Taking the Time to Build Trust

by Beth Houf

Ahhhh summer! Time slows down a little and I am finally making the stack of growing reading material a priority. I opened the May/June 2017 Principal magazine from NAESP and the first article immediately grabbed my attention. Worth the Investment: Trust by Sarah E. Fiarman, former principal, author and ed consultant. In Lead Like a PIRATE, Shelley and I spend a great deal of time writing about the importance of trust and strategies for both gaining and giving trust. This article resonated deeply. Fiarman did an excellent job of sharing four concrete, foundational pieces to building trust; Know How to Listen, Know When to Speak, Take the Time and Name Your Biases.

Know How to Listen

The days of the school principal, and really anyone in education, tend to move at lightening pace. It is easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and immediate decision making that we are faced with constantly. Fairman states, “Listening is one of the most powerful acts we perform. When we listen to truly understand what people mean, not just what they’re saying we build trust. This requires slowing down, checking to be sure we understand correctly, and sharing back what we hear.” YES! And this doesn’t just happen when people are happy! Listening is equally, if not more important, when faced with dissent or anger. Fiarman continues by saying, “When leaders meet anger or frustration with genuine, compassionate interest in the other person’s perspective, we earn trust.” As leaders, we are human and make mistakes. Deeply listening helps us to really analyze our actions to see if we need to rethink next steps.

Another aspect that Fiarman points out is that we need to be intentional about seeking out a wide range of voices in our stakeholders to listen to to build trust. This means taking time to seek out individuals that are typically overlooked or quiet about feedback.

Know When to Speak

Three main points jumped out to me in this section regarding when to speak:

  • We must communicate more than we think we need to. Taking time to communicate can save a lot of time in the long run.
  • Disagreement can be a great thing when done professionally and respectfully. It is our jobs as leaders to help facilitate all ideas being heard.
  • Be familiar with the work of staff members. Take time to be immersed in the day to day work. “It engenders trust when your boss can speak to the specifics of your work.”

As leaders, our voice is heard. The absence of our voice when it is needed can cause trust to erode.

Name Your Biases

Fiarman’s section on biases had me thinking deeply about potential unconscious biases that I have that I don’t realize when making decisions. This will be an area I continue to explore and get feedback from others that I work with, most importantly from our students.

  • Leaders can’t build trust without recognizing and valuing people’s full selves.
  • Own and confront your biases. These are both conscious and unconscious.
  • Acknowledging that I might make mistakes because of this bias and then actively working to counter it builds trust

Take the Time

“Trust happens through thousands of small, purposeful interactions over time.” Such powerful and true words! It isn’t something that can be rushed, each person is unique into how much time it takes but intentional effort, every day will pay off.

After reading this article and having the opportunity to write about it, I was really able to better understand some of the frustrations I have had recently as a leader. I give trust very easily to others. I forget that although I trust others, staff and parents may need more time for trust to be built with me. As we move to positions of leadership, some automatically assume we are part of “the dark side” of education. We have to work extra hard to bust that stereotype. It isn’t us against them. We truly can only be our best when we are all working as one team to provide amazing learning opportunities that last a lifetime for our students.

Challenge Time!

In true #leadlap fashion, I want to pose a challenge to our PLN. After reading the blog, which of the four areas are you going to take a deeper look at? Which area is a strength? What strategies could you share to better help other leaders? Please take a moment to share your thoughts to the #LeadLAP hashtag. Shelley and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Other Work by Sarah E. Fiarman



Other Resources on Overcoming the Principal Bias

Peter Dewitt:


Bethany Hill: