What Leaders Can Do to Build Trust

Written by Brian Doyle

We live in an era of distrust.

People around the world are feeling more distrustful than ever of their governments and of big media organizations. In 2021, only 36% of Americans showed some sort of trust towards the media, and only 36% of respondents believed government is a unifying force in society. Interestingly, right now, people trust the business sector the most, which offers companies and their leaders a unique opportunity.

As business leaders, we can build trust with employees and customers by investing in initiatives and causes where the government and media are missing, initiatives that aim to “restore the cycle of trust.” I believe this societal role is here to stay, and leaders can immediately step up to create engagement.

Here are four solutions to help our businesses break the cycle of distrust.

Make inclusion real

recent report showed that an organization’s inclusion and diversity is important to 83% of Gen Z job seekers. These concepts go beyond hiring and HR, and should become integral to the entire culture. At Holden Advisors’ last all-employee meeting, we watched and discussed a TED talk about how to be a better ally in the workplace, and implications for our business. For many of us, it was a real eye-opener. 

Melinda Briana Epler has a quote that resonates with me, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Too often, people feel disenfranchised from their governments, feeling their voice isn’t heard and only a few speak for the many (without accurately sharing their point of view). Similarly, there are people in our organizations who feel they don’t have a voice and therefore, don’t feel they can contribute to their full capacity.

As leaders, we have an opportunity, and frankly a responsibility, to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.   

Candidly and consistently share your vision

Collaboration becomes easier when the entire team can see the future and what they’re building together. Share the vision with your team members of where you want your company to go. Oftentimes the future and progress can be obvious to the leadership of a company, but not to all team members. By speaking about strategic priorities regularly, teams can take ownership of not just their own progress, but the business as a whole.

Talk about your company’s future, and the things you’re doing to get there. People will see you’re making steps towards something they can believe in, and they’ll see where they fit into it. Make sure your team is seeing progress to create a culture of trust. In that kind of culture, new and innovative ideas thrive and teams can become more than the sum of their parts. 

Celebrate true wins (and give credit where it's due)

Nothing bothers me more than when a leader takes credit for someone else’s work. I’ve seen it so many times and it’s always irritating and disingenuous. Likewise, I’ve observed outstanding leaders who consistently recognize others when they excel.

I’m not talking about a trophy for every participant; employees see right through that, and the recognition is meaningless. When true achievement is recognized – especially when the leader could easily syphon credit for themselves – it’s a great way to restore trust.

Reinforce what’s working and share the learnings across the business. When people are recognized for the work they do, it creates a safer environment to try new things and offer new perspectives. With a win already in the “bank” team members are more apt to speak up.

Communicate transparently 

Some mistrust of the government and media is driven by a lack of transparency. In today’s media, you know you are at best hearing half the story. Many have the perception that with government, it’s a significantly lower proportion of the facts. Businesses can learn from this, by making sure to provide consistent, fact-based reports and guidance. With your customers, assess what is happening in the context of their business and their challenges. 

At Holden Advisors, one of our core values is Client Improvement. Not client satisfaction. We feel it’s critical to tell our clients what they need to hear to get better. These sometimes hard-to-hear truths establish trust far better than acting as a “yes person” that tells them only what you think they want to hear. Employees appreciate the same approach. 

In this era of distrust, there’s an opportunity for business leaders to restore the cycle of trust and elevate their teams and environments to new levels. When people trust and feel trusted, they are freer to contribute to the future of the business. They can challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to our organizations. As team members find ways to innovate and work together to deliver a better output and fulfill your company’s vision, they also create a stronger foundation from which all of us can grow.