Building Trust as a New Leader: Ten Key Communication Secrets

By Lou Solomon

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New leaders who flex their muscles without making human connections fall short. On the other hand, those willing to earn their team’s trust will go beyond their goals.

In this article, I will explore ten practices you can employ in your communication toolkit to help win the trust of your team.


A few months ago, one of my clients, Rick, was promoted to VP of Marketing. His new role was full of opportunities to make some overdue changes. The future was bright except for one thing.

Rick’s 360-Degree evaluation — receiving feedback from supervisors, team members, and peers – showed he lacked genuine relationships with people.

Everyone agreed that Rick was a brilliant change agent but hadn’t built the trust a great team needs to perform at their potential. As with every team, they needed to see that he was sincerely interested in them, capable of admitting mistakes, and vulnerable enough to ask for feedback.


When sizing up our leaders, we instinctively look at two dimensions: the human connection (shown by warmth and trustworthiness) and the dimension of strength (which includes competence and fearsomeness).

Which matters most in the beginning? Warmth or Strength?

Research shows the wisdom of beginning with the human connection. Warmth is the conduit of influence because it facilitates communication and trust. Even a few small nonverbal signals — a nod, a smile, an open gesture  —can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns.


There are Ten Key Communication Secrets that helped Rick — and will help you build trust as a new leader.

1. Connect with Warmth.

New leaders like Rick, who tend to project strength before establishing trust, run the risk of eliciting fear and, along with it, a host of dysfunctional behaviors.
Fear can undermine cognitive potential, creativity, and problem-solving and cause employees to get stuck and disengage.

Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions.

Rick wanted to hit the ground running. He was sure he knew all the answers and couldn’t wait to share his plans.

“Know-it-all-ness” is the most common mistake new leaders make – to rush in and treat the department as though it’s broken. They begin telling, not asking. Teammates resent the implication that they’ve been “doing it wrong,” — and they rebel by not engaging in the new plan.

After Rick understood the downsides to tell before asking, he dove right into asking open-ended questions, such as “What is holding this team back from reaching our full potential?” and “What are we doing well, and should we continue doing?” By asking, he earned his trust and discovered his new teammates had great ideas.

3. Be Present and Pay Attention.

In his previous role, Rick excelled at completing many tasks. He had become skilled at doing several things simultaneously, such as responding to messages from anywhere.

But the job of a leader is to get results through other people, and when Rick attempted to check his inbox while one of his direct reports shared a suggestion, it sent a loud message of disrespect.

He learned that by putting his phone down when interacting with his team members, he created a greater trust by listening and without saying a word.

When people know you listen deeply, they will trust you. Practicing presence in everyday interactions can help close the team’s communication gaps.

4. Be Vulnerable.

Rick enjoyed talking about his accomplishments. As a new leader, he would have to embrace a different approach. He would have to learn humility, such as telling his teammates about a lesson he learned the hard way; and what he learned about his shortcomings.

Leaders who don’t reveal their humanness will struggle to lead a high-performance team. We all want leaders who can be genuine with us and share what life has taught them — leaders who can be vulnerable.

5. If Not the What, Then the How.

Often a change in leadership occurs because there’s a change needed in an organization, and that was the case with Rick’s team. Without new processes, they were going to lose business to their competitors.

A change in processes meant that his direct reports would need to change how they’d been operating.

In other words, what had already been decided: process improvements. The way Rick created buy-in was to give them some input on the how. For example, he mapped out a vision of what success looked like.

Rick also gave them a chance to provide input on how to get there. Some innovative ideas surfaced, and he incorporated several of them into his strategic plan—building trust while he did it.

6. Be Yourself

At first, Rick felt he needed to create an image of a leader who operated separately from his team. But his teammates wanted him to be a personable, approachable leader. He learned that the idea is to recognize the genuine aspects of himself and allow them to come across to teammates. Rick also discovered the value of kicking back occasionally and having a laugh.

7. Acknowledge Teammates, and Give Them Credit

People need more than a paycheck to be engaged. High performers, in particular, need appreciation for their contributions.

Within a few months, Rick’s team had made some process improvements driving results. Rick’s initial instinct was to take credit for his team’s work — after all, he is the boss, right?

Nothing squashes trust more quickly than taking credit when others did the heavy lifting. Instead, Rick publically gave the team credit and reinforced their behavior. He motivated them to get even more results, and they trusted that they’d get recognition when they had done the work.

If you want the best from people, provide positive feedback on their strengths and talent. The perfect time to do this is public speaking at a company-wide event.

6 hands on top of each other like in a sports pre game huddle. showing trust in each other

8. Care about well-being.

Leaders are responsible for developing environments that allow teammates to thrive, so they must learn the signs of employee burnout, dissatisfaction, and physical health to support well-being.

What is well-being? Gallup breaks it down into these elements: solid and supportive relationships; fulfilling work; financial security; physical health, and community involvement. These are the indicators of whether or not someone is thriving.

Initially, Rick liked the idea of his direct reports being available 24/7 and working weekends. But he soon learned that when employees are happy, fulfilled, and rested, they are more trusting, engaged, and motivated to work hard, leading to increased productivity and improved customer satisfaction.

9. Welcome ideas.

We like and trust leaders who are not threatened by people who speak their minds to offer value.

Amateur leaders become defensive when confronted with a difference in opinion — which is the kiss of death. People lose all respect for someone who argues when faced with an honest disagreement.

The best communicators ask, “I’m interested in what you think,” and “Tell me more about that.”

10. Keep Promises.

As a new leader, Rick felt pulled in all directions as he gathered input from many stakeholders. He had the best intentions but began feeling like there wasn’t enough time in the day, and some of his early promises simply slipped. The result was inconsistent interactions.

Rick learned that he had to create calendar reminders for due dates for the un-delegatable tasks. He also learned to delegate more often when developing direct reports.

He’s gradually earning trust back as he follows through on his commitments.

Cartoon showing a happy, diverse work team that are close and trust each other

Why Should You Build Trust?

Building trust as a new leader is crucial for your team’s success. Warmth and human connection are key factors in gaining trust; and these ten communication practices can help you achieve this.

These practices include connecting with warmth, asking open-ended questions, being present and paying attention, being vulnerable, focusing on the how, being yourself, acknowledging and giving credit to your teammates, caring about their well-being, welcoming ideas, and keeping promises.

As a leader, it’s essential to prioritize warmth over strength to establish trust and create an environment where your team can perform at their best.

Start building trust and lead your team to success. Reach out to Interact Studio today, and let’s start a conversation.

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