Imagine this; You are on your very first Special Forces mission. Your team is to parachute into a heavily guarded enemy compound and extract a key operative, who is currently imprisoned. Each member of your five-person team has a job to do. Anyone muffs their assignment, you all risk capture, or worse. Success depends on perfect execution and that requires complete trust in one another.

Clearly, most of us are not members of a highly trained special ops team. However, we all have jobs that require teamwork--ones where each team member must execute their role flawlessly and where excellence is the only acceptable outcome. Trusting one another in the everyday work setting is essential to get the job done, too.

It seems easy enough, right. Build trust among your team and they overachieve. So, why is trust sometimes so elusive?

How leaders build or corrupt the trust of their people

Trust is contagious. Extend trust and you'll receive trust in return.

Mistrust is contagious, too. Exhibit any behavior that suggests that you can't be trusted or indicates that you mistrust your team, and your team members will not trust you.

Once trust erodes, you are a goner. Performance suffers and results begin to tank. Here are five of the ways that I've seen leaders tank trust within their teams:

  1. Being casual with your commitments. That's you demonstrating avoidance behavior so that you can't be pinned down. An unwillingness to put your commitments in writing is a sure sign that you are being elusive and your team will sniff that out and fail to commit, as well.
  2. Blaming others. That's you not being accountable for your team's performance. Let your team see that kind of behavior and it's only a matter of time before you get fragged.
  3. Conjecturing. That's you being too lazy to find the facts before offering an opinion.
  4. Spinning the truth. That's you being manipulative. People don't want to be manipulated.
  5. Accusing your team of any kind of inauthentic behavior. That's you being insecure. This can be especially damaging when done while your team is delivering results.  It will take the winds right out of the sails of a team that thinks that it is keeping its promises.

That's how you kill trust. How do you build it? Here are five suggestions that I've counseled my executive clients to use and that have consistently worked for them over the years:

  1. Make your commitments with care and be sure to be clear and exact. Once made, keep them at all costs.
  2. Stop throwing people under the bus and take responsibility for all of the actions of your team. Holding yourself accountable before anyone else sets the example for accountability that your team can follow.
  3. Solicit the facts. Listen for understanding. Stop assuming that you know best. Let them explain so that you gain perspective. If you have a different opinion, parrot back what you heard them say. Be sure that your understanding is the message intended, and then give your opinion.
  4. Tell the truth. It's that simple. Distorting facts and leaving false impressions only creates unnecessary drama.
  5. Extend trust and monitor progress. Don't fall victim to your yearning to control and micromanage everything that your team is doing.

Establishing a work setting where trust is contagious starts with you. You have to keep your ego in check and place your parochial interests aside.

After all, people follow the lead of their leaders. Be the kind of leader that garners and builds trust and watch your team shine.