This is not an easy time to be a leader in the financial services industry. Confidence is down. Regulation is up. The markets are unpredictable. Layoffs are looming. And the scandals plaguing the global financial community just keep coming.

Given this environment, how can a leader keep their team on track amid the anxiety that runs like an undertow in many firms today?

The answer: Trust.

Trust is the foundation upon which true leadership is built. Yet, as many industry titans, like Jamie Dimon and Bob Diamond, have been hobbled or felled by fiascos occurring on their watch, trust is in short supply.

“What you’re seeing in the financial services industry is a lack of any kind of credible statesmen,” said Rakesh Khurana, a management professor at Harvard Business School, in a recent Bloomberg story examining Wall Street’s lack of legitimacy.

Building Trust: A Matter of Competence and Character

In every crisis lies the seed of opportunity. And, as the mighty fall, those who have the trust of their team are more likely to remain standing.

What can you do to gain the confidence of your reports, colleagues, and superiors? It is a matter of competence and character.

Competence – The financial landscape is always changing. From technological innovations and shifting regulatory policies, to the development of increasingly complex products and services, staying on top of this ever-evolving industry can be challenging.

However, leaders must have the requisite level of industry knowledge and experience to make sound decisions, establish achievable goals, and set the right course for the team.

Leaders are not required to know everything, but it is critical to quickly pinpoint knowledge gaps and fill them. After all, nothing evaporates trust like incompetence.

Character – Transparency, fairness, integrity, and consistency are the pillars of a trustworthy character. When times are tough some leaders retreat behind closed doors, which does nothing but encourage paranoia throughout the company.

Instead, bring people into the conversation. Transparency allows your team to understand how decisions are made. It is better to clearly communicate bad news than to provide no explanation at all.

Above all, lead with integrity. In challenging times, leaders must hold themselves to even higher ethical standards and continually strive to develop trust by letting fairness and consistency be their guides.

As Linda Hill and Kent Lineback write in a Harvard Business Review blog post:

“Walk the talk. Keep your word. Be sure that what you say is consistent with what you do. This will prove your authenticity. If you tell people to be open to new ideas, but you’re not, they will doubt what you say. If they don’t understand or believe your intentions, how can they trust you to do the right thing?”

To get the best from your team, secure their confidence in you. When times are tough, your team will be looking to you for guidance, reassurance, vision, and inspiration. Don’t retreat from the scrutiny. By displaying your competence and character, you can earn their trust and lead your company into better times.

How has this challenging environment impacted the mutual trust you share with your team?

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