A recent study by Signal vs. Noise – including of 597 operations and managerial workers – discovered three powerful ways of boosting trust; namely:
Over one-quarter of the people said leaders build trust by acknowledging their shortcomings. That’s no surprise. Lencioni’s classic work on teamwork says that trust is all about vulnerability. Team members who trust each other are more comfortable sharing information about failures, weaknesses, and even fears. When people are willing to admit the truth about themselves, they won’t waste time on political games, wasting precious time and resources. Vulnerability is a shortcut to authenticity.
It is a two-way street: The vulnerable leader appears more empathetic, and trusted. Each person knows the other person’s strengths and weaknesses. It is crucial information. Effective teams have no mysteries. No one gains from keeping skeletons in the closet.
Explain the intent behind your actions.
Over one-quarter of the people said leaders must explain the intent behind their actions. Why? The labor force is increasingly sophisticated, educated, and informed. They want to understand why the leader is taking various steps. Intent is part of a three-step process. First, clarify the goal. Then formulate action plans. Finally, explain why the action steps are necessary to achieve the goal.
Ambiguity on overall intent is toxic to the team’s overall commitment. Your intent needs to be crystal clear. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
‘Walk the talk’ – Accountability:
Almost 2/3 of the sample said that the managers were ‘all talk and no action’. Leaders must follow through on their commitments. ‘Walking the talk’ is the cornerstone of accountability. The leader is answerable to his team; team mates are accountable to each other; and the entire team is responsible for overall success.
When leaders are fully answerable for their roles, peer-to-peer accountability soars because people know the leader will hold them responsible for their individual contributions to the plan. However, this needs to be flawless: Neither the leader nor the team members can excuse inadequate performance, or behavior, from any member of the team. Everyone must toe the line.
What doesn’t build much trust?
Some traditional trust-building techniques simply don’t work. Retreats and traditional team-building exercises were the least useful. Barely 1% of the staff said these techniques worked. Second, recognition is overrated as a trust-building tool. Yes, people expect recognition for good work, but it is not a major foundation of trust. Third, more information was important for only 10% of the workforce. Again, workers expect information, and they get it from various sources. Information is not a motivator—by itself—unless it illuminates individual and team vulnerabilities, intent, and accountability. Information needs to be meaningful; otherwise, it is noise.
Building trust is a slow process, but it is lost very quickly. So, it is imperative to stoke trust, at all levels. Trust has three pillars: The leader and his team acknowledge and admit their weaknesses, failures and fears. Leaders are crystal clear – not only about their action plans but also regarding the intent behind their actions. Finally, the leader does his part of the plan, holds others accountable for executing their parts of the plan, and team members hold each other to the same standard.
Building trust is simple, but not easy. And it is worth every calorie of effort.
Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A field guide. San Francisco,
Signal vs. Noise (2019) The 3 most effective ways to build trust as a leader, by Signal vs Noise. Retrieved from: