Build a Habit of Trust

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Trust is one of the fundamental elements of leadership. In order to successfully realise your vision, your followers must:

  • Trust in you as a credible leader who has their best interests at heart

  • Trust that your vision is the right vision for the company and is achievable

  • Trust that you are able to competently lead them to perform the roles required to achieve your vision.

One of the easiest ways to gain trust is simply to do what you say you are going to do. If you are unable to do the task you said you would do for someone today, why should they believe that you can lead a team or organisation to achieve a grand vision which is far more complex?

Therefore, it is vital to form a habit of being trustworthy and showing, on a daily basis, that you do what you say you will do.

Some of the key elements of creating a habit include:

  • Small, manageable steps that increase towards the goal

  • Deliberate practice, i.e. making a focused effort to practise the action you are trying to habitualise, usually with some form of tracking or feedback system in place to enable you to reflect and progress your learning.

  • Consistently performing the desired behaviour until it becomes a habit.

We have developed a 20-day habit-forming tool which allows you to practise doing what you say you will do. It starts with small, manageable actions and builds across four weeks to the point where they will make a visible difference.

Initially, you will record your key tasks for each day and your level of progress; this will either be that the task was not started, that it is in progress or that it has been done. This will enable you to become aware of your trust level, so you can take action to enhance it. As you move through the four weeks, you will record impediments to any tasks that aren’t completed so you will be able to see why they weren’t done. You will then progress to digging deeper into impediments to help you complete tasks more effectively.

At the end of the 20 days, we suggest reflecting on your habit-forming experience using the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. This will allow you to understand the impact the exercise has had on you and those around you.

Having committed to creating a specific new habit, an obvious question would be ‘how long does it take for something to become a habit?’. A popular myth, which evolved from experiences documented by Maxwell Maltz in the 1960 book Psycho-Cybernetics, suggests that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. However, research led by Phillippa Lally at UCL and published in 2009 found that it takes, on average, 66 days for people to reach a limit of self-reported automaticity, i.e. to create a habit ( Even then, there was considerable variation across those studied. Of course, the amount of time required to habitualise a behaviour will vary from person to person, but the research emphasises that there is a significant amount of focused effort required.

In line with the UCL research, completing one full 20-day cycle will enable you to build momentum towards creating a habit; repeating the final stage of the habit-former, i.e. the top level, on a regular basis (e.g. for a week a month) will help to embed the behaviour as a habit.

You can gain benefit from using habit-forming tools by yourself, although experience has shown us the benefit increases when such tools are used with a coach or in a team environment. Where members of a management team, for example, have all worked through the habit-formers at the same time, it energised them to get the most out of the exercise. Working through it on your own requires strong motivation and persistence to keep going, whereas having others to push you on, give encouragement and share feedback has been seen to make the process more powerful. It also had a wider positive knock-on effect across the company because managers of different teams were applying the new behaviour simultaneously.

Once you have developed positive new habits, keep doing them and encourage others to follow. A shift in the way you work with people often leads to a shift in the way they work, and as leaders we are responsible for setting the culture we wish to see. Once you have experienced a positive impact in forming a habit of trust, share the tool with others so they can do the same. How much more productive could your company be if everyone did what they said they would do today?

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

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