How to Master the Art of Building Trust as a Leader

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is radical trust? Why is radical trust important if you’re trying to build a culture of radical candor?

Radical trust is the foundation of a community that allows for radical candor. You can’t build these kinds of relationships overnight, but they are critical for open communication.

Read more about how to build radical trust.

Radical Trust for Radical Candor

When you build trusting relationships with your team and let them bring their whole selves to work, you can better understand their needs and make sure their work is meaningful to them, which naturally motivates great results. This type of radical trust in your relationships can’t be forced—rather, they’re developed through repeated demonstrations of practicing self-care, giving your team autonomy, and respecting boundaries. Together, these practices can build radical trust.

Self-care helps you lay the foundations of trusting relationships, in two ways. First, if you’re overwhelmed and stressed, problems feel insurmountable or may cause you to snap at someone who doesn’t deserve it. Second, it’s difficult to care about other people if you’re wrapped up in your own problems. Without personal care, you can’t build radically candid relationships. 

Find a self-care method that makes you feel like your best self, such as meditation or spending time with your family. Try putting it into your calendar, as you would with a meeting. 

Giving your team autonomy naturally bolsters your relationships. When employees feel that you’re using power and control to force them to do their best, they become resentful and disengaged. On the other hand, when they feel a sense of agency and autonomy, they choose to bring their best selves to their work, which leads to better collaboration and results. 

Think of areas where you could let go of control. For example, stop asking for constant updates on team members’ projects. Instead, ask them to plan update meetings and to try problem solving themselves before asking for help.

Respecting boundaries is important to meaningful relationship-building—when you care personally about your relationships, you make an effort to learn about your employees’ whole selves, while being conscious of their limits. You’ll have to navigate what “boundaries” look like for each person—everyone reacts differently to the idea of sharing their personal lives with their boss. 

You can encourage sharing by staying open to different perspectives and values, engaging with emotions instead of ignoring them, and responding to limits—for example, if an employee seems uncomfortable discussing her family, drop the issue quickly and move on.

Bosses Build the Culture 

Throughout this process remember that though you might not be the one making decisions and executing on them, you as the boss have incredible influence on your workplace’s culture of radical trust—which has incredible influence on your team’s results. For example, Ben Silbermann, the CEO of Pinterest, is very introverted and hates conflict. He found that his personality inadvertently created a workplace culture that was largely introverted and shied away from debates. 

One of the most important things you can do for your work culture is keep an eye on how you might be influencing it—and radical candor can help you accomplish this. If you’re regularly asking for guidance from your employees and colleagues, and have built trusting relationships so their feedback is sincere, they will make your influence (good and bad) clear to you. 

Besides depending on guidance from your employees and colleagues, be self-aware. Understand that your words carry a lot of weight—what feels like a minor suggestion to you could be taken as a direct challenge. Make sure your employees understand that they can trust you to challenge them directly when need be—they don’t need to read into your offhand comments or suggestions. Be aware that your actions carry weight too. If you are acting out of line with your organization’s values, your team members will take it as a signal that they can act the same way. Make sure your behaviors always align with the culture you’re trying to create. This is especially important when it comes to making mistakes. Always own your mistakes and find a way to fix them—build accountability into your work culture. 

Given all your other work, it will be tempting to push small, seemingly unimportant decisions off onto someone else, usually HR. However, doing so allows HR to dictate your culture, without regard for your principles of caring personally and challenging directly. Take the time to decide if there will be alcohol at that staff holiday party, or what to do when a team member accidentally pushes a colleague to tears with jokes.

Finally, put some thought into building an office environment that demonstrates care for its employees though small details—such as putting the coffee that you know your employees like in the breakroom, or giving your team a selection of desk chairs to choose from. 

What Radical Candor Creates

When you commit yourself to caring personally about your team members and challenging them directly, you become a great boss. You build strong relationships with your team members, create a culture of sincere and helpful guidance, put together growth plans that make sense and have personal motivations built in. With this kind of support and radical trust, your team members will consistently bring their best selves to their work and their collaboration, delivering results that you’d never be able to accomplish alone. 

Radical Trust Is Essential for Radical Candor

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Here's what you'll find in our full Radical Candor summary:

  • How you have to be direct with people while also caring sincerely for them
  • Why relationships are an essential part of successful leadership
  • How to create a strong team culture that delivers better results

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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