Trust is an essential element in any well-functioning business interaction or relationship. Each side of a transaction must trust the other to meet its obligations. That is as true between internal colleagues as it is with customers. Yet trust can be strained in an environment of remote and hybrid work schedules, when collaborating colleagues and clients might rarely have the opportunity to connect in person.
And consider the essential nature of trust for human resources leadership. As a CHRO, your value is intrinsically connected to your ability to serve and support the C-Suite, lines of business, and the human resources team, not to mention the key role of acting as a confidential advisor and sounding board to C-Suite executives. The ability to foster trust is central to those goals, and therefore, to CHRO effectiveness.
What separates the influence and effectiveness of some CHROs versus others? We all might “know it when we see it,” but how does a leader cultivate the desired level of trust and influence?
Working with CHRO candidates, I have observed that three factors significantly impact a CHRO’s ability to build strong, trusting relationships within the organization. While these capabilities do not commonly appear in the “must have” list of skills and attributes for CHROs, our confidence in the positive impact of these areas of strength leads us to factor them in when recruiting candidates. They may seem to be common sense, but they have proven to be powerful.
Three pillars for building trust and heightening CHRO effectiveness:
In this case, authenticity involves behaving in a genuine way, as oneself, versus posturing to be the person you think you should be, or how you think others perceive you. A good dose of humility tends to come along with this authenticity, and the combination resonates strongly with people, setting the tone for building trust.
Empathy or an attitude of service
Servant Leadership is a long-established management model. Servant leaders, and other leaders who work from a position of empathy, focus on and elevate what is most important to the colleague or team member, and work to best respond to those needs and goals. The process also plants the seeds for building trust. This stands in contrast to solely promoting oneself or business goals, over the needs and goals of others.
Logic and relevance
Transparency is enhanced by logic and relevance. Strive to speak or communicate in a way that resonates with the listener, with content that is understandable, logical, and relevant. Very high level or vague content can lack substance for listeners. Similarly, overly detailed or down-in-weeds communications can leave people confused. Communications that simply make sense to the listener can help earn credibility.
Many executives possess innate skills in some or all of these areas, but these skills can also be practiced and enhanced. And it is possible for an executive to feel unaware of their level of capability in these areas. How are they perceived? These factors make this a prime target area for leadership development and executive coaching. It could be worthwhile to raise this area for exploration with a coach. What is my current status regarding these attributes? How can we build upon and enhance these capabilities?
While their professional lives may have led many business executives to develop strong communications skills that effectively incorporate logic and relevance, those executives may not have explored the value of a servant leadership mindset.
Among other things, servant leaders keep a continual focus on talent development, especially as it relates to unlocking potential, performance, and engagement. Servant leaders might also step aside from leading sometimes, to allow employees to lead. Leadership involves enabling talent.
It is also not uncommon for executives to feel less comfortable with authenticity. A corporate leadership role can feel like a dangerous place to operate with authenticity and humility. But being authentic should not be construed as being a pushover or displaying weakness. Authentic leaders readily make decisions, get things done, deliver results, and drive outcomes. But authentic leaders might also own up to a mistake, learn from it, and say to the team, “It won’t happen again.” That type of authenticity demonstrates a level of confidence and wisdom that earns respect from others.
Authentic leaders tend to have a commitment to bettering themselves that also resonates with business contacts and colleagues. It can remove any trace of arrogance or self-importance, and instead suggest self-awareness and an attitude of, “we are all in this together.” For team members, authentic leadership can cultivate job satisfaction.
While the value of these three capabilities in fostering trust and leadership effectiveness has been made evident to me many times over in my work, one example truly drove the message home. In this particular C-Suite, the CEO was not a trustworthy individual. That led the other executives in that C-Suite to double down on more purposefully seeking credible, trusting relationships with each other. To safely build that trust, those team members demanded authenticity, logic, and empathy in all of their team interactions.
Today, being able to build trust through these three avenues takes on a heightened level of importance, as leaders have lost some of the in-person opportunity to develop the social relationships with colleagues that lead to deepening business relationships. Building rapport without the benefit of water cooler conversation requires finding other ways to accelerate the trust-building process.
This can be a fruitful area for leadership development coaching. Others may not be able to name authenticity, logic and service as consequential skills, or to put their finger on them exactly, but our experience highlights the value of devoting some time to these areas.