive you as someone who lacks character and decided not to follow through or someone with a skill gap who cannot effectively manage their tasks. 

When you time-block your calendar, it will be much easier to see when you’ll have time for your task. If the new task is a priority, it will be easier for you to decide what item needs to be pushed out to make space for it. (Just be sure you communicate this adjustment with everyone impacted.)

3. When you make a mistake, own it!

Learn from it, grow, and create a plan to ensure you can do better next time.

Don’t make excuses. Don’t drag on the explanation. Keep it simple. “This is what happened, and this is the change I’m making to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

The less frequent the mistakes, the more understanding your team will be.

If you find yourself explaining your mistakes often, stop explaining what you will do differently. Actions speak louder than words. The only thing that will reestablish trust in your team is time and consistency.