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Building trust requires expertise, consistency and fostering strong relationships, according to consultant Joseph Folkman. And he has the data to prove it.

His databank contains 360-degree assessment scores of leaders filled out by more than 1.5 million raters over the years who work above, below or alongside them. It reveals the importance of trust and how to build it to improve your own leadership ability.

Leaders rated at the top levels of trust were also evaluated at the top end for effectiveness, while those poorly rated for trust were considered very poor leaders. Looking at a range of leadership skills – such as communications, motivating others, innovation and driving for results – Mr. Folkman found a high level of trust added 32 percentile points, on average, to the effectiveness assessment. So trust boosts your leadership abilities.

And it comes from what he calls the trifecta of trust, three skills that correlate highly to it:

  • Expertise: This includes your understanding of the technical aspects of the work as well as your depth of experience. It’s demonstrated foremost by good judgment when making decisions. “With expertise, others trust your ideas and seek them out,” Mr. Folkman wrote in his book, The Trifecta of Trust.
  • Consistency: This is about walking the talk and doing what you say you will do. You need to set a good example and be a good model for colleagues. It also can mean going above and beyond what needs to be done.
  • Fostering good relationships: This comes from staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, and balancing results with a concern for others rather than only on a goal. It includes giving feedback in a helpful way. “Your relationships will generate co-operation and will help in resolving conflicts,” he wrote.

If you had a sinking feeling as you rated yourself on those attributes, you’ll be happy to learn that you don’t need to be perfect. To have a high level of trust, all three pillars must be above average, however. When a leader scores around the 60 percentile on the assessment scores on all three factors, their overall trust score was in the 80 percentile.

“This means that if a leader was barely above average on all three factors, that trust score would soar,” Mr. Folkman wrote.

Your trust can also improve. A group of leaders whose 360-degree assessments were alarmingly low moved up to middling by focusing on the issue. And another group rated at the 43 percentile level moved up to the 70 percentile level with dedicated work.

He warns not to let the need for expertise lead you to feel you must be the smartest person in the room, with all the answers. Arrogant know-it-alls are rated far lower on trust than more humble experts. When coaching a high-tech leader who rated very highly on tech expertise, Mr. Folkman asked his secret. The reply: “I just ask a lot of questions of my direct reports, get their opinions and make sure they get all the credit.”

Organizations, of course, are also rated on trust. In The Power of Trust, Harvard Business School Professor Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta, a research associate at the school, set out four components for your organization to be trusted by employees, customers and the world at large.

The first echoes the finding on individual trust: Is your company competent? Does it have the ability to innovate, produce and deliver products and services as well as to navigate external circumstances deftly? They stress that trust must be built from the inside out: You must be competent internally to have an impact externally.

The second element is being motivated to serve the interests of others as well as the organization’s: “The motives of companies, like individuals, play a role in whether they earn our trust. People don’t just care about what companies do; they also care about why they are acting as they do and whose interests they serve,” the authors wrote.

Perceived motives also play a role in the third component: Do you use fair means to achieve your goals? Fairness comes in a variety of forms. They break it down into informational (the rationale for actions), distributive (whether the actions and outcomes themselves are fair), procedural (the fairness of decisions) and interpersonal (how individuals and groups are treated in personal interactions with the company and its members): “To be trusted, be fair,” they summed it up.

The last and they feel arguably most important element of earning trust is the impact of your organization’s actions. What are the concrete, observable impacts your company has on individuals, communities and countries where it operates? Also, does the company take responsibility for those impacts, both those that were intended and those that weren’t?

“The issue here is not about companies’ feelings of responsibility. It is about whether and how they act on those feelings to respond to the impacts they create,” the authors wrote.

Trust is important. It’s not easy to achieve. But that’s a simplified, helpful roadmap for individuals and organizations.

Cannonballs

  • Television anchors must be trusted. So it’s worth looking at the trinity of trust to understand the source of Lisa LaFlamme’s widespread trust and how Bell Media Inc. and CTV fared on the four organizational factors of trust after her exit as CTV National News host.
  • Rotman School of Management Professor Mitchell Hoffman’s research on a grocery chain found those stores with an employee referral program – where existing employees recommend recruits – saw about 15 per cent less staff turnover and up to 3 per cent lower labour costs.
  • A workplace study found that 71 per cent of employees preferred the chance to continue working from anywhere than to be promoted to management. But consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni warns you not to assume that just because people don’t aspire to leadership, they’re happy where they are. Many aren’t – they are bored and not contributing to their greatest capacity. Figure out what interests them, and make it happen.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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