It's a small word with big impact.
Laying the foundation of trust is crucial for a team to function effectively, efficiently, and healthily. When you, as the leader, have infused clear values for your team to align around, when you model what trustworthy behavior looks like, and when you provide context for the vision you’re pursuing together, you have a sturdy foundation upon which to build.
But because we don’t lead robots and we aren’t working with widgets, the reality is that we will encounter gaps in trust because we work with humans.
As much as we’d sometimes prefer that those on our teams could compartmentalize completely and bring only the productive, professional aspects of themselves to work, that simply isn’t possible. We are leading whole people, and whole people are sometimes tired, stressed, cynical, impatient, and flawed in addition to being the creative, insightful, talented team members you hired.
When one flawed person works closely with another flawed person, even when a culture of trust exists, conflict and questions of motive will occasionally arise.
Avoiding such moments isn’t possible. But addressing them quickly is entirely within your power.
5 Steps to Bridge a Trust Gap
1. Initiate the conversation.
Whether or not you were the one to cause a breach in trust (but certainly if you were), you can be the one to initiate the conversation that rebuilds it. It’s okay if it feels awkward or clumsy. Sometimes leadership is. It can be as simple as asking the question, “I sense that there’s distance that would indicate a lack of trust between us. Have I done something to cause you to lose trust in me?” When you sense something “off” with a team member, the sooner you initiate a conversation, the better. Mistrust is contagious.
There are typically multiple perspectives on any given situation and the truth lies somewhere between them all. It can be tempting to defend or explain, and in some cases, explanations can clear the air. Often, though, people need to be heard before they are able to see and accept the clarity that an explanation brings.
The method often taught to children applies just as well to adults. When I was little and my sister and I would bicker, the apology script our parents taught us was, “I’m sorry for (what I did.) Will you forgive me? Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
4. Own your part.
It requires humility and vulnerability to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake, but doing so provides freedom for you and reassurance for the person you’re talking with. They now know that you are willing to stay teachable and admit shortcomings, and this eliminates questions about whether or not you can be trusted in the future.
You should not, however, own an aspect of the situation you didn’t cause. Being honest and accountable does not mean accepting undeserved blame. This robs the other person of the chance to own their part of the conflict and to grow as a result.
To repair broken trust in a team environment will take patience, persistence, and follow through. It’s not an overnight process. Consistently following through on the commitments you’ve made will, over time, show those you lead how passionate you are about creating and maintaining a healthy team culture.
Proactively following and teaching this process will allow the culture of trust that you’ve built to be sustained, and you’ll find yourself leading a team with collaborative, healthy relationships with each other. The kind of thriving team that is poised to successfully accomplish its mission.
Another way we build trust as leaders is by continuing to invest in our development.
In this course, Jenni Catron walks you through a framework for leadership that will be an anchor in your growth journey.
Based upon her book, The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership, this course will provide you with the secret to standout leadership found in the Great Commandment and equip you with practical ways you can lead with all of who you are for the glory of God and the good of others.
Keep leading well, friends!
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning there is no additional cost to you, but I will earn a small commission if you use the links to make a purchase.