Building trust as a leader can take years of hard work. It can also take seconds to break that trust through thoughtless actions or words.

High-trust companies are stronger, experience better growth, and retain employees more often. Organizations that fail to foster trust can see business slow or stop altogether.

Let’s examine the path to employee engagement that brings trusting personal relationships that boost team performance.

Many avenues can engender trust among team members. Before we consider these one at a time, consider why building trust is so important.

Why is Building Trust Important?

Research shows that the majority of people tend to say they trust their employer. Sometimes that doesn’t translate into a fix for workplace problems.

Record numbers of employees are leaving their jobs. This creates a working environment that is less stable and more difficult for employees to expect a sense of long-term safety.

Trustworthy leaders will:

  • Do what they say they will do
  • Be friendly, approachable, and respectful
  • Rally team members display empathy
  • Work toward the goal of balance in all things

How Business Leaders Build Trusting Relationships

Let’s consider some specific tips that those in a leadership role can implement to improve employee trust.

As we do, remember that employee trust begins with leadership trust.

Hard Work and Clear Expectations

Trust is earned after the input of hard work. Trust leaders must be ready to put forth a conscious effort to say what they will do and do what they say.

Just as a child will begin to develop trust in a parent who sets specific and caring boundaries, so too will employees appreciate effective leadership that gives clear communication of goals, requirements, and expectations.

Of course, trust is an important aspect of company culture. It’s difficult to regain once it is lost. So, leaders must exercise care so that the entire team is treated fairly.

Honesty Breeds Open Communication

They say that honesty is the best policy. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is difficult to speak the truth when you know it isn’t what the other person wants to hear.

But the leadership that is caught in a lie will pay the price of broken trust. It is in their best interests to be open and honest.

Generate trust as a leader by telling employees what they have a right to know. Communicate facts, being considerate of their feelings.

Show support and be understanding even if they express momentary frustration or anger at mistakes that were made.

Employees feel safe to express their emotions when their business leaders build strong relationships with the.

Active Listening Creates Trust in the Workplace

Sales leaders will tell their sales reps to actively listen to the customer. It only creates frustration and a feeling that they are not being listened to when the salesperson is busy thinking about what they will say next.

Team leaders should follow the same advice. Be engaged and discerning as the other person speaks.

Use follow-up questions in conversations to make sure you truly understand your employee’s position.

Transparency Improves Work Relationships

Trust in leadership means that the sales manager’s door is always open and they are ready for honest conversations.

Lack of trust develops when there is an air of mystery in the workplace and secrets are kept from employees for no good reason.

Teams work best when leaders build trust through regular communication sessions. Often they need to not only know what, but also why, something has been decided.

Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers. It’s okay to be honest and say, “I don’t know, I’ll find out.” That level of honesty increases confidence and builds trust.

Consistency in Responsibly Meeting Commitments

The single greatest way to develop trust in leadership is to consistently do what you say. Your personal brand must be the keeping of your commitments.

A team member will lose faith in a leader if they can’t rely on them to follow through on their promises.

Trust is closely linked with predictability. Don’t overpromise or underdeliver.

This means that you only commit to what you believe is realistic. Otherwise, you won’t appear genuine.

Be the Person You Want Them to Be

Real trust comes from walking the walk. Company culture is seen in the leadership first. It then filters to employees and drives their actions.

For example, if you say you want your team to focus on collaboration, you must work in line with the stated goal.

  • Do you actively seek out other leaders and their teams to improve company-wide collaboration?
  • Do you give credit to employees that meet your expectations in teamwork?
  • Do you work to change management standards so that others can follow your example?

Personal Accountability Helps Build Trust

A leader who is humble enough to admit mistakes will maintain trust far better than one who does not.

Let’s face it – everyone is going to make mistakes. It’s simply a matter of whether the leader is willing to acknowledge it – or is even aware of the mistake at all.

Develop self-awareness so that you can realize what effect your feeling and actions have on both yourself and others. Then take responsibility for it.

Leaders can promote accountability in others by building evaluation steps in each project. Have open discussions of what things worked well and what needs improvement.

Or focus on the next steps in meeting agendas – deadlines, milestones, and duty assignments.

Encourage honesty, but not finger-pointing.

Empathy Makes for a Safe Environment

Empathy is one aspect of emotional intelligence that involves understanding and caring about other people’s emotions.

Leaders who take time to pause and understand how employees feel will build trust.

They will create an environment of psychological safety because the worker feels understood, cared about, and validated.

Take care to watch for non-verbal cues too. Empathy can be shown to employees by getting a sense of their emotions even if they don’t give a voice to them.

The added benefit is that employees are more willing to communicate, so you are also gaining information that can be used to motivate the employee more effectively.

A team leader does need to be balanced, though. It can be detrimental to a business when so much time is spent trying to spare feelings that it prevents necessary business from being handled.

The Leader Who Seeks Feedback Motivates Employees

Create opportunities to deepen relationships by soliciting feedback. Whether through employee engagement surveys or some other means, seek out how your employees are feeling.

Trust building comes when leaders simply ask, “What do you think we can we do better?”

But more than the question is needed. Actively listen to their answers to build trust in the workplace. And then explain why you are taking certain actions.

This may require a culture change that encourages openness. Team members need to feel psychological safety to share their feelings.

This is especially true if their feelings differ from management.

Understand that You Don’t Have All the Answers

Sometimes vulnerability can be an effective tool to build long-lasting relationships.

Even in tough times – times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure – leaders build trust when they can connect with employees.

Express that uncertainty by not being afraid to admit that you don’t possess all the solutions. It’s honest and it’s a way to build trust.

This isn’t always easy because it involves checking the ego at the door. But it is well worth the discomfort.

Show Appreciation and Boost Productivity

Everyone likes to hear they did a good job. Effective leaders recognize employees. This builds confidence that their efforts are not going unnoticed.

Positive reinforcement of behaviors keeps team members on the right track and reminds them of your expectations.

Especially recognize productivity and effort, not just things like successful sales goals.


As we have reviewed, there are many things you can do to inspire confidence in your team members and trust in leadership.

Many of the tips we’ve discussed relate to displaying integrity, honesty, and consistency. Focusing on these qualities will help leaders build trust in their co-workers.

It is just as important to cultivate humility, empathy, and accountability in building trust.

Prove your expertise as a leader, but also be willing to admit mistakes or that you don’t currently have the answers.

Doing these things positions leaders in a spot where they can focus on building relationships and generating trust.

Don’t expect trust to simply solve all your company’s problems. But it will make your team stronger and keep your business and teams moving forward together.