There is a maxim "Trust is hard to gain but easy to lose." Building trust is an endeavor that never ends but is worth its weight in gold if you can achieve and maintain it.
Whether you're a leader, an individual contributor, or even an organization -- trust is the currency by which most relationships are formed and sustained. And nearly every human interaction requires some level of trust.
There's no sure-fire way to build trust, but here are five core elements needed to start the process:
Being authentic is about being real and truly yourself. We more easily connect with people and brands we view as authentic and can be repelled by those we feel are phony. Authenticity simply resonates because the intention is more deeply felt.
Organizations and their leaders who can channel true authenticity are able to garner increased customer loyalty, gain positive brand recognition, and get more leeway when they make missteps because we feel more connected to the authenticity of the brand. That's where the stickiness occurs, where folks become more invested in the relationship -- moving the experience from transactional to personal.
And with authenticity, it requires a type of bravery, as there are many leaders who fear saying or doing the wrong thing. Mellody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, says, "Bravery is not the absence of fear -- it is overcoming it." Part of leadership is stepping into the void by being one's authentic self.
Another aspect of building trust is being objective. When people perceive organizations or people as honest brokers, it's not only easier to hear the messenger's message but it also enables audiences to fully trust the message.
Take the phrase "reputable source" -- the source is credible, generally backed with evidence, and most agree that what's being shared is true. Objectivity is that credibility, and it goes a long way in building the brand, the business, and general goodwill.
Applied internally, objectivity feels like fairness -- employees want to know the organization treats people fairly and leaders are equitable in offering opportunity. When there are feelings of unfairness and subjectivity, people will vote with their feet, and in a competitive job market, retaining staff is key.
Along with trust and objectivity, folks want consistency. Erraticness can create undue anxiety and instability for teams, organizations, and stakeholders.
I can recall times in my career where I've had managers who were highly erratic -- they'd reverse decisions and contradict prior directives, and it made it difficult for us to know what they wanted. Simply put, they were stubbornly inconsistent, and that wreaked havoc on our team. Further, it caused needless swirl and resulted in our missing our goals, because we did not have a clear understanding of what was expected of us.
We also know that at a leadership level, erratic leaders can adversely impact stock prices by creating doubt in a company's future. It can damage the company brand, cause morale issues, and repel talent. Let's look at WeWork's former CEO, Adam Neumann -- it's well documented that his erratic behavior helped erode trust in WeWork's future.
People like consistency, markets like consistency -- they appreciate the stability. It's reassuring. For employees, it can create psychological safety, because they can know what to expect, and markets and partners alike prefer consistency as it feels less risky in a world filled with volatility.
Then there's something I call the cascade of vulnerability, where leaders more freely share, which then creates space for greater dialogue, learning, and candor. When the cascade occurs, it allows for new ideas to emerge and helps avoid the shutting down of conversation. New ideas translate into new offerings and products, and can lead to new growth for companies.
Finally, a leader who is communicative and clearly articulates their vision can create awareness as well as alignment. Awareness because audiences can understand what's required and where they're going. Alignment helps them understand how and when collective effort is required.
When you think about the great communicators, they can inspire folks to action, they listen and learn, they can project credibility, they can command the room, offer calm, or channel compassion, and, more important, they can connect with their audience.
This quote by Stephen Covey sums it up well: "Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships."