Why is it Important to Build Trust as a Leader?
A conversation with Brandon Tseng, Co-Founder and COO
How do you define trust with respect to leadership?
Trust is an earned bond between a leader and his or her team that helps inspire confidence between the two with respect to their ability to succeed in a given endeavor.
What does trust make possible?
Trust allows an organization to thrive by strengthening relationships. Trust reduces friction and allows parties to interact with one another honestly and seamlessly -- that applies to both interactions among teammates within an organization and interactions between a business and its customers.
How do you build trust in a team?
There are many ways to build trust in a team or in an organization. The quickest way is to overcome adversity together. In my experience, the trust that emerges among teammates during periods of shared adversity or hardship while pursuing a common goal is incredibly strong. It forges a meaningful bond between teammates that is irreplicable.
At Shield AI, we use this method to build trust within our team. We challenge ourselves to tackle difficult problems and set audacious goals for ourselves. We need to rely on each other to succeed. For our company to achieve our goals, we rely on teamwork and on the individual expertise of everyone on the team.
How do you earn trust as a leader?
The best way a leader can earn trust is to lead by example and to take care of your people. Leading by example is one of the hardest things in the world to do, but if you consistently strive to lead by example, people tend to be more willing to follow and more forgiving of missteps and mistakes made along the way. This is important to remember as a team-member as well, your leadership will not be perfect, and it’s important to support them when they misstep. If they have a track record of leading by example, give them the benefit of the doubt when they falter and work to support them.
To me, taking care of your people means helping them be successful and helping them achieve their goals, both professional and personal. That means making sure everyone receives support they need, but it also means pushing them to extend themselves beyond their comfort zones to learn and grow. When you concern yourself with the well being of your teammates, you will find they will concern themselves with your well-being in turn.
How do you build trust with a customer?
It's about enabling them to be successful and showing them that you care and that they are your priority always. At Shield AI we talk a lot about making our customers proud. We want our customers to be proud that they chose to work with Shield AI, so we approach every discussion we have and every decision we make from the standpoint of keeping our customers’ best-interests in mind. Internalizing this mentality among every member of your team helps to build trust with customers.
What is the role of communication in trust?
Active communication facilitates and reinforces trust. Communicating early and often, even when there’s challenging news, helps build trust. This can be really hard. Every leader has asked themselves “Do I share the bad news now or wait until I’ve solved the problem?” or thought, “I shouldn’t bring a problem forward without a plan to solve it.”
It’s always better to flag a problem early than to avoid having the hard conversation because inevitably the problem will surface, and if the boss or the stakeholder learns of the problem before you have the chance to tell them, a lot of the hard-earned trust in that relationship erodes. If you communicate potential pitfalls early and often I’ve found that trust becomes stronger. Having these conversations builds trust in establishing your ability to handle tough situations. It facilitates the opportunity for you to let the other party into your thought-process and to show them your problem-solving abilities.
How does trust help to foster strong team morale? What role does it play in maintaining this morale during harder times -- such as sprints?
The more teammates trust each other, the more confident they will be in each other’s ability to succeed or find ways to win regardless of the odds. When a team has this confidence, the boost to morale is huge. That’s one of the things I loved about the SEAL teams and it is one of the things I love about Shield AI. Because there is such strong trust between teammates, we are willing and excited to tackle really challenging problems, and we do so with an unrelenting determination and positive attitude.