Building trust nets results

Investing in relationships is needed to maximize business success

“I try to be very positive,” Tom Brady observed in an interview last year with Oprah Winfrey, reflecting on leading his teammates. “Once I develop the trust, I feel like I can be tough on them. But I can’t be tough on them before I develop the relationship and trust.”

Unfortunately, many workplace leaders are not doing as well as our Patriot quarterback. Research shows that only 40 percent of workers have a high level of trust in their management and only 34 percent say they are engaged in their work. The correlation between these two statistics is alarmingly clear.

In his classic book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey writes, “It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success.” How much loyalty and trust do you think a disengaged boss gets from his or her employees? How do you think this impacts worker motivation and productivity?

Most people are quick to agree that trust is a basic building block of leadership effectiveness, but how many leaders actually do what is necessary to achieve it? How many of us are fully honest with ourselves regarding how our actions create (or undermine) positive relationships with staff?

Achieving trust requires ongoing self-reflection, including a deep understanding of how our actions and behavior impact others. This must be coupled with a commitment to ongoing personal development and relationship-building. There are obviously many demands during the workday, so this isn’t going to happen without proactively devoting time to be present and fully engaged with the people who work with you.

Clarence Francis, the legendary former chair of General Foods, once observed, “You can buy a person’s time, you can buy physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of their skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm; you cannot buy initiative; you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn these things.”

You have to earn trust. There is no short cut, no easy way. But think about the downsides if you don’t make the personal investment! Authenticity is also closely aligned with trust. It is hard to be trusted if you are not open and honest with those with whom you work.

Here is another thought from Tom Brady’s Oprah interview: “I think the greatest thing for you is to believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself, who’s going to believe in you?”

Trusting yourself is clearly important, too, but that doesn’t happen in a vacuum either: it requires a high level of self-awareness, identifying strengths and addressing areas that need more development.

We are all busy — who has time to develop themselves, never mind those we work with? But, as Covey observes, “We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.” Devoting time and energy for continuous improvement of yourself and your staff is a recipe for long-term business success. If you don’t sharpen the saw, inefficiencies will be institutionalized, putting your business at risk of being outcompeted.

This requires a commitment to both personal and cultural change; it is one thing to improve yourself, but changing a business culture to fully embrace key values such as trust is a much greater challenge. To be effective in the long term, a comprehensive approach is needed. Training should be integrated with follow-up activities, including use of self-assessment tools, personal goal-setting, coaching and regular reminders.

For further thought: Reflect on your relationships with your team. Do staff trust you? How do you know? What about the other managers in your business — do they have the skills, training and support they need to be trusted leaders? What steps could you take to increase staff trust at all levels?

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does,” observed William James. We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Don’t underestimate your impact!

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, Pike, can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice