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How leaders develop trust

mark-haugen.jpgA leader needs to be trusted. Trust is an important element of the work I do with members of the community. But why should they trust me and the organization I represent?

I wish that everyone saw me as I see myself; someone who is worthy of their complete trust. Sadly, I'm not a perfect leader, and like all leaders, have been in situations where people don't trust me fully.

Not one of us is perfect. The truth is that in educational, non-profit and community settings there are people who don't know us or our programs, well enough for them to trust. As full time, part time, paid or volunteer leaders of programs we need to invest our time in developing and maintaining the trust of others.

What can we as leaders do to develop trust?

Educational research has shown for decades that trust is important in families, communities and the workplace. The Four Distinctions of Trust outlined by Charles Feltman in the Thin Book of Trust summarize in a meaningful way what it means to be trusted. Being trusted can mean that others see sincerity, reliability, competence and care. Our trusting relationships with others matter. What we do matters too!

I've heard a friend say multiple times that we often judge others based on their actions and ourselves on our intentions. In Paul Browning in the International Journal of Leadership in Education offers some of the first research into how to build trust in educational settings. He identified a set of behaviors that build trust for us to consider. My goal is to use this list (see image) as a guide for how I can grow trust. I believe all leaders can use these behaviors to develop trust with others who don't trust us, for whatever reason.

What can we do to build trust with someone? If you have a success story of developing trust I'd love to see it in the comments section. I'd also love to see a few people asking for the insight of others!

I ask that in the comments we talk about things that build trust, rather than stories of how it is lost.

-- Mark Haugen, Extension educator, regional 4-H youth development programs

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  1. Offering trust is a hard one. It can be super hard if we are trusting them to do something that we care a lot about and have done ourselves in the past. Trusting them may mean that things are done differently. Can we be OK with someone not doing things the way we would do them?

  2. I'm a big fan of David Horsager when it comes to a discussion around trust. What's more, this guy is the real deal...he's a Minnesotan and he's a 4-H'er. If you ever have the chance to see him speak about trust and the 8 pillars of the most successful leaders and organizations, take it. It will change how you do business. I have used his methods in outreach successfully, building trust with new partners. A lack of trust is your biggest expense. Building trust builds your business exponentially.

  3. Kirsten-I've read his book! I enjoyed it...he had a bunch of meat in that one.
    What have you applied to your work to grow trust? Do you have any stories?

  4. Excellent blog post, Mark! Have you read: The Speed of Trust by Franklin Covey? Also excellent and on the same lines. It is a requirement at my job to read and take the credibility test, etc. It helps us work as a team and perform better together as we trust each other and have that speed of trust between us. Or, in the alternative, it also helps weed out those not on the team or functioning at a level of trust. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Mark -
    Thanks for your blog! I have a question for you. What are your thoughts, in an organizational context, on the phrase we hear all the time - trust needs to be earned?

  6. Amy, Thanks for the post---Covey is a great writer. A number of people write about trust. I like the thin book because is boils the concept down into some thing that is so simple to understand and implement.
    You mention that it can help "weed out those not on the team or functioning at a level of trust." I hear your point. When you consider the concept of trust it is important to realize that it isn't something you can force on someone.
    I can only control myself. I believe that most people have good-will and want good things to be happening in their work and volunteer roles. Why is it that good willed people that both care about something struggle to trust one another? In my opinion it is because each of us value different aspects of trust. If one person values active listening and the other positive affirmation they likely won't be meeting each others needs. One will say "They never listen" and the other "They never say anything nice to me!" Is either wrong?

  7. Jennifer,
    "Trust needs to be earned"
    Interesting question. Should someone we work with or a child that we teach have to prove they are worthy to be cared for? Should either have to prove they are worthy of being respected for who they are? Should either have to prove they are worthy of being trusted?
    I believe that the overwhelming people we connect with in our occupations, families and volunteer roles have good will. I will care for, trust and respect others for who they are...including senior leaders of organizations.
    That being said the trust I have in others can be lost, weakened as well as strengthened. I remember when I was sixteen and I lost the trust of my father. It took months (perhaps years) before he trusted me fully again.
    What I would ask you is if you sense that trust needs to be developed...what can you do in the context of the organization to grow trust?
    In many organizations it may mean intentional efforts to offer trust, being visible or providing affirmation.

  8. Great information sharing Mark!
    There are many things that we can do to build trust. All of the items listed in the chart you shared are essential. I would also add being honest, presenting yourself as an equal, and trying to understand the perspective of everyone you are working to the list.
    In our society, whether or not we want to admit it, I think that many people are not trusting of others when they first start interacting with them and that trust develops our time based on the interactions that happen between individuals. Maybe this is because many of us have past experiences where we have trusted someone and ended up being disappointed, hurt or taken advantage of. When I think back to the beginning of my career with 4-H, I guarantee that there were people out there that questioned whether or not they could trust me or even if I knew anything since I was new and young. I'd like to think that at this point in my career, families now trust that I have their family's and the program's best interest in mind because I've proven myself over time. Even if we do want to admit it, trust often needs time to develop and doesn't just happen overnight, but is essential to effectively work together in any setting.

  9. I agree with Darcy, there are so many things we can do to build trust and the chart shares many of the elements.
    The best way I have found to earn trust is to know my audience. It was discussed earlier that trust means different things to different people. To get your audience's trust you first need to understand what trust means to them.
    For example, I earn the trust of my Youth Teaching Youth teen teachers in a completely different way than I earn the trust of Community Club parents. It's no different than how we tailor our communication to meet the needs of certain groups. We tailor our trust messages, verbal and non-verbal, to meet the needs of the group or individual

  10. Darcy,
    Thank you so much for your thoughts! One of the reasons that I like the list presented in the research is that it speaks to behaviors. The list doesn't necessarily speak to the timeline necessary to build trust. Additionally doing things listed on this list and ignoring the four pillars outlined in the Thin Book of Trust (sincerity, reliability, competence and care) won't necessarily trust to form.
    When I was a new volunteer manager I believe I had a firm foundation of the four pillars. The community in which I worked desired much more visibility from me than I was able to provide. I'm not sure I recognized that that was the need!
    Looking back on your impact in the community is there an area where you recognize now could have helped you earlier in your career?

  11. Kirsten- You said "The best way I have found to earn trust is to know my audience."
    I love this point that you shared. Communication is what the listener does. If we aren't saying or doing something in a way that the receiver understands we may need to change our strategy.

  12. I have enjoyed seeing you grow and evolve as a leader over these last 11 years since you began working for the U of MN Extension!

  13. Great blog post, Mark! I like what you had to say.
    Your post got me thinking about trustworthiness of those I have worked with in my career. I quickly framed the topic in the negative...what were the characteristics of someone I felt I could NOT trust.
    For me, it usually came down to a question of integrity. Those people I felt were dishonest with me, who I watched cut corners, who exaggerated their contributions or who took the easy path rather than the right one...those people lost trust.
    Conversely, those people who did the right thing when it impacted them negatively...those people earned my trust.
    Thanks for the post, and thanks for being a man of integrity.

  14. When I think back to the beginning of my career with 4-H, I think that being more visible in the community and just taking the time to personally connect with everyone in their own way are very helpful. The challenge can sometimes be finding time to do these things when you're new and sometimes just trying to keep your head above the water while learning about your county program and its dynamics.


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