An Unexpected Way to Become More Trustworthy


This past week I had the privilege of addressing the top 100 leaders of one of my clients. It is a publicly traded company with operations on multiple continents and over 12,000 employees. It has, like many companies of its scope, plenty of opportunity to wrestle with complexity through its logistics, variety of businesses, and cultural diversity. Over the last 3+ years, the company has experienced an 89% gain in its share price.

The question I put before the company’s leaders was, “What makes a leader trustworthy?”

The room swelled with noise as these leaders, split into groups of three, debated and discussed the question. After about 20 minutes, I asked a few people to come up on stage and share the conclusions their groups had reached. Their first answer was something not many people would expect.

The Surprising Truth

What do you think the top leaders of a healthy, complex, multinational organization said when given the opportunity to share their thoughts on what makes a leader worthy of trust? Was it having a clearly articulated and consistently executed strategy that the employees could count on? Was it the ability to navigate the interplay between the various cultures in which they operate? Was it simply being honest and having integrity? No. No. And no. Their first answer about what makes a leader trustworthy was “a leader who listens.”

Though it seems surprising at first glance, when you pause to think it through, it makes sense that listening well would be near the top of the list of things that earn the trust of followers. The psychological and relational impacts of listening well are significant.

There are two critical messages that listening well communicates to those we lead:

You matter.

When we follow leaders who listen to us, we feel valued. If there’s anything that the human spirit universally craves, it is the desire to matter. Listening to those we lead satisfies a deep human need and, therefore, endears our followers to us.

I don’t know it all.

When we listen to those we lead, we are admitting that we don’t have all the answers. This humility is powerfully attractive to followers.

At its core, listening is about others. When leaders prioritize others, it removes a measure of suspicion from the relationship. Leaders who consistently put others before themselves strip away the need for followers to wonder, “What’s his angle?” or “What’s her real motive here?” Without that suspicion, trust flourishes.

3 Questions

Given that our trustworthiness grows when we listen well, here are a few questions worth consideration:

> If the people around you were surveyed about how well you listen, what would they say? > Under what circumstances do you struggle to listen well? > Under what circumstances do you listen well?

It is difficult to overestimate the value of trust in leadership. Everything in leadership is impacted by trust in one way or another. How well we listen helps determine how trustworthy we are to those we lead. That’s worth keeping in mind the next time one of your followers says, “Hey, you gotta minute?”

Stay tuned next week as we explore some simple and practical ways to become better listeners and, thereby, more trustworthy leaders.

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