Leading with Trust

The Most Important Decision Every Leader Must Make

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Leaders are faced with myriad decisions in any given day, week, month, or year. Questions such as these fill our days: What’s the right strategy for our organization? What are my most important priorities? Who is the right person for this job? How much time do we allocate to this project? How much money should we spend? Some are big, some are small. Some carry great significance; others not so much. Some days there are more decisions to make and others there are less. But one thing is constant: there are always decisions to be made.

I would argue there is one decision more important than any other you face, and the way you respond to that decision will shape the course of all the others you make. What is that decision? It’s the decision to trust.

We all have moments of trust where we can decide to move toward connecting, engaging, and trusting one another. Or we can decide to move away from one another by choosing fear, distrust, self-protection, control, or ego. Since a large degree of leadership is about accomplishing work through others, leaders must trust and depend on people at some point. It’s impossible to do everything on your own, and besides, it’s undemocratic and boring to do it all yourself!

Since trusting others is a requirement of leadership, the question then becomes, How do I know who to trust and how much to trust them?

Deciding Who to Trust

You can gauge a person’s trustworthiness by how their behavior exemplifies the ABCDs of trust.

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. People who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able individuals demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity people are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy people value relationships. They care about others and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected people establish rapport with others by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected people are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy individuals do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their teammates.

Deciding How Much to Trust

It’s important to understand you put yourself at risk when you trust another person. You run the risk of that person disappointing you, not following through, or worse case, purposely betraying or taking advantage of you. Your willingness to accept vulnerability is determined by the interplay of several variables including your personality, values, life experiences (especially early childhood), and of course, the situation at hand. Only you can determine how vulnerable you’re willing to be when extending trust.

A helpful way to consider how much to trust someone is to view the situation through what I call The Window of Trust. Based on the person’s trustworthiness (how their behavior demonstrates the ABCDs of trust), and your willingness to be vulnerable (accept risk), you can choose how wide to open your window of trust. The greater a person demonstrates trustworthiness, combined with a greater willingness to be vulnerable on your part, means the more you can open the window of trust.

The goal is not to have a wide-open window of trust for all relationships. The goal is to open it as wide as appropriate for a relationship given its specific context or situation.

All healthy relationships are based on trust. Whether it’s a short-term relationship with a vendor providing you a one-time service, or a lifetime commitment to the person you marry, you must open the window of trust as wide as possible to help the relationship reach its full potential.

4 Ways to Move From Vendor to Partner in Client Relationships

“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.

How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.

We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.

This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor– a person who sells something.

So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:

  • Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
  • Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
  • Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
  • Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.

Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.

7 Barnacles Creating Drag On Your Leadership Effectiveness

As a natural process of a ship being in the water for extended periods of time, barnacles and other marine life grow and attach themselves to the ship’s hull. If left unattended, the barnacles can increase drag up to 60%. This can decrease speed by 10% and result in the ship using 40% more fuel. In essence, the ship works harder, spends more energy, and performs worse over time.

The same principle applies in our leadership journey. Over the course of time we accumulate habits and practices that increase drag on our performance. Everything seems to take more time and energy than it should require. It builds up almost imperceptibly until one day we wake up and feel like we’re burned out. Just like ships are periodically removed from the water to have their hulls cleaned, leaders need to regularly remove the barnacles that are holding them back from performing at their best. Here are seven common barnacles that weigh you down over time:

1. Meetings — Let’s face it, even though meetings are the bane of our existence, they serve a vital purpose in organizational life. It’s a primary way information is shared, relationships built, and work is accomplished. However, we too often let meetings run us instead of us running meetings. Review your calendar and examine each of your regular meetings. Are they still serving the purpose for which they were created? Do the meetings have specific agendas with desired outcomes identified? Are the right people involved to make decisions? Are there alternative ways to accomplish the goal of the meeting without bringing everyone together? Those are all valuable questions to ask. If the meetings aren’t providing the return on investment that makes them worth your time, cancel them or reshape them to be more productive.

2. Policies, Procedures, Processes — We institute policies, procedures, or processes to handle new activities that arise over the course of time. When money, staffing, and time isn’t an issue, we don’t give much thought to adding new work into the system. But when resources become scarce, it can prove very difficult to reduce or eliminate activities or services that have become the norm. It can be helpful to apply the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, to your leadership practices. What are the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results? Focus on the 20% and remove the 80% that are barnacles.

3. Committees — Collaboration is an important and valuable practice but sometimes we take it a bit too far by trying to do everything by committee. It slows down the process and frustrates everyone involved. If a committee is truly needed, make sure it has a clear purpose, goals, and clear decision-making authority. If you’re a member of a committee that doesn’t have a clear purpose and goals, reevaluate your membership. Maybe it’s time to remove this barnacle.

4. No-No People — Every organization has naysayers; it’s a fact of life. However, there is a big difference between people who express doubts or ask questions in a genuine effort to understand the proposed change and make the best decision possible, versus those who are No-No’s—their answer will always be “no,” no matter what. No-No’s are huge barnacles that cause tremendous drag on your leadership. They require enormous amounts of emotional and mental energy that distract you from more important priorities. Removing this barnacle will dramatically increase your productivity and personal satisfaction of being a leader.

5. No Vision or Goals — In a paradoxical sort of way, the lack of something, in this case vision and goals, can actually be something that weighs you down. A clear vision and specific goals help to focus your energy and streamline your efforts. When you know what you’re striving for, you can pare away all the non-essentials that get in your way. Without a clear vision or goals, your leadership energies are widely dispersed and less effective. If you feel like your days are consumed with fighting fires and you go to bed at night exhausted from chasing every squirrel that crosses your path, then chances are you don’t have a clear vision or goals driving your actions.

6. Seeking the Approval of Others — You will always be unfulfilled as a leader (or person) if your self-worth is determined by the approval of others. Striving to please all people in all circumstances is a barnacle that will slow you down to a crawl. Leaders sometimes have to make decisions that benefit one group of people over another and that inevitably leads to conflict. The best thing you can do as a leader to remove this barnacle is to act with integrity in all circumstances. Not every decision you make will be a popular one, but as long as you consistently live your values you will earn the respect and trust of your colleagues.

7. Lack of Self-Care — Imagine your leadership capacity as a large pitcher of water. The water represents your time, energy, and abilities as a leader to influence others. If all you do is pour yourself into others, without periodically refilling your own reserves, you’ll eventually run dry. To maintain your leadership effectiveness, it’s important to nurture yourself through reading, sharing experiences with other leaders, and having mentors or coaches who stretch you and cause you to grow in your own leadership journey.

The buildup of these different leadership barnacles is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be final. Perform a regular cleansing to remove the barnacles and restore your leadership performance to its full potential.

5 Tips for Handling Delicate Conversations

coffee conversationOne of the certainties of managerial life is there will be occasions where you need to have a delicate conversation with someone. No matter if it’s an employee, colleague, or vendor, the thought of having a potentially challenging conversation with someone causes fear and hesitation. And of course this isn’t just an issue in the workplace; the same dynamic happens in our personal relationships as well.

I had a delicate conversation with my 21 year-old son last week, and frankly, I could have handled it better. If I had practiced what I’m preaching here, I’m pretty sure the discussion would have been more fruitful. Here’s the tips I should have followed more closely:

1. Clarify your motive and desired outcome for the conversation—In my case, I had been stewing over a discussion my son and I had a few weeks earlier. In that prior conversation, I felt my son had neglected to mention some important facts that I later discovered on my own. I felt he had been less that truthful with me and my motive was to let him know how I felt so I could get the weight off my chest. I thought I was clear on the motive, but looking back I see it was a pretty selfish one. A better motive would have been to learn more about why my son shared what he did rather than accuse him of purposefully omitting facts. I also wasn’t clear on my desired outcome. Was I looking for an apology? Did I want him to acknowledge he made a mistake? Since I wasn’t fully clear on the outcome, it left the conversation in a ragged state when we finished.

2. Pick the right time and place—This one is hard for me because I don’t like to leave things unsettled. I’d rather address an issue quickly and get it resolved, rather than wait for things to settle down and perhaps sort themselves out naturally. When planning for a delicate conversation, choose a location that will create a comfortable and safe environment for the meeting. Choose a time of day when the other party will be at their best, and havethe right kind of open energy that will allow them to hear what you’re saying.

3. Watch your tone—Studies have shown that just 7% of communication is the actual words we speak. That leaves 93% of communication happening through tone and body language. The tone of your voice will literally set the tone for the conversation. Use a tone that is warm, supportive, inquisitive, and non-judgmental. Raising your voice, having a sharp tongue, or using defensive or dismissive body language (e.g., crossing your arms, rolling your eyes) will doom your conversation for failure.

The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations

4. Invite dialogue—Too often our delicate conversations turn into monologues. That’s because we feel more comfortable if we’re in control of the discussion. We can be afraid of what the other person may say or how she will steer the conversation, so we rattle on at the mouth until we’ve said our peace. The best way to handle a delicate conversation is to invite dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to express her thoughts and share openly. This builds a climate of trust and safety which facilitates more open and honest communication.

5. Express support and empathy—The delicate conversation with my son was a textbook example of what not to do. If you recall, in a prior conversation with my son I was upset he didn’t share certain details with me that I thought were relevant. After he explained why he omitted those facts, I relied upon my trust-building and leadership expertise and responded, “If you believe that, then you’re lying to yourself!” I don’t think I’ll be winning Dad of the Year award anytime soon. I missed my opportunity to empathize with him and express support for his point of view. Instead, I selfishly used the opening to blast him with a critical comment that I had been harboring for weeks. Even if your point of view is correct, a delicate conversation will go off the rails if you shut the other person down by not expressing empathy and support.

Conversation is the vehicle by which we build trust, lead others, and develop relationships. The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations, so it’s important we develop effective communication skills. When it comes to discussing delicate topics, it’s important to be clear on our motives, choose the right time and place, watch our tone, invite dialogue, and express support and empathy.

4 Ways Leaders Can Overcome Low T (btw, it’s not just a male problem)

Feeling like a shadow of your former self? Is there a lack of emotional connection in your relationships? Do you find others not sharing important information with you or excluding you from activities? If so, you might be suffering from Low T. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Millions of well-intentioned leaders experience Low T at some point in their career. It’s a treatable condition but it requires leaders to understand the causes Low T and how to avoid them.

Causes of Low T

Trust is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships and organizations. It allows people to collaborate wholeheartedly with one another, take risks and innovate, and devote their discretionary energy to the organization. However, there are certain behaviors and characteristics of people who experience Low T in the workplace.

    • Taking credit for other people’s work
    • Not accepting responsibility
    • Being unreliable
    • Not following through on commitments
    • Lying, cheating
    • Gossiping or spreading rumors
    • Hoarding information
    • Not recognizing or rewarding good performance

Treating Low T

Reversing Low T requires understanding the four elements of trust and using behaviors that align with those elements. The four elements of trust can be represented by the acronym ABCD.

Able – Demonstrate Competence. Leaders show they are able when they have the expertise needed for their job. They consistently achieve results and facilitate work getting done in the organization. Demonstrating competence inspires others to have confidence and trust in you.

Believable – Act with Integrity. Trustworthy leaders are honest with others. They behave in a manner consistent with their stated values, apply company policies fairly, and treat people equitably. “Walking the talk” is essential in building trust in relationships.

Connected – Care About Others. Being connected means focusing on people, having good communication skills, and recognizing the contributions of others. Caring about others builds trust because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Dependable – Honor Commitments. Dependable leaders are reliable and consistent. They respond timely to requests and hold themselves and others accountable. Not doing what you say you will do quickly erodes trust with others.

Do You Have Low T?

Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if you are suffering from Low T.

Don’t Settle for Leading with Low T

Too many leaders settle for leading with Low T because they don’t understand how trust is actually formed in relationships. Trust doesn’t “just happen,” as if through some sort of relationship osmosis. Trust is built over a period of time through the intentional use of trust-forming behaviors. Good leaders focus on using trust-building behaviors and avoid using behaviors that erode trust.

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