Leading with Trust

Your Return-to-Office Strategy Is an Opportunity to Build Trust With Employees

Enjoy this article that was recently published in Ignite!, the newsletter of The Ken Blanchard Companies. I was interviewed about the opportunity to build trust as organizations develop plans to return workers to the office.


Organizations have an opportunity to intentionally increase trust with their people by the open and collaborative way they handle plans for people returning to the office, says trust expert Randy Conley.

“As a leader, you have a choice on where to invest your energy. You can do it through micromanaging and strictly enforcing everyone’s work schedules—or you can spend your time empowering your people, investing in them, trusting them, and helping them achieve their goals, regardless of whether they’re sitting in a nearby office or joining a Zoom call from home.

“A large percentage of people have enjoyed the freedom and work-life balance that working from home has provided. They are concerned about losing some of these positive changes as companies begin to roll out their plans for returning to the office.”

Sending people home at the start of the pandemic was a great trust experiment, says Conley.

“Organizations were forced to extend trust to their people. There was no more physical monitoring. The norm of everyone showing up at the office at 9:00 a.m. was broken.

“The good news is, by all accounts we’ve seen, the ‘experiment’ was a great success! Leaders and their teams found new ways to work and were amazed by not only the increase in productivity but also the satisfaction with their life and work situation.”

So what do organizations do now? Continue to build in that direction—or collectively exhale that it went well, bring everyone back to the office, and return to the old ways?

“I think that train has left the station,” says Conley. “Employees have had a taste of a new way of working and they want certain aspects of it to continue. They’re not willing to go back to the old life. If their organization doesn’t want to make a change, many will look for something else or stay only until a better opportunity comes along.”

This has employers worried about losing their best talent as well as finding new talent in the future, says Conley.

“It’s a very practical concern. I think a lot of old-school mentality leaders still believe the office is where people need to be to do their work.

“It’s dangerous to generalize around this topic. Leaders have a lot of sticky issues to work through. It’s important to take some time to think things through, be open, share information, and make decisions based on data—not on old-school mindsets or ideas.

“If you have data points that support onsite collaboration and productivity, make sure your team understands that. Conversely, if your data supports remote work, share that. Have an open dialogue about it. Involve people in the change and the decision-making process.”

The key to creating this atmosphere of open dialogue is building a culture with high trust. That begins with connectedness, says Conley.

“Go slow. Tread lightly. Unless you have a rock-solid reason for bringing back people immediately without their feedback, take it slowly and involve them in the process. Let them know you’re hearing their concerns.”

Another leader behavior that builds trust is having clear expectations, says Conley.

“Be explicit about what the hybrid work model will look like for your team. How many days per week are people expected to be in the office? Are some days mandatory? The more you can spell out the details, the more confident people will be about complying with team norms.

“During times like these, it’s important to build on the trust we extend to each other in how we get our work done. By setting clear expectations, involving everyone in the process, soliciting feedback, and staying flexible as leaders, we can better enjoy the progress we’ve made and will continue to make as we move into the future.”


Would you like to learn more about building trust in your organization? Join us for a free webinar!

Accelerating Trust During Times of Change

Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Trust is critical anytime an organization is embarking on great change. To ensure high levels of organizational performance, leaders must tackle trust head-on by demonstrating the behaviors people most associate with trust.

People need to know they can trust their leaders in four key areas. In this webinar, Blanchard trust practice leader Randy Conley will show you how to improve the levels of trust in your organization by identifying potential gaps that trip up even the best leaders. Participants will learn how to:

  • Recognize the warning signs when people lack trust in your leadership.
  • Purposefully engage in four trust-building behaviors.
  • Create strong, long lasting, trust-based relationships.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to raise the level of trust in your organization by increasing the “trust-ability” of your leaders.

Register today!

I’ve Led Hybrid Teams for 15 Years – Here’s the Truth About What Works

Many organizations are embracing hybrid teams (a mixture of onsite and remote employees) as a model of working in the post-COVID19 world. Hybrid teams are not new, but this model of working is new to many organizations and leaders.

I’ve been leading hybrid teams for 15 years, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned a lot over this time, mostly through trial and error. I thought I’d offer some straight-up, real talk about what it’s like to lead a hybrid team, so that you can learn from my experience and possibly avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Work From Home (WFH) and In-Office Schedules

Years ago, when I decided to allow team members to work from home a few days a week, I worked with my managers to create an elaborate schedule of the days team members would WFH and be in the office. We wanted to maintain at least 60% of our team in the office on any given day and we also wanted to limit people working from home on Monday or Friday (because, you know, those untrustworthy workers would use their Friday/Monday WFH day to make it a long weekend). To limit time out of the office, we had a policy that team members were to schedule personal appointments on their WFH days.

Life doesn’t happen according to our neat little plan. Legitimate circumstances would arise that caused a team member to shift their schedule – a sick child, a broken water pipe at home, or an impromptu meeting at the office that required the employee to come in on their normal WFH day. We quickly found ourselves spending more time and energy managing our team member’s whereabouts than the important work we needed to accomplish. I eventually decided to leave it to the employee’s discretion of when to WFH and when to be in the office. They came into the office when they needed to be there for meetings or to collaborate with others.

Team Meetings

The first few years of leading a hybrid team, I had less than a handful of team members who worked remotely (full-time), while everyone else was in the office. Our team meetings would consist of everyone gathered around a conference table with a polycom in the middle, and the remote people joined in via conference call. Of course, the experience for the remote people was horrendous.

As my hybrid team grew and more people worked remotely, we started using Zoom for our team meetings. We were doing Zoom calls years before anyone had ever heard of Zoom (weren’t we progressive!). However, we still gathered everyone in the conference room, hooked a laptop to the LCD projector, and showed the remote people on screen. Of course, they were still connected via the horrendous polycom conference phone, so really the experience didn’t improve much for the remote folks. They were still second-class citizens when it came to team meetings.

We finally got smart and started holding our team meetings all-virtual. Everyone, including the entire team in the office, got on Zoom from their individual offices. Compared to our previous meeting formats, the experience was night and day better for everyone! All-virtual meetings level the playing field for everyone because each team member has equal opportunity to participate.

Clear Expectations

Make the implicit, explicit. That’s what I learned, and that’s what my colleague, John Hester, calls out as one of the key skills to leading a hybrid team. Document expectations so there isn’t any room for confusion. Everything from working hours, response times, technologies to be leveraged, backup plans, and communication norms should be clear, regularly communicated, and most of all, followed.

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a hybrid team.

Foster a Connected Community

My friend, Michael Stallard, is an expert in this area. He emphasizes that a culture of connection meets the seven universal human needs at work for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. I’ve found this to be true in leading hybrid teams. My managers and I found we had to work differently, and more intentionally, to foster relationships with team members. Team members themselves must be more intentional about being seen and heard when they aren’t in the office. Many leaders fall into the trap of proximity bias, which is giving preferential treatment to those in their immediate vicinity. Leaders need to be conscious of that bias, work to eliminate it, and employees need to know that it’s a factor that may impact their personal situation.

Hybrid Teams Are Different from Co-located Teams

In the early days of leading a hybrid team, I thought something was wrong because it didn’t feel the same as when everyone was in the office. I learned that nothing was wrong, it was just different. Hybrid teams “feel” different, both from the leader and team member perspective, than teams that have everyone physically located together. As mentioned previously, everyone needs to be more intentional to foster connected relationships in a hybrid team. Hybrid teams miss out on those chance hallway encounters, the lingering conversation after a meeting ends, or the chit-chat in the office lunch kitchen. You have to make up for those times by planning them into your online team meetings and specific events to build team camaraderie.

In-Person Meetings

Face-to-face meetings are critically important for building relationships. I learned the importance of scheduling periodic meetings to bring the team together, usually for non-work, social activities. I would organize regular team lunches in the office and invite everyone to come in (free food always attracts a crowd!) or plan a cook-out at a team member’s house and then let them take the rest of the day off work. I leveraged yearly all-company meetings to bring the entire global team together, and the agenda for those meetings would be roughly 1/3rd work-focused and 2/3rd team-building focused.

Performance Management

There will be some team members who turn out to be ill-suited to work remotely. Some people have challenges staying focused and productive when working from home or don’t have the technical chops to effectively self-manage the technology required to be productive. I learned you have two choices: either require them to be in the office full-time (which often creates resentment because they feel they are being treated unfairly), or share them with your competition. Whichever route you choose, deal with it promptly. Don’t let it linger because it will eventually need to be dealt with, and it’s much easier for everyone involved if you act quickly.

Trust is the coin of the realm

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a successful hybrid team. If you can’t trust an employee to do a good job when they WFH, then they probably shouldn’t be on your team. As a leader, you must take the risk of extending trust to your team, which is exactly what you did last year when you sent your team to WFH during the pandemic. Why would you want to pull back on that trust now by trying to run your hybrid team with an iron fist? Don’t do it.

I love leading and working in a hybrid team because it provides people the autonomy they need to do their jobs in the best possible way. I think most organizations have learned during the pandemic that there are tremendous upsides to remote work. Are there challenges? You bet. Are they manageable? Yes, they are.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water by returning to the old ways of work just because it’s familiar and comfortable. Hybrid teams work. Make them work for you.

Build Trust by Sitting on The Same Side of The Table

By their very nature, unionized workplaces and industries often promote a culture of distrust between stakeholders. Each party is suspicious of the other and is afraid of being taken advantage of, so they hold their cards close to their vest and try to cut the best deal possible for their stakeholders. It’s us on one side of the table versus them on the other.

Must it be that way? I don’t think so. I think both sides can build trust by sitting on the same side of the table.

First, let’s talk about why we don’t trust each other. We refrain from trusting because it involves risk. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

Trust cannot begin to grow until one party extends it to the other. Trust must be given before it can be received. It really is that simple.

Once you understand someone must make the first move to extend trust, how do you get both parties on the same side of the table? I think it involves have a common mindset and skillset about trust.

The trust mindset is understanding the fates of each party are intertwined. All successful relationships are built on a foundation of trust. It doesn’t matter the type of relationship—husband/wife, parent/child, boss/employee, or union/labor–trust is what binds us together. Operating from this mindset eliminates the fear of being disadvantaged by the other party and allows you to work toward solutions that provide mutual benefit. In a relationship of trust, both parties are searching for win-win solutions, not win-lose or win-break even.

The skillset of trust involves behaving in a trustworthy manner. Sometimes this is challenging because people have different perceptions of what constitutes trustworthy behavior. That’s why it’s helpful to have a common definition of trust.

Research shows there are four key elements of trust. Since every language has an alphabet, we’ve created the ABCD Trust Model to define the language of trust. You build trust with others when you are:

Able—You demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for your role or profession. You achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. You show good planning and problem-solving skills and make sound, informed decisions. People trust your competence.

BelievableActing with integrity. You tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit your mistakes. You walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with your personal values and those of the organization. You treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are applied fairly.

Connected—You care about others. Connected people are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected individual who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust others who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do—is a hallmark of dependable people. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and are responsive to others.

Building trust is not a one and done proposition. Trust is not a destination you reach, but rather a journey that never ends. Extending trust, embodying a mindset of trust, and using the skillset of trust will transform distrustful relationships into trust-filled partnerships that promote the growth and well-being of both parties.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Partners in Progress magazine.

Does Forgiveness Need To Be Earned?

While watching a college basketball game today, I saw this statement in the scrolling news ticker at the bottom of the television screen: “From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it.”

Uh…what? Forgiveness has to be earned? Since when?

Let me tell you the backstory. Gregg McDermott, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Creighton University, recently stuck his foot in his mouth, big time. In delivering a post-game speech to his team in which he was trying to emphasize the importance of team unity, he used a racially insensitive analogy that was completely inappropriate. He recognized his mistake and quickly apologized. Last week the university suspended him indefinitely while they investigated the incident. Today, Creighton athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, issued the following statement:

“Through his immediate apology, ownership of his actions, difficult dialogue with his team, and more, Coach McDermott has demonstrated a commitment to grow. I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and to regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words. From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it. His actions during his career reveal an individual committed to his team and his community. As such, coach Greg McDermott has been reinstated for all team activities, including this week’s Big East tournament.”

Perhaps it was just an awkwardly worded press release, or maybe Bruce Rasmussen was simply trying to emphasize the importance of Coach McDermott working to regain the trust of those around him (which was explicitly mentioned), but the truth is this: Forgiveness can’t be earned; it can only be given. (click to tweet)

Forgiveness is not something under the control of the person who committed a breach of trust. Forgiveness rests solely with the person offended. The offended party has the choice to offer forgiveness or withhold it. What McDermott does, or doesn’t do, has no impact on whether his players, assistant coaches, university administrators, fans, or anyone else chooses to forgive him. There’s no way he can earn it. Don’t confuse forgiveness with making amends. Making amends is the responsibility of the party who committed the offense. Forgiveness is the responsibility of the offended.

If forgiveness had to be earned, it would also mean that forgiveness was conditional and could only be granted upon meeting certain criteria. How would that work? If Coach McDermott doesn’t say anything stupid for six months, does he earn 25% forgiveness? Maybe six months is worth 50% forgiveness? Or maybe it’s only worth 15% forgiveness if the offended party is still holding a grudge? Forgiveness is either given or it’s not. Forgiveness is not a weapon to be wielded to manipulate, coerce, or control someone into doing what you want them to do.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. I’ve written in-depth about the role of forgiveness in restoring trust. It’s the most powerful tool at your disposal to move beyond the pain and suffering of broken trust. Forgiveness is a soothing balm to the wounds of broken trust. It works best when applied liberally and frequently.

What are your thoughts about the role forgiveness plays in restoring trust? Do you believe forgiveness is earned or given? Please leave a comment and share your perspectives.

4 Ways Managers Cheat Their Employees

The legendary college football coach Woody Hayes once said there were four ways he could cheat his players: do for them what they can do for themselves, allow them to get by on less than their best effort, allow them to believe their athletic talent is the only education they will need, and allow them to believe that football makes them privileged.

As a manager you may have never thought of it this way, but there are times when you cheat your employees. You probably don’t do it intentionally, and in fact, I’d almost guarantee you don’t. However, we all get stuck in patterns of unexamined behavior which lead to unintended consequences. Here are four common ways manager’s cheat their team members:

1. Solving their problems. Prior to being a manager, the odds are that you were a top performer on your team. You likely developed a reputation as someone who could solve any problem that came your way and that ability probably helped you get promoted. Now that you’re the boss, you relish the opportunity to help team members solve problems. When they come to you for advice, you don’t hesitate to jump right in and solve the problem for them. Although you think you’re helping your team by doing this, the reality is you’re cheating them from gaining the competence and confidence that comes from solving their own problems. You’re also creating a sense of learned helplessness among your team members. Even if you have the noble intention of wanting to help your team, your efforts will have the unintended consequence of conditioning them to expect you’ll always be there to give them the answer. Instead, help them become self-reliant problem solvers. Practice asking open-ended questions that draw out their thinking, help them consider alternatives, and provide perspective to expand their approach to solving the problem.

2. Micromanaging. Lack of trust is at the heart of micromanagement. Although you may rationalize your behavior as helping a team member because you’re taking work off their plate, or wanting to make sure things are done right, the fact is you resort to controlling behavior because you don’t trust the abilities of your team members. Micromanagement kills the motivation of your team members, reduces their creativity, and stifles innovation. It leads to them checking their brains at the door because they know you’ll do all the thinking for them. Micromanagement cheats your team out of embracing their own knowledge and power that leads to them performing their best.

3. Not giving honest feedback. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and giving feedback about poor performance is probably the most dreaded task of any manager. Too often we dance around the issue, talk in vague generalities, and hope the employee will somehow get the message that they need to improve. I’ve learned over and over in my career that people not only need honest feedback about their performance, they deserve it. As a manager, we should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to coach our team members in areas that need improvement. That doesn’t mean the feedback needs to be delivered in a harsh, in your face manner. It can be communicated with candor and care. The two are not mutually exclusive. Don’t cheat your team and stunt their development by sugarcoating performance feedback.

4. Not having high enough expectations. A hallmark of winning teams is having a leader with high expectations. People often perform to the level of expectations placed upon them. Good leaders know this and push their team to perform at the highest level possible. These leaders don’t just expect it, but they train, coach, equip, and encourage their team to reach heights they wouldn’t normally achieve on their own. It’s easy to get beaten down with the grind of everyday corporate life. We get so engrained in the mundane activities of keeping the business running that we neglect setting stretch goals for our team members. Don’t cheat your team by letting them stay comfortable with the status quo. Anyone can set the bar low and reach it. Great things are achieved when the bar is set high and the team works hard to clear it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the coach of a sports team, a leader of a volunteer group, or a manager in the workplace, cheating your team members comes down to failing to act in their best interests. Always do what’s right and best for your employees, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable, and you won’t ever have to worry about having cheated your team, or yourself.

We Must Move From Self-Serving Leadership to Leading at a Higher Level

The events of January 6th, 2021 in our nation’s capital starkly illustrate the results of self-serving leadership.

As I tweeted last night, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe the despicable acts that took place yesterday. I’m embarrassed and ashamed for our country, and totally disheartened that those who accepted the mantle of leadership for our nation have failed us so miserably.

Self-serving leadership looks like a president blatantly telling lies and perpetuating debunked conspiracy theories.

Self-serving leadership looks like a president shamelessly pandering to the base instincts of his followers in order to feed his ego and promote his own self-interests.

Self-serving leadership looks like a president publicly humiliating and denigrating his own team members.

Self-serving leadership looks like senators and congressmen and women vocally supporting their leader’s lies or remaining silent in the face of his atrocious behavior in order to protect their own political future.

Self-serving leadership looks like average citizens, people like you and me, who have grown complacent and accepting of the political circus we’ve allowed our government to become.

Self-serving leadership looks like citizens placing a higher priority on their own special interests—I’ve got rights!—ahead of the common good of our country.

Although self-serving leadership may seem successful in the short-term, it can never sustain itself in the long run. Ultimately, it will collapse upon itself because it’s built on a foundation of sand. As history has shown, at some point in time, people will band together to demand leaders who lead at a higher level.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader being trustworthy.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader putting the needs of their followers ahead of their own.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader acting in a moral and ethical manner.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader fostering unity, collaboration, and teamwork.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader who displays humility and treats others with kindness and respect.

Leading at a higher level looks like a leader who calls their followers to a higher purpose and appeals to the better angels of their nature.

Leading at a higher level means viewing leadership as a calling, not just a job, title, or position of power. As a calling, leaders answer to a higher power and are held to a higher standard. It’s time for all of us to treat our leadership responsibility with the reverence and respect it deserves.

The Answer to This One Question Reveals Your Success as a Leader

Judging the performance of a leader can be tricky. One person’s notion of a successful leader can be the polar opposite of another’s. It’s hard to agree upon a common definition of leadership, much less the definition of success.

Do you define a leader’s success as hitting the revenue goal? Is it the satisfaction scores from your customers? How about employee engagement statistics? Is that your primary measure of success? There’s no shortage of metrics that are used to judge a leader’s effectiveness, but most of them are backward-looking data points. How can you judge your success as a leader in real time?

Let me suggest a single question that can help you calibrate the effectiveness of your leadership at any moment in time:

Are my people better off because of my influence in their lives?

At its most fundamental level, leadership is an influence process. A leader is charged with influencing the attitude and actions of their team members. It doesn’t matter the setting, organization, or objective; a leader’s influence is received by their team members in either positive or negative ways.

How does your influence manifest itself in these common areas critical to leadership effectiveness?

Teamwork and Collaboration—Does your leadership result in team members working together cohesively and collaborating to achieve a common goal, or do team members compete to diminish the accomplishments of others, or worse, stab each other in the back?

Innovation and Creativity—Positive-influence leaders foster a culture of trust and psychological safety. They create an environment where team members feel safe to take risks, try something new, and use their best judgment to solve problems. Conversely, negative-influence leaders rule with fear and intimidation. They punish people for stepping out of line, or heaven forbid, using their brains at work.

Sustainable Performance and Results—Lest you think all this talk about positively influencing people is a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense, let’s talk about results. At the end of the day, leaders are out to help their teams accomplish specific objectives. Contrary to popular opinion, caring about results and caring about people are not mutually exclusive. Just about any bad leader can drive short-term results, but it’s the good leaders who are able to sustain performance and results over a long period of time. Does your leadership influence produce inconsistent, flash in the pan success, or does it result in steady achievement and growth?

Employee Growth and Advancement—Examining the employee lifecycle on your team is an insightful way to measure your influence. If you experience frequent turnover, morale problems, or employee grievances, that tells you something (hint…it’s not good). On the other hand, if team members leave because they’ve gained new skills, improved their performance, and are moving on to bigger and better opportunities, that tells you something else (hint…that’s good). One of the best testimonials to your influence as a leader is what former team members say about you. What’s the word on the street about your leadership?

Are my people better off because of my influence in their lives? It’s a sobering question, isn’t it? But it’s also a great one for assessing the quality of your leadership. What’s your answer to that question?

You’ve Got to Give It to Get It

While teaching a class this past week on Building Trust, I found myself giving the participants this admonishment: “Just like anything in life, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it.”

I’m not quite sure where that came from, but I suspect it was the words of advice given to me over the years from my mother, teachers, coaches, and bosses. I imagine you’ve probably received, or given, that same advice before. It’s good advice because it’s true.

When it comes to trust, it’s especially true. You see, trust can’t begin to grow until someone first extends trust. That’s because there’s risk involved. Risk and trust go hand in hand. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust in order to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

I’m not being Pollyannaish and suggesting you always need to blindly trust everyone; that’s foolishness. You need to assess an individual’s trustworthiness before you extend trust. However, if you find yourself never or rarely willing to extend trust, it’s likely you’re being negatively influenced by some common problems that cause people to withhold trust.

Leaders in all realms of society need to get back to leading with trust. We need to smartly, yet courageously, extend trust to our stakeholders with the positive expectation they will reward our trust by responding in kind. Trust begets trust. The Law of Reciprocity.

You’ve got to give it to get it. That’s the way it works with trust.

Vote for Trust – 4 Signs of a Politician’s Trustworthiness

trustA trustworthy politician…some might say, “Is there such a thing?” Listening to the rhetoric of this year’s presidential election would make one think neither of the two major party candidates has a trustworthy bone in their body. But trust isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition. Very few people are unequivocally trustworthy or untrustworthy in every aspect of their behavior. We all make mistakes and act in ways that erode other’s trust, but by and large, I think most people strive to be trustworthy the majority of the time.

The definitive way to judge someone’s trustworthiness is to observe their behavior over time. Does the person consistently act in ways that build trust with others or are they inconsistent and unpredictable in their behavioral patterns? When examining a person’s behavior to assess their trustworthiness, there are four factors to consider: Ability, Believability, Connectedness, and Dependability. I call these the ABCD’s of trust.

  1. Ability—Does the person demonstrate competence in their given role or function? Do they have the skills, expertise, and track record of success that gives you confidence in their abilities? We trust competent people because they have good planning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. They know how to get the job done and how to do it right.
  2. Believability—A believable person acts with integrity. You can believe this person because he/she not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. A believable person is honest, credible, authentic, and owns up to their mistakes when they happen. Believable people are also fair in their dealings with others. They treat people equitably and ethically and don’t bend the rules by playing favorites.
  3. Connectedness—A connected person demonstrates trustworthiness by caring about people. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with the well-being of others. They are also open communicators. They readily share information, are receptive to feedback, and listen well. Connected people build rapport with others and promote a sense of connection and harmony, not divisiveness and rancor.
  4. Dependability—A trustworthy person is dependable. They honor their commitments by being reliable. If they say they are going to do something, they do it. A dependable person builds trust by holding him/herself accountable, and if they lead others, holding their team members accountable as well. Dependable people are also responsive. They anticipate others’ needs and flexibly respond to the situation at hand.

I like to think of the ABCD’s as the language of trust. When a person’s behavior shows they are able, believable, connected, and dependable, they are communicating to me they are trustworthy. I know I can extend my trust to them with a reasonable expectation they won’t let me down.

As you head to the polls this year to cast your vote in local, state, and national elections, consider the trustworthiness of the candidates by examining their ability, believability, connectedness, and dependability. Vote your conscience. Vote for trust.

Use This Survey to Conduct a Trust Tune-Up with Your Team

Teammates, Fistbump

If you’re like millions of other people, you’ve been working remotely part or full-time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Literally overnight, teams were challenged with finding new ways to communicate and collaborate, and the bonds of trust those teams had established were put to the test.

High performing teams thrive on trust and research has shown that trust in one’s team leader is one of the two primary factors that drive employee engagement. There are four elements of trust that characterize trusting relationships among team members.

Trusting teams are able. They possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise to perform their work. They achieve their goals and demonstrate the ability to make smart decisions and solve problems. Trusting teams are also believable. Team members are honest in their dealings with each other, act in alignment with team and organizational values, and treat each other fairly. A third characteristic of trusting teams is being connected. Team members look out for each other, have each other’s best interests in mind, share information readily, and find common ground with each other. Finally, trusting teams are dependable. They keep their commitments, are accountable to each other, and are responsive to the needs of the team and organization.

Whether your team has performed with flying colors during this pandemic, or if they are clearly in need of help, there is no better time than now to do a trust tune-up. Remember the old management saying, “What gets measured gets managed?” Well, it applies to trust, too. The only way to know if your team has high trust is if you measure it. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

To help you in this effort, I’ve included in this post a survey you can use to gauge the level of trust in your team. Have each team member download and complete the survey below. Tally up the scores, identify the lowest scoring element of trust, and then involve your team in creating action plans to strengthen that particular element of trust. Keep your team’s level of trust tuned-up so they continue to perform their best. 

After you’ve surveyed your team, please come back and share the results of what you learned and what you’re doing about it. The Leading with Trust community will benefit from your experiences!

The 4 Skills That Allow Your Team to Discuss The Most Difficult Issues

Webcam conferenceIn my last two articles, I’ve explored the concept of a team’s Conversational Capacity®. Conversational capacity is the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects and in challenging circumstances. Teams that have a high conversational capacity know how to stay in the “sweet spot.” The sweet spot is where candor and curiosity are in balance. Dialogue flows freely, people share their input willingly, and listen to the feedback of others without judgment. Good work happens in the sweet spot.

The challenge, of course, is getting and keeping your team’s conversations in the sweet spot. There are two primary factors that pull us away from the sweet spot and lower our conversational capacity: fight and flight. The fight reaction shows itself in team communication when people engage in “win” behavior. They argue, try to dominate conversation, discount the input of others, or even refuse to listen to alternative viewpoints. The flight reaction is manifested when team members “minimize” their contributions. They shut down, don’t offer their ideas, discount their own opinions, avoid conflict, or offer half-hearted, wishy-washy viewpoints to avoid upsetting others. Both tendencies, win and minimize, pull a team away from the communication sweet spot and lower the team’s overall capacity to have productive conversations. Fortunately, there are four skills we can learn and develop to counteract our tendencies to win or minimize.

Testing and Inquiring

Let’s look at how to tame our desire to win. Since winning behavior results from a drop in curiosity, we need to learn how to become more curious about the perspectives of others. We do that by learning and using the skills of testing and inquiring. We test our perspective and inquire into the perspective of others.

What does it look like to test our perspective? It looks like holding our viewpoint as a hypothesis to be tested, rather than a truth to be proven. A simple way to do this is to ask questions that invite others to examine our viewpoint: What’s your take on this issue? How do you feel about what I’m suggesting? How do you see this from your angle? Is there a better way to make sense of this? I know I don’t have it all figured out, so what am I missing?

The skill of inquiring involves drawing the thinking of others into the conversation. It’s not just asking a few questions to invite their input, but rather delving into the rationale and thinking other people bring to the topic at hand. It’s the process of asking as many questions as necessary to get the other person’s view into the pool of information being considered. The goal of inquiry isn’t agreement, it’s understanding. Sample inquiries include: Tell me more about why you believe that? Can you provide a couple examples that illustrate your point? Help me understand how you reached that conclusion. Testing and inquiring raise your level of curiosity and combat your tendency to win.

Stating a Clear Position and Explaining Your Thinking

Let’s look at our tendency to minimize. Minimizing results from a drop in candor; we aren’t openly and confidently sharing our viewpoints with the team. To increase our candor, we can use the skills of stating our clear position and explaining our thinking.

Stating our position is like a clear topic sentence in a paragraph. It’s clear, candid, and concise, and can be communicated in one sentence, or no more than two. I think we should invest the funds in project X. Option 2 gives us the best chance for success. We should disband the team and use the resources elsewhere. It sounds simple, but just think about how often you fail you exercise this skill. Too often we beat around the bush, inadvertently hide our point in a convoluted story, or soften our opinion to prevent disagreement with others. When we fail to state a clear position, we open the door to misunderstanding and muddled dialogue.

However, it’s not enough to just state a clear position. You must also explain your thinking. This is the why behind your position. Explaining your thinking means you need to share the data that informs your position and how you’re interpreting that data. W. Edwards Deming’s famous quote, “In God we trust, all others must bring data” illustrates this concept. For example: We should disband the team and use the resources elsewhere (clear position). They have missed their quota by an average of 34% the last 5 quarters (data), and we know from previous experience that teams who aren’t hitting quota by quarter 3 usually don’t improve (interpretation). Stating a clear position and explaining your thinking increases the level of candor and combats the tendency to minimize.

Communication is the engine that drives team performance. Honest and open communication fosters teamwork, innovation, trust, and just about every other positive organizational dynamic. The best teams have learned how to balance candor and curiosity to remain in the communication sweet spot. The skills of testing and inquiring help to boost curiosity and temper the need to win, while the skills of stating clear positions and explaining our thinking allows us to increase the level of candor within team communications. Team members using these four skills will keep their team dialogue in the sweet spot where their best work happens.

The 2 Behaviors That Sabotage Team Communication

In my previous article I wrote about the conversational “sweet spot” that unlocks team performance. The sweet spot is defined as the balance of candor and curiosity in team discussions. It’s a reflection of a team’s Conversational Capacity® – the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects and in challenging circumstances.

Teams that have a high conversational capacity know how to stay in the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where dialogue flows freely, people share their input willingly, and listen to the feedback of others without judgment. Good work happens in the sweet spot.

Teams with a low conversational capacity frequently get pulled away from the sweet spot. When a tough topic arises, some people heat up while others shut down. Some people dominate the discussion while others don’t say a peep. Sometimes the conversation turns argumentative and nothing gets accomplished, or if a decision is reached, it’s often forced upon people and there is collateral damage of hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Good work isn’t possible when the team is pulled out of the sweet spot.

The challenge, of course, is getting and keeping your team’s conversations in the sweet spot. There are two primary factors that pull us away from the sweet spot and lower our conversational capacity: fight and flight.

When faced with challenging and tense situations, the human brain is programmed to respond in two basic ways. One is to fight, engage with the threat, and try to exert control over the situation. In team conversations this response is manifested in “win” behavior. We argue, try to dominate the discussion, discount the input of others, or even refuse to listen to their viewpoints. When we let winning behaviors take over, we become less curious in other peoples’ perspectives. That pulls us, and the team, out of the sweet spot and lowers our conversational capacity to reach better and higher quality outcomes.

Flight is a second way our brains respond to threatening and stressful situations. We want to remove ourselves from the situation, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. In team conversations this response is manifested in “minimize” behaviors. Examples of minimizing behaviors include shutting down, not contributing, discounting our value or opinions, avoiding conflict, or offering half-hearted, wishy-washy viewpoints to avoid upsetting others. When we minimize, we reduce the amount of candor in the team conversation, thereby pulling us away from the sweet spot.

Imagine a sliding scale with “minimize” on the left and “win” on the right. When you think of your natural response to difficult team conversations, where would you place yourself on that scale? Do you tend to become less curious and try to “win” the conversation by exerting control, dominating the discussion, and convincing others of your position? Or do you tend to become less candid, not share your true thoughts and feelings, and acquiesce to those who are trying to win? The goal, obviously, is to stay in the sweet spot by balancing the amount of candor and curiosity in the discussion. In a future article I will share specific skills you can develop to reduce your tendency to minimize or win and boost your ability to stay candid and curious. After all, the sweet spot is where good work happens!

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