Leading with Trust

The 1 Thing That Will Ultimately Determine Your Success as a Leader

Helping HandLeadership is a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and that’s definitely true in the field of leadership. To prove my point, go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership” and see how many returns you get (but wait until you finish reading this article!). What did you find? It was 138,611 as of the writing of this post.

Browsing the titles of some popular best-sellers would lead you to believe that in order to be a successful leader you just need to find the magical keys, take the right steps, follow the proper laws, figure out the dysfunctions, embrace the challenge, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, form a tribe, develop the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, learn the new science, or discover the ancient wisdom. Did I say we like to over-complicate things?

What if successful leadership isn’t really that complicated? What if I told you there was one thing…not a title, power, or position…that determined whether people followed your lead? What if you understood there was one aspect of your leadership that was a non-negotiable, must-have characteristic that must be in place for people to pledge you their loyalty and commitment? What if you knew there was one element that defined how people experienced you as a leader? Would you be interested? Can it really be as simple as one thing?

That one thing is trust. It’s the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship. Without it, your leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. People check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving you with a staff who has quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from your organization.

However, with trust, all things are possible. Energy, progress, productivity, and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty, and excellence become more than empty words in a company mission statement; they become reality. Trust has been called the “magic” ingredient of organizational life. It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that keeps everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly. Stephen M.R. Covey likes to say that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one. Trust is essential to your success as a leader.

But trust doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s advanced leadership and requires you to work at it each and every day. It starts by you being trustworthy. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool to help you understand the four elements of being a trustworthy leader.

Leaders build trust when they are:

Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the ttrustalk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

ConnectedConnected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

Trust – the one requirement for successful leadership. Do you have it?

I originally published this post last week for Blanchard’s LeaderChat blog under the title of Your Success as a Leader Depends on This One Thing and I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

The ABCDs of Leading with Trust

ABCDThe world is in desperate need for a new kind of leadership. The type of leadership we’ve seen the last several decades has produced record low levels of trust and engagement in the workforce, so clearly what we’ve been doing isn’t working. We need a leadership philosophy grounded in the knowledge and belief that the most successful leaders and organizations are those that place an emphasis on leading with trust.

A critical step for leaders and organizations to take to realize the benefits of high levels of trust is to establish a common definition and framework of how to build trust. Most people think trust “just happens” in relationships. That’s a misconception. Trust is built through the intentional use of specific behaviors that, when repeated over time, create the condition of trust. Oddly enough, most leaders don’t think about trust until it’s broken. No one likes to think of himself or herself as untrustworthy so we take it for granted that other people trust us. To further complicate matters, trust is based on perceptions, so each of us has a different idea of what trust looks like. Organizations need a common framework and language that defines trust and allows people to discuss trust-related issues.

Research has shown that trust is comprised of four basic elements. To represent those four elements, or the “language” of trust, The Ken Blanchard Companies created the ABCD Trust Model—Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. For leaders to be successful in developing high-trust relationships and cultures, they need to focus on using behaviors that align with the ABCDs of trust.

Leaders build trust when they are:

Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

ConnectedConnected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified “connectedness with leader” and “connectedness with colleague” as 2 of the 12 key factors involved in creating employee work passion, and trust is a necessary ingredient in those relationships. Leaders create a sense of connectedness by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trust. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

By using the ABCD Trust Model, leaders can focus on the behaviors that build trust, and by sharing this model with those they lead, create a common framework and language for discussing issues of trust in the workplace.

Trust IncThis article is an excerpt from the chapter I wrote for Trust, Inc. – Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, a collaborative effort by 30+ thought leaders including Stephen M.R. Covey, Charles H. Green, James M. Kouzes, Barry Z. Posner, and edited by Barbara Brooks Kimmel of Trust Across America.

Leaders – Do You Suffer From Low T?

Low T2Feeling 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 Trust [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 Trust [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 ABCD Trust Model:

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 – Maintain Reliability. Dependable leaders follow through on their commitments. 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?

Take our online quiz to help you find out if you may have 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.

Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships

Trust Works Book CoverTrust is the foundation of any successful relationship, but oddly enough, most of us don’t think about it until it’s been broken. By that time, it may be too late to gain it back. Trust doesn’t “just happen” through some sort of magical relationship osmosis. It’s built and sustained through the use of very specific behaviors. Whether you’re a leader, coach, teacher, parent, or friend, the skill of building trust is critical to the success of your relationships.

In his newest book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships, Ken Blanchard and his co-authors Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence, share the four elements of trust that are critical to any healthy and lasting relationship. The four elements of trust are illustrated by the ABCD Trust Model™. You build trust when you are:

Able – Demonstrate Competence. People show they are able when they have the expertise needed for their job, role, or position. They consistently achieve results and are effective problem solvers and decision makers. Demonstrating competence inspires others to have confidence and trust in you.

Believable – Act with Integrity. Trustworthy people are honest with others. They behave in a manner consistent with their stated values, treat people fairly, and behave ethically. “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 – Maintain Reliability. Dependable people follow through on their commitments. They respond timely to requests and hold themselves and others accountable. Not doing what you say you will do quickly erodes trust with others.

Ken Blanchard tells you all about the book in the following video.

The Language of Trust Begins with the ABCD’s

I remember teaching my children their “ABC’s” by singing the Alphabet Song. As you read this I’m sure the tune automatically starts playing in your mind and you’re tempted to sing it out loud (it’s ok, go ahead…no one’s watching). I recall my kids’ eyes sparkling and a wide smile breaking out on their faces when they were finally able to recite all 26 letters of the alphabet and cap it off with “Now I know my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me!”

Learning the alphabet doesn’t just happen automatically, it takes intentional effort and repetition over a long period of time. Yet when you look back on your childhood, chances are you probably don’t remember the instant when you realized you had learned the ABC’s. It just seemed to happen, and after a while of knowing the alphabet, you couldn’t ever remember not knowing it.

Many people think trust “just happens” in relationships. That’s a misconception. Trust is built through the intentional use of specific behaviors that, when repeated over time, create the condition of trust. The TrustWorks! ABCD Model illustrates the four elements of trust that leaders need to focus on to build trust with others.

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 – Maintain Reliability. Dependable leaders follow through on their commitments. They respond timely to requests and hold themselves and others accountable. Not doing what you say you will do quickly erodes trust with others.

A fundamental step in learning any language is to master its alphabet and learning to speak the language of trust is no different. The TrustWorks! ABCD Model is the alphabet of trust, and using behaviors that align with each of the four elements is “speaking” the language of trust. For a more thorough discussion on the importance of trust in relationships and organizations, and the TrustWorks! ABCD Model, I suggest you download the white paper Building Trust.

Leading in the Post-9/11 World – It Begins with the ABCD’s of Trust

In the ten years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, trust has taken a hit. The mental and emotional effects of living in a world of suspicion and wariness, combined with global economic meltdowns fueled in part by faulty and unethical leadership practices, has left many people in a perpetual state of distrust with leaders in government, business, and organizations of all shapes and sizes.

The restoration of confidence and faith in leadership begins with trust. Trust is the foundation of all successful and healthy relationships, and without it, the very fabric of our society begins to fray. Trust is what allows for commerce among nations, business between organizations and individuals, and cooperation among community members.

We don’t often pause to think about the elemental nature of trust, yet it drives most of our basic interactions with each other. Driving on the road requires we trust each other to stay in our lane of traffic, obey traffic rules, and operate our cars in a safe manner. When doing business with each other we trust that we’re paying a fair price in exchange for a quality product or service. We trust that the doctor, attorney, plumber, auto-mechanic, or business consultant is skilled in their particular field and operates honestly and ethically and won’t take advantage of us. Trust or the lack thereof, is the basis of the quality and nature of our relationships.

So how can we lead with trust? I think it starts with the ABCD’s of how leaders build and maintain trust. Leaders are trustworthy when they are:

Able – Leaders build trust when they demonstrate competence. People trust you when you have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to competently lead in your chosen role or profession. Able leaders produce results by using strong problem-solving and decision-making skills that allow them to set and achieve goals that produce a track record of success. People don’t trust incompetent leaders, no matter how lovable or respected they may be.

Believable – Leaders are believable when they act with integrity. Behaving in an honest and ethical manner, admitting your mistakes, and “walking your talk” are key ways that leaders build trust. Treating people ethically and equitably through fair policies and not playing favorites builds trust and confidence in a leader’s character to do the right thing.

Connected – Trusted leaders connect with their followers on a personal level. They use good communication skills to establish rapport and they take the time to appreciate and recognize the good work of others. Connected leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. They understand that every person has a story – their life experiences, hopes, dreams, and fears – and they make that personal connection that lets their followers know they are valued and respected.

Dependable – Being reliable and dependable builds trust. Following through on commitments, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking accountability for your actions (and those you lead) is all part of being a dependable leader. Dependable leaders have an organized system that allows them to follow-through and meet deadlines, and they are timely in responding to others and don’t drag their feet when making decisions.

We are in desperate need for a new leadership model in the post-9/11 world, a model where leaders operate at a higher level, strive for the common good, and maintain trust with those they lead. Learn the language of trust – the ABCD’s – and start building trust today!

Moving from Vendor to Partner – The ABCD’s of building trusted 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, Dependable.

Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

I believe that most leaders strive to be trustworthy. There aren’t too many leaders who wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say to themselves, “Hmmm…I think I’ll try to break someone’s trust today!” Yet even in spite of our best intentions, there will be times when we damage the level of trust in our relationships. Sometimes it’s due to our own stupidity when we make choices that we know are wrong or hurtful to others. Other times we unknowingly erode trust by engaging in behaviors that others interpret as untrustworthy. Regardless of how it happens, breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. When a breach of trust occurs, there are five steps a leader should take to repair the relationship:

  1. Acknowledge that trust has been broken. As we’ve learned from the success of the twelve-step recovery process, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to healing. Don’t use the “ostrich” technique of burying your head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself because it won’t. The longer you wait to address the situation, the more people will perceive your weakness as wickedness.
  2. Admit your role in causing the breach of trust. For some leaders this may be a challenging step. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s a whole other thing to admit you caused it. Our ego and false pride are usually what prevent us from admitting our mistakes. Muster up the courage, humble yourself, and own up to your actions. This will pay huge dividends down the road as you work to rebuild trust.
  3. Apologize for what happened. A sincere apology involves admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness, and taking steps to make amends to the offended party. Explaining the reasons why something happened is fine, but don’t make excuses by trying to shift the blame to something or someone other than yourself.
  4. Assess where the breakdown in trust happened using the TrustWorks! ABCD Trust Model. Did you erode trust by not being Able, Believable, Connected, or Dependable? People form perceptions of our trustworthiness when we use, or don’t use, behaviors that align with these four elements of trust. Knowing the specific element of trust you violated will help you take specific actions to fix the problem.
  5. Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future. Your attempts at rebuilding trust will be stalled unless you take this critical step to demonstrate noticeable changes in behavior.

You can’t control the outcome of this process and there is no guarantee that following these steps will restore trust in the relationship. However, the important thing is that you have made the effort to improve yourself as a leader. You’ll be able to lay your head on the pillow at night with a clear conscience that you’ve done everything under your power to cultivate the soil for trust to once again grow and flourish.

I recommend reading Ken Blanchard’s “The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager” as an elegantly simple reminder of the power of an effective apology.

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