As a leader, excelling at getting results hinges on gaining your team’s trust. Some people gain trust over a period of time. However, you may not always have time as a commodity, especially when you’re seconded into a role or tasked with spearheading a time-limited project. The commitment you show and the length of time you devote to your role can significantly influence your team.

Elements of Trust

According to a study by Covey and Merrill (2006) in “The Speed of Trust,” the main elements of trust are integrity, intent, capabilities, and results. Leaders need to exhibit honesty and alignment of actions with words (integrity), have a positive and transparent agenda (intent), prove their abilities and skills (capabilities), and demonstrate positive outcomes (results).

Psychological safety, a term popularized by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, is another important factor in trust-building. Leaders who foster a culture of psychological safety, where team members feel safe to take risks and voice their opinions without fear of punishment, are more likely to earn their team’s trust.

Lastly, research in neuro leadership by David Rock’s SCARF model (2008) underscores the importance of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness in influencing trust in leadership. Ensuring fairness, promoting a sense of belonging (relatedness), respecting individual autonomy, providing certainty, and acknowledging the status of each team member can considerably boost a leader’s trustworthiness.

Neuroscience of Trust

The neuroscience of trust is a fascinating field that explores how our brains respond to trust and breaches of trust. Trust is reciprocal in nature; when we trust others, our brains release oxytocin, a hormone that encourages bonding and cooperation. This reciprocal trust is a fundamental aspect of successful leadership, fostering a sense of unity and collaboration within teams.

However, breaches of trust can have significant neurological impacts. When trust is broken, our brains respond by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear, damaging team dynamics and productivity. As a leader, it’s crucial to understand the neuroscience of trust, ensuring that your actions foster trust rather than erode it. You can see how you approach your personal commitment can make or break the trust with your team.

Limited timing can be perceived as a lack of commitment

After the retirement of a respected and long-serving senior leader, his new bright-eyed replacement newly selected for the position visited the team.  The arrival of the thirty-something female whose career had been fast-paced and widely reported was met with eager anticipation.  Not only was she completely different from the outgoing leader; she had a liveliness about her, which together with her highly acclaimed reputation, gave off an air of professional brilliance.

Upon her arrival, her new team were excited, hopeful and welcoming.   But the buoyant mood didn’t last. Within an hour the atmosphere had changed considerably.  In her opening speech, the new leader announced what she hoped to achieve in her time with the team.  In the same breath told them her intention was to stay for two years, by which time she would be moving on.

The team’s optimism was crushed

In the new leader’s mind, she was being upfront and honest with them.  In their eyes, she was planning her exit even before she had opened the entrance door. It showed she lacked commitment. The deciding factor for her followers was that the two years term suited the requirements of the wider organisation. They concluded it had nothing to do with the leadership task at hand.

Whether you are committed or not may not be in question at all for you as a leader.  The question and the doubt raised by longevity in terms of your leadership might be more of an issue for your followers.

Followers welcome consistency

In this fast-paced world, corporate and team leaders come and go.    Founder leaders of established companies are more likely to stay and give their followers welcome consistency.  There are many stories where founders have exited their leadership roles and their “dream” by selling out and moving on. Only to find the business fails or falters within years, if not months, of their leaving.  Given the rate of change both in the business world and as our own goals and dreams change, what role does commitment play in our credibility as a leader?

I believe that whether you are trusted as a committed leader depends on many factors. As a leader, you must fully understand the depth, length and purpose of the commitment required of you.  Additionally, you need to be clear about the possibility of your leadership term being terminated early for you. Also, the circumstances in which you might choose to leave before time.  Crucially, in the beginning, middle and end of your term of leadership, you plan, communicate and position your intentions.

Principles of commitment

As a leader, several principles are relevant in communicating and positioning your commitment in different circumstances.   Commitment is a crucial aspect of your leadership role. It gives your followers the certainty they need to be able to develop a relationship with you and grow in trust.  You must position your particular leadership commitment so that you can manage expectations.

1. Be Clear on Your Leadership Outcomes

When you are appointed to tackle a specific leadership challenge, it is crucial to establish clarity about your desired outcomes. This involves setting clear goals and objectives that align with the task at hand. It’s not just about accepting the challenge, but also about being prepared to see it through to the end. This commitment to completion is a key aspect of leadership, demonstrating your dedication and resilience to your team.

2. Task-Specific Leadership

When appointed for a specific task, it’s essential to identify the particular phase or part of the task that you will be leading. This involves gauging the duration of your involvement and pinpointing the exact outcomes for which you will be accountable. By doing so, you ensure that your leadership is targeted and effective, fostering a sense of trust and reliability within your team.

3. Commitment During Uncertain Tenure

In situations where your reappointment is uncertain, it’s vital to remain dedicated to the vision, values, and mission of the company. During your term, regardless of its length, your leadership outcomes should be clear and well-defined. This commitment to the company’s ethos, even in the face of uncertainty, is a testament to your dedication and integrity as a leader. If you stake the claim to the vision as a team effort this will help your team advocate the continuation of the vision no matter who exits and enters the team.

4. Founder’s Dedication

As a founder, your dedication should be rooted in your own values and vision. You should pledge to do everything within your power to establish a sustainable plan for the future, even after your departure. This commitment to long-term success, rooted in your personal vision, is a powerful demonstration of your leadership and commitment to the organisation’s future.

5. Commitment to Followers

A crucial aspect of leadership is your commitment to your followers. This involves promising to do the best you can for them during your tenure. This commitment, whether it’s supporting their professional growth or ensuring their well-being, fosters a sense of trust and loyalty among your team members.

6. Unwavering Dedication

Regardless of the duration of your term as a leader, it’s important to commit to doing your absolute best. This unwavering dedication, irrespective of the circumstances, is a testament to your resilience and commitment as a leader. It sends a strong message to your team about your dedication and reliability, fostering a sense of trust and respect.

Your followers will sense your level of commitment

In retrospect, the new leader could have positioned her commitment to two years with a clear vision of her legacy. Then set out what she could do for her followers at that time.

If you lead your team it’s vital you position your commitment.  If you doubt your commitment to any role, no matter how long it is then your followers will pick this up.  What is true for everyone, whether in a leadership role or not, is if you doubt your propensity to stay the course, then simply commit yourself for a day at a time.  In that way, you will retain your focus as will those around you.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

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