Trust is needed to overcome silo mentality, especially in times of agile and digital transformation. But how do executives manage to strengthen this culture of trust within the company? How can managers be role models even when people in an organization tend to be distant and distrustful and the team spirit is currently weak? Establishing a network can be a useful approach for this – whereby it is true in a network that giving is more blessed than taking.
Building trust as a leader
The era of a new leadership approach has begun. Rigid hierarchies are increasingly being broken up – in favor of agile project or even network structures that temporarily focus on solving specific challenges. Integration into a diverse and resource-rich network is therefore particularly important. The network serves as a social resource.
What’s the formula for building trust? Trust = leap of faith + giving opportunity
The desire for »more trust« is expressed in many companies – both by managers and employees. The term trust is also used in many mission statements and codes of values. But how can I put trust into practice? – Trust is first and foremost a feeling. Trust is an evaluation that I attribute to a relationship. The appeal “Simply have more trust in me” is often a superfluous expression.
Managers are in a dilemma: on the one hand, they want to give their employees more responsibility; on the other hand, they shy away from the risk for which they themselves ultimately are held accountable for.
Trust is founded on experience.
An initial »leap of faith« is needed to be able to take the first step. Beyond that, however, the opportunity for probation is also needed. In short: it needs the chance to make a good experience.
As trivial as this point sounds, it is often neglected in practice. New or young employees in particular are offered too few opportunities to prove themselves. The manager’s decisions often depend on his or her »gut feeling«, which, however, is often only vaguely present without feedback from real-life experience – and tends towards risk-averse decisions. It is essential to experience that your own trust has been justified.
How trust grows in relationships
Trust is primarily established through personal bonding. Therefore, as a leader tell your employees about yourself: Tell about your own mistakes – and what you have learned from them. Also tell about your successes, but without presenting yourself as a superhero. Let others know about the difficulties and personal challenges you have encountered – and how you have dealt with them.
The principle of »reciprocity« states that human relationships are strengthened by mutuality. A relationship based on trust requires the opportunity for both parties to prove themselves: Trust can never be taken for granted, but needs the initial phase of risk-taking as well as opportunities in both directions.
Trust is fragile. The proverb “Remember the boy who cried »wolf«” teaches us that trust reacts highly allergic to lies. – Therefore, if you want a climate of trust, you must not have a hidden agenda.
Maintain your network to build trust
The question “Who do I know?” has in many cases been more important than the question “What do I know or can I do myself?” A well-established network offers a great potential of options that can be used when needed: whether for problems in everyday professional life; for career planning; or also to mitigate setbacks that need to be dealt with. The importance of valuable contacts will increase in the future – and so will the competence to cultivate relationships.
The network of contacts will be central: those people you have met personally and those with which you share common experiences. Personal commitment and trust primarily grow through personal contact (»face-to-face«). In addition, online networks are becoming increasingly important. However, maintaining digital networks involves more than just the technical management of hundreds of contacts on LinkedIn, XING or Facebook as a preferred address book.
A network can be understood as an autonomous system. And as in the company’s system, you are perceived as a person with extremely different facets. It is up to you to position yourself accordingly.
Look at your professional network and ask yourself the following questions.
- What do I stand for in my network? As who am I known there?
- For which questions am I considered to be an expert?
- For which aspects am I perhaps a role model? What do others see in me?
- What are the concerns that people come to me with beyond purely technical expertise? For which questions am I asked for help?
Stimulating exchange in social networks
Especially in digital social networks, you are as important or relevant as the resonance you can generate. This can be expressed in the form of click rates on interest buttons (»Like«) or page views of profiles. Only those who are noticed are regarded by others as important nodes in the network.
But when do people refer to me or my contributions? Meeting the content interest of one’s reference network is certainly one aspect. In addition, other factors play a role which increase the resonance within the network. These include:
- Who am I connected to? Who knows me? – If you have important nodes in the network, your own reputation also increases.
- Am I perceived as trustworthy? The good experiences and past interactions play an important role.
- Do my contributions to the network invite interaction? Do they encourage the participation of other network partners?
- Are my contributions »technically« well done? Short posts with a crisp headline are more stimulating than long texts in formal language.
- Are my postings aesthetically appealing? Pictures play an important role, but also the design of the text (structure, headings, paragraphs).
A network needs to be vibrant and promote communication between the individual nodes. A network of non-active members is useless. In a thriving network, information flows faster and is better wired together. And you should position yourself as the most active node in the network, through which a lot of information is exchanged. In order to support the exchange in your own network, three aspects are important:
- Be a source of information yourself: Provide your network with useful information. You can do this proactively or when someone specifically asks you for support.
- Stimulate the flow of information: Encourage the exchange within the network – even if you do not benefit directly from it. For example, introduce contacts to each other or share interesting contributions with people who could benefit from them.
- Give feedback to promote resonance: Give your own feedback on contributions that have been shared with you.
Read more: The above text contains excerpts from our self-coaching book for managers (German only, p. 247 ff.). In the book, we also discuss the importance of a consistent self-image, which has to be proven especially in decisions (see Section 5.3 »The hero who stands up for his values or shows moral courage«).