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6 Ingredients for Building Trust

Recent research indicates the importance of trust in driving business performance: 82% of employees say their exceptional job performance is directly related to their ability to trust leaders. The bad news: only 40% of employees trust their bosses.

Leading change is hard. Navigating followers, peers, customers, and partners on a journey from the status quo to a new reality creates a steady state of uncertainty. Successful transformational leadership requires many things, least of which is a trust-based relationship between followers and leaders.

Real life example of building trust among followers: Anne Mulch of Xerox

Anne Mulcahy took over as CEO of Xerox in 2001. By the time she took the helm, Xerox employee morale was at an all-time low; not surprising as the company experienced losses over five consecutive quarters and was in significant deabt. It was quite a classic, glass-cliff syndrome opportunity for Mulcahy. Glass-cliff syndrome refers to situations in which women are put into high-ranking executive positions when the company is not performing well. The ship is already sinking, and the powers-that-be are willing to let the new captain go down with the ship.

Mulcahy’s ship did not sink. She and her leadership team focused on two stakeholder groups: employee and customer relationships. The relationships were cultivated with a common desire to achieve results. Strategies and tactics that did not cultivate common-ground relationships with real results were de-prioritized. Leaders were enabled to help employees and customers stay focused on what was important. Each of these stakeholder groups was engaged in the same vision with the same definition of success. Everyone knew what was expected of him or her and had what he or she needed to succeed.

Because a leader cannot lead without followers, followers’ trust in leaders is essential to successful leadership outcomes.

How did Mulcahy do it? What was her secret? And can you replicate her methods?

Yes, you can. The key lies in building trust among your followers. Because a leader cannot lead without followers, followers’ trust in leaders is essential to successful leadership outcomes. How, you might wonder, do you attract, inspire, and maintain loyalty in an increasingly interconnected, digital, and highly mobile world—where there are so many forces vying for your followers’ attention?

6 Ingredients for Building Trust

  1. Vision: As a transformational leader, you must propose a technologically unique, compelling, and prophetic perspective that extends beyond the team or organization to the larger stakeholder community. Mulcahy spent the majority of her time communicating a consistent and clear vision for what the future of Xerox should and could be. That vision included how the goals were in the unique, best interests of Xerox customers and employees.
  2. Innovation: Your followers must feel free to fail when innovating. Successful leaders create an environment that encourages experimentation and accepts failure as a useful by-product. Mulcahy knew that Xerox needed to leverage its technological core competencies to enter into new markets. Despite cutting costs by 50%, she knew decreasing investment in R&D would limit any chance for a turnaround. In 2002, Xerox’s transportation division launched a smart parking systems that brought together the company’s program management proficiency with technology, enabling cities to decrease congestion and improve motorist experience.
  3. Engagement: You need to enlist your followers in every step of the business process so they can contribute critical knowledge and uncover growth opportunities. Mulcahy challenged employees at all levels to contribute innovative ideas that solved real customer challenges. Incorporating customers into the development process also increased the level of trust between Xerox and its clients. Leaders were accountable for listening to what could be better and to make changes accordingly.
  4. Strategy-Execution Alignment: Your goals must be aligned with operations. You can be optimistic but you must be realistic—what you say you want to achieve must take into consideration your organization’s capabilities for carrying it out. By following a strict rule of “say what you will do, and do only what you will say you will”, Mulcahy created an environment in which the work employees did was directly aligned with the company’s strategic goals. Every employee had a clear impact on business objectives.
  5. Relationships: You need to shift your focus from managing individuals to fostering relationships that promote knowledge-building, training, mentoring, and moral support. By tapping into this social capital, you can unlock a unique competitive advantage. Mulcahy understood that brick-building has nothing to do with brick buildings. She refocused her staff on building long-term, transformational relationships, marked by mutually beneficial experiences and impact.
  6. Social Responsibility: Because all decisions ultimately have human ramifications in some form, successful transformational leaders expand their focus from pure monetary or transactional gains to include humankind in their daily business decisions and long-term planning. Mulcahy restored a sense of good corporate citizenship into the Xerox brand. She led her team to incorporate intangible goals, which served as a badge of honor alongside performance goals, fostering goodwill and trust into the communities in which the company served.

Take a quick inventory to ask yourself if you’re using these six techniques with your followers. If not, ask yourself what’s holding you back, what adjustments you might need to make, and where you could move forward. I’d love to hear from you about how you created or would like help creating a culture of greater trust.

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