Spring 2021
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CTDO Magazine

Establish Your Credibility

Thursday, April 15, 2021

All the leadership competence won’t mean anything if employees don’t trust you.

How important is trust? It’s the cornerstone of leadership and could mean all the difference for retaining dedicated, innovative employees.


In 2020, communications consultancy APCO Worldwide found that while around half of employees said trustworthy leaders are important, only about one-third of employees believe that they have such leaders at their companies.

Why does that matter? Less than one-quarter of working-age adults in the study said they would offer more ideas and solutions if they felt they could trust their leaders to support them, and one in five would be willing to work longer hours if they could identify leaders they could trust.

The Association for Talent Development’s Talent Development Capability Model spotlights trust in the compliance and ethical capability, which states that talent development professionals need “skill in acting with integrity, such as by being honest, acknowledging own mistakes, treating people with dignity, respect, and fairness.”

Here are some hacks to build trust and bolster your professional interactions, credibility, and career.

Align expectations

One of the most powerful things you can do to build trust is to align expectations and discuss how you will work together, not just what results need to be delivered. Ensure the implicit is explicit and the rules of engagement are clear. It is then easier to build from the foundation of trust and to course-correct as needed—especially in times of stress and uncertainty when trust can be challenged.

I recommend taking a relationship pulse check at regular intervals. Here are three simple questions that have a powerful effect on building trust if you listen to the replies and follow through with the necessary action:

  • What is working well?
  • What is not working well?
  • What is one thing I can do to help ensure your/our success?
Source: Morag Barrett, CEO and founder of SkyeTeam and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships and The Future-Proof Workplace

Be transparent

Many people feel confident moving into a leadership role because of their knowledge and experience, then suddenly realize the job requires something more. An authentic manager not only has a strong ethical code but also is transparent.

Effective and trustworthy leaders honestly share all the information that team members need. That helps employees feel empowered to contribute as well as gives them a sense of accomplishment when their ideas are acted on. Conversely, employees become frustrated and resentful when management doesn’t share important facts and details that they need to perform their jobs.

Always try to explain your or the organization’s rationale behind decisions. Let people know the books are open, not closed.

When you cannot share something, relay that you cannot disclose certain details. Individuals will understand and will appreciate your candor.

Transparency begins with a commitment—a conscious decision to create an atmosphere that encourages the free flow of information that employees need.

Source: Ken O’Quinn, professional coach and co-author of Focus on Them 

Honor your commitments

Being dependable and maintaining reliability are key elements of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy.

They do so by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises, and holding themselves and others accountable. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they fulfill responsibilities, are on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion.

Simply put, dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support. They also hold themselves and others accountable for maintaining commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

Source: Randy Conley, vice president of professional services and trust practice leader for the Ken Blanchard Companies and author of the blog Leading with Trust

Don’t wait to respond

Gaining your team’s confidence is not an overnight exercise. It takes time.

If you want to be respected as a trustworthy leader, start now by being mindful of your behaviors—that includes being responsive.

One of the worst things you can do is ignore a conflict or a complaint about your business, products, or services. In most cases, issue some kind of response immediately, even if it’s just a brief statement that you’ll look into the issue. If you wait to reach out, the individual may end up not only unhappy but also angry.


Keep the lines of communication open in all situations, be timely and thoughtful in your response, and make sure the other person feels that their issue is important to you. What’s more, if your response requires admitting a mistake, do so. You don’t have to be perfect (big secret here: No one is!)—you just have to be upfront and honest.

Source: Donna Galatas and Jackie Torres, co-owners of The Galatas Group

Be an active listener

Growing leadership capabilities that have impact and value is based not only on building insights but also on your ability to connect with people and their emotions. While sharing personal feelings can affirm understanding and demonstrate respect and appreciation, it requires active listening.

Listening and asking can accelerate inner discoveries and enhance an individual’s comfort zone. Listen to learn. Listen to understand others. Take time to gain meaning in conversations prior to sharing ideas and opinions.

To be an active listener, you must show full presence physically, with eye contact and engagement, as well as mentally, with an open mind while listening to what is being said and not said.

Source: Paul Fein, director of the IDD Leadership Group

Show empathy

Empathy plays a critical role in establishing trust, because commitment to one another within the group grows when individuals consider others’ perspectives and concerns. When people show empathy, they project a caring attitude and look at the whole picture to understand how others will be affected.

That is important within networks. When collaborators can easily empathize with others, they pave the way for open and honest communication, making team members feel safe when revealing personal information, voicing complaints, or sharing untested ideas. That can help set the tone and work style within a group, providing a positive foundation upon which the group can grow.

If I had been more self-aware as a young petty officer, I would have realized that my actions were not being seen as empathetic. My team members didn’t think I had their best interests at heart. To show my empathetic side, I needed to improve my listening skills and learn how to ask meaningful questions. By engaging others in conversation, I was able to gain a better understanding of the issues at hand, take corrective action, and show my team members that I was acting with them in mind.

Source: Randy Emelo, principal consultant at CoreConnection and author of Modern Mentoring 

Shut down gossip

Is there a high amount of gossip and disrespect among your team? If so, you’ll have a long way to go toward earning individuals’ trust. The first step to uniting your team and being seen as trustworthy is to let people know that you will not tolerate cliques and gossip.

Gossip is a cancer—it kills team morale. And the longer it happens, the quicker your team’s trust will die. Never tolerate gossip, especially in a high-performing environment. You may not be able to stop people from speaking poorly about you, but you can avoid supplying them with ammunition by maintaining good character and doing what is right.

Source: Betsy Allen Manning, founder of Motiv8u Enterprises and author of Win With People: 52 Keys to Connect & Communicate Successfully

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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