Leading with Trust

Don’t Let Your Ego “Bust” Trust

Don’t kid yourself – you’ve got an ego and sometimes it gets out of control. You may not act like a pompous jerk in public, but if you’re human (and if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you are), you’ve undoubtedly had those self-righteous, egotistical thoughts run through your mind from time to time whenever you’ve felt the need to impress someone or in response to a perceived slight. If you’re not careful to keep your ego in check, it’s likely that it’s causing you to erode trust in your relationships.

One of the four key elements of establishing trust in a relationship is being “believable,” which means acting with integrity. In polls and surveys I’ve conducted with hundreds of people, this one element is often cited as the most important element in building trust. It’s also the element of trust that takes the biggest hit if your ego is left unchecked. An out of control ego signals to other people that you believe you’re more important than them, place your interests ahead of theirs, and that others can’t be vulnerable with you without fear of being taken advantage of.

There are three key areas leaders can focus on to keep their ego in check, increase their “believability” with others, and build trust.

  • Honesty — The basics apply here: don’t lie, cheat, or steal. But being honest also means not stretching the truth, telling half-truths, omitting facts out of convenience, or failing to speak the truth when needed.
  • Values — Do you know what your core values are? What motivates you as a leader? When faced with a difficult choice, what are the values you use to filter your decision? Developing and articulating your values, and asking others to hold you accountable to living out those behaviors, will help keep your ego in check and allow others to gain confidence in the consistency of your behavior.
  • Fair Process — Do you treat people fairly? Egotistical leaders love to play favorites. Trustworthy leaders treat people ethically and equitably. Being fair doesn’t mean treating people the same across the board, no matter the circumstances. It means treating people fairly according to their specific situation and upholding consistent principles and ideals with your entire staff.

A believable leader is someone who acts with integrity and is a role model for the company’s values. We commonly describe believable leaders as credible, honest, and ethical. When someone is believable, he or she tells the truth, holds confidences, is honest about his or her skills, and gives credit when credit is due. Notice that egotistical doesn’t appear anywhere in that description. Egotistical leaders “bust” trust, whereas as believable leaders “boost” trust, and by focusing on developing honesty, values alignment, and acting fairly, leaders can keep their ego in check and build trust in the process.

I originally published this article in June 2012 under a different title for the LeaderChat.org blog and decided to share it here with the LeadingWithTrust community.

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.

The Indelible Mark of a Trusted Leader – Do You Have It?

I recently met someone who had a tattoo of this Chinese symbol. When I asked her what it meant, she said that it represented “honesty.” As the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, I was immediately intrigued since honesty is a core component of trust. I did some research on this symbol and learned that it could represent several concepts including “trust” itself. Yet the formation of this character is a compound word that has the meaning of “a person’s word is to be believed.” I was struck by the clear implication for leaders – are you a person whose word is to be believed?

In order to be a leader whose word is believed, it’s necessary to be honest in your dealings with people. Some would say that it’s unrealistic to be honest in all situations. In fact, just recently I read an article on a well-known management website that advocated the top ten reasons to be dishonest in the workplace, most of which were rationalizations for self-centric, me-first egoism. Being honest and ethical is actually a self-esteem boost for a leader. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

If asked if they were honest, most leaders would say “Yes, of course. I don’t tell lies.” Telling the truth is at the core of being honest, but it’s not the only behavior that people interpret as honesty. Sharing information openly, not coloring or hiding parts of the truth to fit an agenda, and delivering tough news with tact and diplomacy all go into someone forming a perception of you as an honest leader. In a recent survey conducted of over 800 people who attended our webinar, Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust, 57% of respondents said that the most important behavior of a leader to build trust is acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed.

You can’t establish a relationship of trust without being honest. When you behave honestly, others are able to rely upon your consistency of character. Being reliable, consistent, and predictable in your behavior, decisions, and reactions to critical situations allows your followers to have a sense of security and confidence in your leadership. Being honest also helps the bottom line. Kenneth T. Derr, retired chairman of Chevron Corporation said “There’s no doubt in my mind that being ethical pays, because I know that, in our company, people who sleep well at night work better during the day.”

Honesty is like a behavioral tattoo, the indelible mark of a trusted leader. Do you have it?

(I published a similar version of this article in June 2011 on LeaderChat.org.)

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.

Are You Playing Fair? You better be, because your people are keeping score

Coaching a bunch of energetic 5-6 year old kids in tee-ball is really just controlled chaos. Tee-ball is normally the introduction to baseball that children experience at age 5-6, and generally speaking, most leagues don’t keep an official score for tee-ball games. The purpose isn’t to win, it’s to teach the fundamental skills and rules of baseball. Notice that I said the leagues don’t keep an official score. I remember many occasions while coaching tee-ball that kids in the dugout would be tallying up the score to see who was winning and losing!

Fast forward 20 years or so to the workplace and we find that not much has changed. Adults are still keeping score, only now it’s about who received the new project, promotion, or corner office. And as soon as someone perceives that the leader made an unjust decision, the first thing we hear is exactly what five-year old tee-ballers say when they think another player has violated the rules: “That’s not fair!”

Leaders aiming to build trust in relationships need to pay particular attention to the issue of fairness. “No problem,” you may say, “I treat everyone the same, no matter what.” Actually, that can be one of the most unfair things you do! A quote from Aristotle speaks to this: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” People should be treated equitably and ethically, given their individual needs and circumstances, and the differences between people should be recognized and valued, not diminished.

In order to build and maintain trust with followers, leaders need to exhibit fairness through the distribution of organizational resources and application of policies to all team members. It’s helpful to understand exactly what “fairness” means in an organizational context. Fairness is composed of two main elements: distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is fairness in the organization’s pay, rewards, and benefits for employees. Procedural justice is fairness in the organization’s decision-making processes of how those rewards and benefits are doled out. Of the two, procedural justice is the element most under control of individual leaders and is the aspect of fairness most closely linked with building or eroding trust with followers.

According to the results of a survey published in the July/August issue of Training Magazine conducted by a team of researches from The Ken Blanchard Companies, procedural justice was ranked as the most important organizational factor for employee retention. Additionally, over 60% of respondents believed the primary responsibility for influencing and improving procedural justice rested with their immediate supervisor.

So how can leaders be fair and build trust with their team members? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be transparent – Share information about the criteria and process that you use to make decisions. Putting all your cards on the table eliminates doubt and mistrust.
  • Increase involvement in decision-making – As much as possible, involve the people who will be affected by your decisions in the process. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
  • Play by the rules – Clearly establish the rules, play by them, and hold others and yourself accountable to following them.
  • Listen with the idea of being influenced – Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know it all. Ask others for their input and genuinely listen with an open mind and be willing to change course if needed.
  • Don’t play favorites – No one likes a teacher’s pet so don’t create one. That will eliminate a key source of jealousy.
  • Save spin for the gym, not the office – Be authentic and genuine in your communications. People see through the political spin.
Remember, your people are keeping score of your every behavior. Play fair!

Do You Have Truth Decay?

Winston Churchill once pointed out that people occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. The great American author and humorist, Mark Twain, opined that many people must regard truth as their most valuable possession since they were very economical in its use. His advice was simply, “Always do right.”  Truth decay is the gradual erosion of honesty and integrity in a relationship, and if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can result in a complete loss of trust. Here are four warning signs of truth decay and suggestions for prevention and treatment.

  1. Withholding information – This causes suspicion in the leader, a lack of empowerment in the followers, and wasted time and energy as people try to manage the business without all the right information at their disposal. People without information are incapable of acting responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly. Share information about yourself and the organization openly and in the appropriate formats and forums, and set the expectations of how the information should be used. Trust your folks to do the right thing.
  2. Not “walking the talk” – When leaders say one thing yet do another, followers quickly learn that the leader can’t be trusted. Leaders can not underestimate the power of leading by example. Get clear on what values are most important to you as a leader, communicate those to your team, and give them permission to hold you accountable to living those out.
  3. Dropping balls – Not following through on commitments is a leading contributor to truth decay. Make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t commit to do something unless you know you can follow-through. It can be tempting for leaders to think they have to say “yes” to everything, but if you don’t follow through on your commitments, then people begin to doubt that you are a person of your word. As the Scripture advises us “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’, ‘No.'”
  4. Gossiping – When you engage in gossip or talk disparagingly about a colleague behind their back, you demonstrate a lack of care and respect for others. Your followers observe this behavior and begin to wonder to themselves “If my leader treats others this way, is he/she doing the same to me when I’m not around?” Remember, one of your most precious assets as a leader and colleague is your reputation and good name.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis has noted, “So much lip service is paid to the issue of business ethics; but how do you in fact build an organization distinguished by tangible integrity, moral vision, and transparency? The key is a commitment on the part of the corporate leader to establish a culture of candor in which followers feel free to speak the truth to power, and leaders are bold enough to hear such truth and act on it.”

As leaders we are responsible for setting the example of ethical behavior for our team, and if we pay attention to the warning signs of truth decay and take actions to prevent its spread, we will build a culture of high trust, engagement, and productivity.

The Most Important Behavior That Builds Trust

In a webinar (Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust) I conducted last week for The Ken Blanchard Companies, I asked the participants to select one of four leadership behaviors that influenced them the most in building trust.

With over 600 people responding, 57% said that “acting with integrity – being honest in word and deed” was the most important behavior that leaders should focus on to build trust. The second most important behavior identified by 26% of this group was “maintaining reliability – doing what you say you’ll do.” Other behaviors selected as the most important included “caring about others – showing care and compassion” (12%) and “demonstrating competence – being good at what he/she does” (5%).

So what does it mean for a leader to act with integrity? The word integrity stems from the Latin adjective integer which means “complete” or “wholeness.” Integrity in behavior means you act with a sense of consistency and steadiness that reflects an alignment between your espoused values and your actions. A leader with integrity makes promises that he or she can keep, is honest in dealing with issues and people, and treats others fairly and with respect.

Recovering from a breach of integrity is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges a leader can face because people perceive integrity to be about who you are as a leader, not just what you do. One only needs to look at today’s news headlines to see the devastating effects of these failures. Politicians resigning from office, corporate leaders arrested for wrongdoing, celebrities losing millions from lost endorsements, and spiritual leaders being disgraced are all results from not acting with a sense of integrity.

The value of acting with integrity is an important reminder for any of us in leadership positions. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, project team member, boss, or any other role that requires you to influence others in a leadership capacity, being consistent in word and deed could be the most powerful way to build trust with others.

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