What does it take to be a great leader of people today? The starting point, which I've preached from virtual speaking platforms many times over, remains clear: to create the conditions necessary for superior results -- for people to perform their best work.

Some of the time it will come down to how you show up with your leadership behaviors; at other times it will come down to your environment or culture.

One of the key components that cover both areas is believing in and trusting in your people. When you see the potential that each person under your care carries, and speak that belief into their lives by encouraging them and building them up, an unprecedented level of trust will be reached. Truth is, a team with high trust will produce results faster and at a lower cost.

Trust should be given as a gift

But here's the million-dollar question: Should you first earn the trust of your people? Or does trust develop from having a belief in your people first -- their strengths, abilities, and commitment?

Conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, and if they violate that trust, it becomes difficult to earn it back. But it has been found that, in healthy organizations, leaders are willing to give trust to their followers first, and they give it as a gift even before it's earned. 

In essence, if you trust and believe in your people first, and in return, they reciprocate by believing in you as a leader, they will give their best work. And you will see significant business results.

There are both small and big steps to improve trust factors that will increase employee loyalty. Here are four steps to get started and achieve some measurable progress.

1. Find your current level of trust.

Review your company values to see if those values are being modeled across the organization. For example, if you have honesty, teamwork, or integrity as an operating value, but it doesn't feel true for you or your employees, that's a trust problem. 

2. Promote trust.

Spread the word and share stories that support a trusting relationship among peers and co-workers, customers and employees, and managers and their subordinates. Make space in weekly meetings, town halls, and one-on-ones to highlight examples of good trustworthy behavior. And always reinforce the values of giving trust away. 

3. Get your people involved.

Devise strategies that allow for people to participate in activities that build and extend trust. As a leader, set the expectation that your team members safely provide input and debate their best ideas. And always follow through to push for more trust, even if the larger organization is not responsive. You can start with your own team. And be an example for other teams across the enterprise.

4. Infuse trust into performance management.

Take a look at your key performance indicators. You want to incorporate trust criteria into how you evaluate people's performance. Look at your job descriptions and hiring profiles. Do they communicate an environment of trust or do they need to be revised?