Leaders require trust between them and those they lead to be effective. Trust is not a simple attribute like hair color.  Trust is a synthesis of several attributes. None of the attributes that impact trust are fixed at birth. As humans, we learn the attributes that generate trust based on the environments we are exposed to and hone them based on effort and importance we place on these characteristics. The 8 most important characteristics that shape trust in software development and Agile environments are:

  1. Competence – Trust is difficult in scenarios where there are significant mismatches in the combination of skills and experiences each individual brings to an endeavor. I recently observed a team in which a new, highly trained but inexperienced tester joined a Scrum team. There was not trust until the person had gained experience by interacting with the team for several sprints.
  2. Truthfulness – Trustworthy leaders will know and share the truth.  Deception, even when ‘harmless’ or even beneficial, will reduce the credibility of every statement going forward.
  3. Act as they think – Words, feelings, and beliefs match actions of the leader.  A popular adage is that if a leader “is going to talk the talk, they’ve got to walk the walk” in order to be trusted. 
  4. Integrity – Trustworthy leaders take responsibility for their actions and work and make sure that the work of other is attributed correctly.  A leader with integrity will link themselves to a set of moral and ethical principles that are known to the team and organization.
  5. Reliability – Trustworthy leaders say what they will do and do what they say they will do.  A corollary is that trustworthy leaders also do what they say they will do when they say they will do it.
  6. Loyalty – Trustworthy leaders are loyal to their people and organization (but not stupidly loyal).  All too often untrustworthy leaders will throw someone under the bus when issues are exposed or talk negatively about someone when they are not present.  Showing loyalty towards others is a prerequisite for receiving trust from others.
  7. Accountability – Leaders build trust by recognizing, admitting and accepting responsibility for their own mistakes.
  8. Just – A trustworthy leader is just to those on their team and with those outside their team. The actions of a just leader are predictable and measured rather than erratic and extreme. 

There are other attributes of trust; however, in a collaborative software development environment using Agile, these are often the most important contributors to trust in a leader.  A point that is often missed when discussing Agile or other decentralized frameworks is that leadership is dynamic. Therefore trust is important for anyone that might take up the mantle of leadership to foster.  I often recommend carving out time in retrospectives to examine trust to ensure that building trust is not seen as something that happens naturally or in random team building exercises.