You Can’t Lead if You Don’t Build Trust

Leadership is the ability to influence others.

The ability to influence others hinges on the ability to build trusting relationships with your people. People do not follow those they do not trust, which makes trust the foundational cornerstone of leadership.

But business leaders who believe they must solve every problem, take control of every project, and make every decision along the way rarely create trust. Instead, their command-and-control approach not only stifles learning and creativity, it kills just about any hope for trust.

When micromanaging habits take up residence in your leadership style, the first casualty is trust. But, for some reason, a large part of corporate America doesn’t seem to understand the concept. But make no mistake: every relationship develops relative to the amount of trust in that relationship. When trust flourishes, influence (leadership) is sure to follow. Without it, your organization is on a collision course with high turnover, low productivity, shrinking margins, and unfulfilled potential.

Here are four tactics leaders must develop in their efforts to earn their employees’ trust:

  1. Invest in the relationship. To encourage employees to buy in and extend trust to you, you must first be willing to invest in them. For employees to trust you, you must first become trustworthy. And, just to be clear, cookie-cutter recognition programs or insignificant workplace perks are a very poor substitute for personal investment.Instead, spend time getting to know your people. Learn their personal objectives. Help in their professional development. To be trusted, you first have to develop a relationship.
  2. Develop effective communication skills. Poor communication is the primary cause of employee disengagement. More to the point, the clarity that good communication provides is essential to allowing employees to build trust AND perform at their highest levels.However, the job itself doesn’t provide that clarity, the leader does. Imagine how much easier it is for employees when they know exactly what’s expected of them. Imagine how much more effective people can perform when they understand the “why” behind your decisions. Imagine how engaged employees are when they understand your expectations.A lack of clarity, on the other hand, is like running a race in which the runners don’t know the distance, have no idea where the finish line is, and have no idea what their reward will be if they finish well.
  3. Hold 1-on-1 meetings with your direct reports. Consistent face-to-face meetings with direct reports provide the opportunity to communicate more effectively, align expectations, and dramatically improve engagement and performance. Leaders who invest the time in these meetings make an investment in the relationship, and employees will respond with trust.The best part? This time investment has a positive return! You easily recoup the time you invest in one-on-one meetings by virtually eliminating the need for dozens of time-robbing follow-up meetings, emails, and calls that are usually required to get updates and understand issues.
  4. Don’t criticize. Learn to coach. There is a significant difference between coaching and criticism. That difference is often not a difference in approach, but a difference in relationship.Leaders who create relationships with employees are rarely perceived as critical, even when delivering tough, direct feedback. Effective leaders understand that they can be demanding and empathetic at the same time once they’ve laid the groundwork to be perceived as genuine, helpful, and truly invested in the employee’s development.

Kelly Riggs is an author, speaker and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. Kelly is a former sales executive and two-time national Salesperson of the Year with well over two decades of executive management and training experience. Robby Riggs is a corporate consultant specializing in strategic transformation initiatives and driving successful change in companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100s. Their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2018), offers practical, actionable advice that improves workplace culture and enables organizations to bridge the generational divide. Learn more at

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top