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Better Leadership - On Becoming a Trustworthy Boss

The twentieth century American politician Henry L. Stimson once said “the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him.”

Trust lies at the core of effective leadership, it is a key enabler of performance and hence a producer of profit and sustainability. Stimson’s self-fulfilling prophecy approach surely holds some truth and makes the whole issue of trust seem quite simple and straightforward (albeit requiring a certain amount of blind faith). But if you’re the manager or owner of a business and you’re wanting your team to trust where you’re leading them, it would be nice to have something a little more specific by way of guidance.

New research on trust

This is where some ongoing research by Bath University and the CIPD comes in. A recently published report (the second in a series of three) focuses on HR systems and practices – especially recruitment and development – which can help leaders build trust. So far, the research has identified four basic characteristics shared by trustworthy leaders. You need ability, benevolence, integrity, and predictability; in other words, be good at what you do, have your team’s interests at heart, do what you say you’ll do, and don’t be too random in your behaviour (everyone loves a maverick but they also like to know what to expect). The problem is that sometimes, leaders and HR practices focus more on ability and predictability – benevolence and integrity can be a little harder to measure and cultivate.

6 Key Steps to Trustworthy Leadership

What’s clear from the report is that people associate being “personable and straight-talking” with good leaders. In practical terms, the following prompts and practices will encourage trustworthy leadership behaviours in your organisation:
• When interviewing for key positions, include some values-based questions; i.e. ask about beliefs and principles and look for an individual that matches the workplace culture you’re aiming for.
• Leaders need to show that they are ‘human’ - real people rather than just the boss. Sharing the occasional personal story or experience shows this side.
• How self-aware are your leaders? Do they understand their own drivers or how they come across to others? Some development along these lines can be both revealing and productive.
• Use broader performance assessment tools such as 360 degree feedback to encourage, generate and maintain trust.
• Create opportunities for conversations about the issue of trust in the workplace; if you’re into social media and collaborative working, some of these tools are ideal.
• Reward trustworthy behaviours appropriately – sometimes a simple acknowledgement is enough.

The published report draws on case studies from thirteen organisations across various industry sectors, including HMRC, the Church of England, John Lewis Partnership, and BBC Worldwide. The full report can be downloaded here

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