How leaders build trust, one mistake at a time.

When we work with leaders, we’re often asked, “what can I do to inspire trust?” For each leader, the answer is a bit different. When it comes to trust, people have unique strengths to leverage and vulnerabilities to address. That said, through nearly 25 years of trust-focused research and experience, we can give one piece of guidance to leaders seeking to increase their trustworthiness:

Take responsibility for your mistakes.

Our research targets this behavior as a key leverage point for leaders to measurably strengthen trust in their relationships.

Think back. Do you remember the last time you didn’t just ‘get through’ a mistake, but embraced it as a ready-made opportunity to deepen trust?

If you’re like most people, perhaps not. Maybe you fear being wrong will discourage, rather than encourage, people to trust your ability to lead.

In our experience, when you admit you’ve made a mistake, you don’t erode trust in your leadership, you strengthen it.

Here’s why:

Authenticity fuels trust.

We all make mistakes. And, we all know that we all make mistakes. When you, as a leader, admit you’re wrong in your ideas or approach, you affirm what the people you lead already know: that you’re human and fallible, just like them. Authenticity breeds camaraderie. Camaraderie fuels trust.

Integrity fuels trust.

Admitting you’re wrong – especially when the stakes are high – says more about your integrity than being right in the first place. When the people you lead see you stepping up and owning your mistakes, they know they can trust you to do the right thing in tough situations.

Safety fuels trust.

As a leader, you set the tone for how mistakes are handled in your organization. When people see you swiftly and directly owning your mistakes, they feel safe to do the same. Together, you and your people create an environment where, instead of being covered up or glossed over, mistakes are claimed and mined for lessons. Leaders who embrace mistakes for the benefit of everyone’s growth and development build trust.

Consider, the next time you make a mistake, how can you take responsibility and leverage the situation to deepen your trustworthiness?

Yours in trust,

Michelle Reina

Posted in Leadership, Organizational Culture, Teamwork.