What's Trust Got To Do With It?

Patrice Ventura

Whether your organization has less than ten employees or more than ten thousand, never underestimate the importance of trust. Trust is the true hallmark of healthy relationships inside and outside of the business world. Trust can be examined at the micro level—in how employees trust their immediate leader—or at the macro level in how employees trust the organizations they work for. In either case, trust plays a powerful role. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner's research tells us that trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism are crucial to establishing what they call source credibility and, ultimately, that credibility is the foundation of leadership. Simply stated, without trust there is a lack of leadership credibility.

What can leaders do to build more trust with others?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trust as "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something." The Great Places to Work Institute has determined that for leaders and organizations to build trust and inspire performance, leaders must focus on the elements that build credibility: communication, competence, and integrity. Sound familiar? These elements are closely aligned with Jim and Barry's findings related to source credibility.

Take a moment to answer these questions:

  1. Do you consistently ensure that all communication is open, honest, accessible, and constructive?
  2. Do you proactively use your background and expertise to explore solutions to both small and large problems?
  3. Do you follow through with your commitments and promises? (Remember, DWYSYWD*!)

If you answered yes to all three questions, you have leadership credibility. But, how do you establish leadership credibility on a bigger scale?

Meridian Health, a large health care system in Central New Jersey with more than 11,000 employees, continually focuses on sustaining themselves as a workplace of choice. This organization has been recognized as a Best Places to Work in New Jersey for seven years in a row, and a Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in America for 2010 and 2011. The Gallup Organization has also measured Meridian's employee engagement as world class. How do they do it? Meridian Health takes leadership seriously. They have an organizational culture that is—by design—well-defined, clear to all, and goal oriented. It is called The Meridian Way.

Meridian Health's formula for success aligns leadership excellence, team member excellence, and service excellence together, which equates to a strong organization that pays significant attention to the selection, training, communication, and care of its employees. These efforts do not go unnoticed by employees and, in fact, aid in developing trusting relationships between employees and their leaders.

Through either lens—small or large—credible leadership is built on trust. The true measure of trust is reflected in many ways, such as employee retention, employee engagement, or customer satisfaction. As we continue on our own leadership journey in this ever-changing, fast-paced world, becoming a credible leader who is capable of creating a culture of excellence starts with the often simple, positive, thoughtful behaviors that promote trust: providing open and honest communication and feedback, being willing to share our expertise, and following through on our commitments.

* DWYSYWD = Do What You Will Say You Will Do — An acronym discussed in The Leadership Challenge® Workshop.

Patrice Ventura is a Certified Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop and director of the Meridian Leadership Institute, a consulting firm that provides dynamic, experiential training and coaching programs to grow leaders and teams throughout organizations. Co-author of the Creative Problem Solving - The Meridian Maze® learning experience, she can be contacted at pventura@meridianhealth.com. To learn more about how the Meridian Leadership Institute creates extraordinary learning experiences, visit www.meridianleadershipinstitute.com.

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