Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

Trust: Seven Questions Leaders Should Be Asking

How to be a trust creator in an era of distrust

More sobering news on the trust front arrived via the 2012 Maritz Employee Engagement Poll: "The Maritz® Poll found that employee satisfaction has declined from last year's already low ratings. Workplace trust has hit a low, which leads to disengagement from senior leaders, co-workers, and customers."

The reality is that what companies need to ensure growth, innovation, and sustainability can't be bought with just a paycheck. Intellectual property, discretionary efforts, and staff initiative are essential to organizational and societal success, but they require a different kind of currency: authentic trust.In this era of distrust, leaders at every level, need to be trust creators.

Knowing how to build and operate with trust is an essential skill for anyone wanting to succeed in this new workplace. Start enhancing your trust building skills with these seven questions leaders should be asking: 

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1. How's your own engagement level? With 70 percent of employees disengaged at work, staff engagement is an elusive "golden egg" for most workplace leaders. But those operating with authentic trust understand you won't ignite engagement in others without being engaged yourself. Are you engaged? If not, why not? Start there.

2. Can others count on you? Too many leaders see trust from a singular focus, asking if others are trustworthy. But, trust has two sides. What are your words and actions communicating about your trustworthiness? Do you meet or exceed your commitments to your staff? Are you worthy for them to invest their trust in you?

3. Are you liked or respected? We like to be liked. Just look at the ubiquitous "like" symbol. But trusted bosses understand likeability isn't what builds trust; respect is. You're respected when you make the hard calls, live up to your words, demonstrate competence, operate with credibility, and bring honesty and integrity to your work. Even with all that, you won't get respect unless you give it to others. And of course, being respected doesn't mean you can't also be liked!

4. Are you kind and compassionate? Kindness matters. And if you're wondering,"what's the benefit?" just ask yourself, who would you follow — someone who demonstrates kindness, or someone whose actions spark mental name-calling? And who would you trust? Someone who treats you with kindness and compassion, or someone who views you as an interchangeable piece on a work-game board.

5. Are you waiting for the company trust-building initiative? Trust is a local issue.Top-down programs aren't the answer to distrust and disengagement.People work for people. Even in this cynical era any leader can build a trusting environment for their work group where people show up and do great work. Don't let what you can't do, stop you from doing what you can. Want a trusting work environment? Create your own.

6. Do rumors come true in your work group? If the rumor mill is where people get reliable information, it's a good bet your communication approach needs to be elevated to a trust-enhancing one. Communications (that's with an "s") doesn't take the place of communication (without an "s"). Trust building communication is a process, not a product or tactic.

7. To whom do you give your trust? If you reacted to that question by thinking, "people need to earn my trust," think again. If you're withholding trust until you think it's earned, you're fueling disengagement. Trust is an action. When you give trust you tap another's self-esteem and confidence, spurring engagement and creativity. But, giving trust isn't like turning on a light switch. Instead, it operates in increments. Think of it like a dimmer switch approach that's fueled with accountability.

Trust matters. People want to work for people who enable them to do their best work.They want to work in energy filled environments where teamwork, collaboration, and innovation are fueled by authentic trust. And they want to give their ideas and discretionary efforts to those leaders who understand how to invest this new workplace currency in them.

If you'd like more tips on how to be a trust creator, download the complimentary first chapter of my new book, The Titleless Leader — "Operating  with Trust."

Nan S. Russell is a workplace expert with real-world experience, and the author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way.

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