Four Steps To Repair Broken Trust

This moment is a high-stakes test for business leaders. While the Covid-19 pandemic threatens the financial viability of many organizations, an even more fragile and vital resources is at risk: the trust between the leader and the employees.

It is very easy for a leader to lose trust when people are feeling fear. A simple question such as “Will the organization provide daily reports on the health of employees and others working on our buildings?” can erode or build trust. As I wrote in Value Leadership, the leader can build trust by promising to provide such information and then — crucially — fulfilling that commitment.

Other responses — such as writing down the question and hoping it does not recur or promising to provide the information and not following through — can result in an abrupt erosion of trust. When trust is lost, employees will start looking for a way out.

The good news is that leaders can rebuild lost trust through a formula. According to First Round Capital,  

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Authenticity) / (Perception of Self Interest)

What does this mean? Simply put, people trust you more if they believe that you know what you are talking about, if you do what you promise to do, if you are easy for others to know, and if they see you as acting putting the organization’s interests above your own. 

If you have lost trust with your people, here are four ways to use this formula to help you rebuild it.

1. Diagnose and rebuild lost credibility. 

Credibility comes from having the knowledge, experience and familiarity to perform a particular role well. The pandemic has certainly put leaders in a situation in which they are forced to deal with problems that require knowledge and experience that they lack.

Leaders who are perceived as losing credibility should ask their employees to explain why. If that loss of credibility comes from a lack of expertise in dealing with a new problem created by the pandemic, the leader should simply admit that weakness and move quickly to hire a colleague who can supply the needed expertise.

2. Jump start your reputation for reliability. 

If you’ve made promises to people and then failed to deliver, you are in a precarious position. If you are lucky, people who depend on you will give you a serious tongue-lashing to make sure you understand that you have made a huge mistake that could cost you your leadership role.

In response, you should admit that you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness. Then begin rebuilding your reputation for reliability. As I wrote in Value Leadership, the key is to promise a measurable outcome for your organization by a specific time and deliver on that promise. Only if you repeat this process consistently can you rebuild your reputation for reliability.

3. Make yourself easier for others to know. 

The term authentic leadership gets thrown around frequently these days — but what does it really mean? In my view, others will perceive you as authentic if you reveal to others what makes you tick by telling stories about yourself.

Last month I had lunch with the CEO of a tech startup who did this well. He was a base guitar player in a punk rock band who had a child and needed to make a living fast. He found his way into a sales job which he loved because all he had to do to excel was to make his sales targets. 

In a few minutes, this CEO shared his essential values — a rebellious, independent nature who does what it takes to take care of people for whom he feels responsible.

4. Act more for others than for yourself.

A leader should be the opposite of command and control — meaning that the organization revolves around satisfying the ego and obeying the orders of the one in the big office.

For leaders to sustain trust, they must serve the people in the organization. How can you do that? Start by articulating a clear and inspiring purpose that attracts and motivates people. Next, listen to the people you’ve attracted to your team and remove the obstacles that creep up to impede their initiatives to realize that inspiring mission..

If your interactions with people make them feel that you are putting the organization’s interests above your own, you will further enhance the trust you need to lead effectively.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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