Nurturing Trust: Five Ways to Build Trust in Your Organization
April 15, 2024

Lessons in Leadership from the Soccer Field to the Board Room

When my daughters were both young, they played soccer. They would don their cleats, long socks, and soccer jerseys and spend Saturday mornings on the field with friends. The competition grew fierce as my oldest daughter moved into competitive and high school leagues. I was amazed how the girls would barrel across the field and wince as my daughter stood fearless in the goalie box, holding fast as the defender came rushing headlong towards her. She’d hunch down, spread her arms, and try to block the ball from breaking the threshold. More than once, I watched a determined forward slam into her shoulder, and she’d topple to the ground. 

When I think about organizational growth, that is what I see. 

Sometimes, when organizations are new, or teams are trying to reach their goal, we knock each other over.  

  • Sometimes we have pointy elbows.
  • Sometimes, without meaning, we kick each other in the shins and leave bruises.
  • Sometimes, we fall down.

Leading through Conflict

Conflict will happen as humans strive to work together for a common goal. Conflict is especially present when we’re trying to create something new or never done before.  That can only be done in an environment that breads trust. Trust is more important than goals or revenue margins.  

Trust is the cornerstone of every organization. It’s rooted in one person’s expectations of and vulnerability to the actions of another. Without it, the foundation of any team, business, or organization will falter. 

When we get frustrated at work or with our team, we may struggle to see that the foundation for the frustration often stems from a lack of trust. Trust includes specific core elements for each of us. Respect, credibility, and intimacy are the most common but creating an environment where trust thrives, seems to be difficult to understand.

Below are five ways to build trust in your organization: 

1. Listen with intention. 

Your team comprises unique individuals with their own ideas and viewpoints. Ask them to share their opinions, and when they do, genuinely listen. Strive to hear the unsaid words. Areas of frustration or confusion that cloud their productivity and their focus. Like parenting, we have opportunities to connect with others daily. For instance, set aside some time in meetings for employees to discuss their work experience and feelings. As a leader, you are responsible for the environment and culture. Be ready to listen to positive and negative feedback, whether you 100% agree. You don’t have to solve every problem immediately. 

2. Solicit feedback.

Share and solicit feedback in a way that invites collaboration with your team. Research shows that only 10% of employees are satisfied with yearly requests for feedback, while 64% want a way to provide feedback at any time. Create regular instances when you can give and receive feedback. If changes are applied in the organization, promptly communicate results with your team and work together to determine what actions you can take to improve their experience in the workplace. Once the change is in place, repeat the cycle. Growth is not a 1-time event. 

3. Show appreciation. 

It’s vital to recognize your team in real-time regularly. Some prefer public praise; others prefer a quiet conversation. You can send thank you cards, notes of encouragement, or other tangible rewards like bonuses and employee awards. Approximately 90% of employees who receive credit from their boss report high trust in that individual. 

4. Create psychological safety.  

Being transparent with your team is critical to creating an environment of trust. 

Authors Dr. Karolin Helbig and Minette Norman explain five plays each person can use to create the conditions for psychological safety in their organizations in their book “The Psychological Safety Playbook.”  

Dr. Karolin Helbig, Entrusted to Lead Podcast, “Embracing Psychological Safety”, February 2023

As leaders, we should strive to create an environment that embraces learning. By establishing the conditions for growth and innovation, our teams will be better able to overcome the complex challenges they face, personally and professionally. 

5. Empower your team. 

Empowerment is a common theme today. Leaders must strive to create a culture where team members are encouraged to make decisions, delegate authority, and solve problems within their scope of practice.  By creating an environment where team members can seek new solutions, try different approaches, and collaborate, we allow innovation and creativity to thrive.

In the book, Leadership at 100 Feet: Growing Leaders in High-Performance Teams, Major General (MG) – Retired Chad Franks, USAF, explains how discipline enabled his team of special operations helicopter pilots to take calculated risks. Their team members were empowered and required to make split-second decisions that affected the lives of many.   

MG (Ret) Chad Franks, Entrusted to Lead Podcast, “Leadership at 100 Feet: Nurturing High-performance Teams, May 2023

Your team might not fly helicopters into hostile areas, but you can set the conditions for them to push the limits. Be intentional about creating disciplined approaches to agility, growth and risk-reduction. Give your team the freedom and boundaries to explore opportunities, and you’ll be amazed at how well your organizations can thrive. 

One Foundational Truth

As I strive to lead teams and organizations, I continue to remember one foundational truth: Don’t hurt their heart.

The mission is critical, yes. The drive, goal, and impact are all important, but not at the expense of others or their emotional well-being.  

We talk a lot about trust in leadership. We encourage emotional intelligence, empathy, and grace, But all those things rely upon how we heal and protect the human heart and protect human hearts. 

The lesson is the same whether in ministry, corporate America, or at work on the battlefield: hearts matter. As leaders, we are entrusted to care for and keep them, no matter what.    

Learning Lessons in Real Time

In 2018, I started a nonprofit. I was creating it from the ground up. It was quite a wild ride. There were days when I became frustrated, and I cried at least 1000 times and prayed just as many prayers. Like every team, we have challenges. At times, we’ve even had pointy elbows. We don’t always know exactly where the goal line is. 

We fumble the ball, run in and out of bounds, and sometimes knock each other over, but we strive to create an environment of trust.  

Teams can’t function without trust. It’s the most foundational block for everything we do, and it should be rooted in love and grace. 

Leadership is a complex endeavor. When we interact with others, our ladder of influence starts to show up, and we make assumptions. We judge each other by what we perceive their intentions to be, and we struggle to manage our own emotions and self-awareness while trying to be an emotional barometer for everyone else in the room. We engage our team, striving to understand their nonverbal cues, their emotional experiences, and how that affects our team. 

Leadership, while a daunting adventure, carries it’s own weight. Respect it. We must allow our team time to process, grieve, or explore their emotions and concerns. We must be courageous enough to hold space for them. And in this place, trust is born. 

Today, we’re all searching for trust, whether we know it or not. It’s imperative that we, as leaders, strive to create an environment where people are seen, hearts are protected, and trust is revered. And in that effort, we can see lasting change. 

About the Author: Danita Cummins is a business and leadership coach, podcast host, and advocate for emotional intelligence in leadership. With years of experience in coaching and mentorship, she brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to help individuals and organizations thrive. When she’s not writing or coaching, you might find her serving at the local pregnancy center, sipping coffee or singing loudly to her favorite 80’s band.

Follow Danita on IG @danita_cummins or LinkedIn for more leadership insights and coaching tips.

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