Your team doesn’t trust you. Honestly. They don’t. Trust is key to effective working relationships. Yet, as you climb the corporate ladder, trust seems harder to earn and easier to lose.

What causes a team to not trust their leader? You. Yes, you. You’re unpredictable and your team doesn’t know what to expect. But this can be fixed. Trust is about an ability to expect a predictable outcome. When you act in ways your team doesn’t expect, it erodes trust and makes them wonder what you’re going to do next.

If you clearly articulate how your people can expect you to behave, they’ll have a basic expectation upon which to build trust. These expectations have to be personal and meaningful enough to you that they guide your behavior. These guiding principles are “leadership maxims” – rules of behavior or conduct. The collection of your leadership maxims becomes your personal leadership philosophy.

Defining Your Leadership Philosophy

I encourage you to define your own leadership maxims. They can be as simple as one of mine which is “What would Nana say?” For reference, Nana was my grandmother. I can use that maxim to guide my behavior. When faced with difficult choices, I simply ask “what would Nana say?” and my choice becomes clear. When I explain this maxim to my team, they understand how I make choices and they see my behavior is consistent with this maxim. This consistency forms the basis of trust.

If you want to define a powerful leadership philosophy, here’s where to start:

  • Be yourself. When you write your leadership philosophy, spare your team the corporate-speak and tell your personal story instead.
  • Give in to emotion. Articulate your philosophy as a set of reminders of stories that have deep emotional meaning for you. The reminders guide your behavior. The stronger the emotions associated with the story, the more likely you are to change your behavior to be consistent with the lesson the story reminds you of.
  • Lead yourself. You have to know where you want to go in life and define your personal code of conduct before you can lead others. Document reminders of your code as part of your philosophy.
  • Lead the thinking. Your job is to set direction, challenge outdated thinking, and define standards. Create reminders that regularly force you to do these things – not only during the annual planning process.
  • Lead your people. Get dirty. Know their jobs. Know them as individuals – not as a box on an org chart. When they know you care about them as a person, they’re more willing to give you everything they’ve got.
  • Lead a balanced life. If you’re burned out, you’re worthless. Set boundaries and stick to them. Balance applies to your work too – have enough work you love to do to balance out all the tasks you don’t enjoy.
  • Pull it all together. Document all your reminders (maxims) on a single piece of paper. Tape it on your wall or carry it in your wallet. Having that reminder of your leadership philosophy within arm’s reach will help you live up to those standards every day.
  • Share. Tell people your personal story. Help them understand the experiences that have made you who you are as a leader. When you share, you help them understand you better. That understanding and the vulnerability you demonstrate while sharing builds trust between you and your team members.
The Bottom Line
The sooner you commit your leadership philosophy to paper, the better. Be sure it is personal, authentic, and free of buzzwords. Share it. Live it every day. Help them see you’re really not that complex or unpredictable. Morale, productivity, and trust will all increase as a result. Take the Trusted Leader Assessment to see where you stack up. The results can make a big difference in helping you build trust with the members of your team.