These are challenging times, where business leaders must make decisions quickly that can impact people in a variety of ways. Digital leaders can only make those decisions effectively if their opinion is trusted and their teams support their call.
So what is the best way to build trust as an IT leader? Five experts give us their top tips.
1. Be as direct as possible
David Allison, global head of IT for First Quantum Minerals, says that building trust is a virtuous circle. The only way you build trust is by deciding to trust someone in the first place – and that process can involve a step into the unknown.
"In all areas of life, you have to take a chance and a risk – sometimes you'll learn you can't trust someone, and then you're wiser for it," he says. "I think trust comes at many levels – do what you say you're going to do; make it known that your word is your bond."
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Allison says the way he continues to build trust is by being as direct as possible. In organisational terms, he says that business leaders build trust by being true to their word, even if that means sometimes telling people things they'd rather not hear.
"One of the things I really enjoy about First Quantum is it's no-nonsense approach. Sure, being direct makes some people a bit wary. And it's easy to know where you stand in this company because generally people speak the truth and they speak confidently and directly," he says.
"But you've got to be careful not to abuse that position – and particularly if you're in a position of authority. It's easy to use intimidation, even without realising it. Being direct means making sure people know where they stand."
2. Create an open-door policy
Richard Gifford, CIO at Wincanton, says building trust as a manager is all about being honest with your team.
"It's about having an open-door policy, so they can come and discuss whatever they have on their mind with you in an open way and they can see you supporting that. That kind of simple approach has always worked well for me," he says.
Gifford says honesty should be allied to a degree of humility, something that is particularly crucial right now during the coronavirus pandemic, as people have big concerns both inside and outside work.
"It's important to be humble, especially now in these difficult times, where people really do have all sorts of issues. I'm seeing within our IT department that people do best when they trust each other because they're talking and being honest," he says.
"About two or three weeks into lockdown, trust within the IT department and across the business was higher than ever, so that's quite good a sign, despite the pressure of everything that's going on. The key to success was lots of communication, honesty and being humble."
3. Don't sugar-coat bad news
Nick Burton, chief information and digital officer at Avon International, says the key to being successful when it comes to building trust is straightforward: just be absolutely genuine.
"Don't try and sugar-coat bad news or tough news. Just be honest with people. Show empathy for whatever it is that they're going through, and not fake empathy. You must care about your people and always try to do the right thing," he says.
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Burton recognises you won't always make the right decisions as a business leader. That's when you need to be upfront with your team and to confess that you've made a wrong call.
"I just try to be me. I don't try to pretend to be something I'm not. I dress how I want to dress, I talk to people how I want to talk to people, and hopefully it's respectful and friendly and caring because that's how I think I am," he says.
"I try not to have any airs and graces. I think that we're all in it together. OK, I'm leading it, and hopefully I'll do a good job by doing what I do and helping the team. So, being genuine – that's really what it's all about."
4. Find common ground
Lily Haake, head of the CIO Practice at recruiter Harvey Nash, is no stranger to the importance of trust when it comes to effective IT leadership. In fact, she says that 'what's the best way to build trust as an IT leader?' is one of the key questions she asks when finding CIOs for clients.
"The typical answer is, 'loads of face time', so flying over and meeting people traditionally, which clearly isn't possible right now, so instead they'll make sure that they're definitely having video calls regularly," she says.
Like Gifford, Haake recognises that a sense of humility is key for trust-building CIOs. She says many of the people she speaks with use the term.
"CIOs talk about servant leadership and showing vulnerability and humility; that's very topical at the moment – defend your team and promote them. So I guess you've got to win favour with your teams, but then you've also got to find common ground with other leaders in the business," says Haake.
5. Build your values into your work
Hany Choueiri, chief data officer at Aldermore Bank, says the bank's core values – such as openness, honesty, transparency, curiosity and trust – are enshrined in the work his data team undertakes, both within the department and out across the wider organisation.
"When we look at our data strategy, we've connected the pillars of the strategy to the values and the promises of the bank. So there's literally a very powerful diagram that shows the strategy and the pillars and how these things connect to the promises that the bank is making and that we expect our colleagues to make," he says.
Choueiri says that joined-up approach works well because it shows how the work of his data team connects to the broader values of the bank. He says openness extends to how his team interacts with employees in all kinds of circumstances.
"We encourage people to report, for example, data-quality issues – we're there to help you. And that's flipping the coin over from us just being a compliance function that oversees everything to a department that's helping people do their jobs in a safe and secure way," he says.