If you’re a senior leader in your organization, chances are the vast majority of employees don’t view you as a real person.
Research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin shows employee perceptions of senior leaders are governed by mental models they form through incidental interactions with the leader, such as emails, videos, speeches, or other impersonal means of communication.
So what should you make of that? First, it should make you question the level of trust people have in you. Second, you should know that without trust it’s virtually impossible to influence and inspire your team to follow your lead. And third, it should prompt you to consider ways to build a more personal relationship with those you lead.
But where to start? Start at the beginning. Start with building rapport.
Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”
Rapport is a fundamental component of having a connected relationship with someone, and the lack of personal connection is the reason people view their leaders as impersonal avatars. Research has shown the importance of warmth as a critical factor in building trust. Your team members are wanting to know that you care about them as individuals and not just nameless worker bees showing up to do a job.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant or charismatic you are as a leader; if your people don’t think you have their best interests in mind and truly care for them, they won’t give you their trust, loyalty, and best performance. Establishing rapport with someone creates an environment of warmth and safety which allows trust to blossom.
Building rapport isn’t rocket science but it takes an intentional effort. Here’s a few easy and practical ways to foster rapport with someone:
Remember and use their names
Learn something about their life outside of work
Share information about yourself; show some vulnerability
Strike up a conversation (about them, not you)
Identify mutual interests
When clients tell me their organization is suffering from a lack of trust between senior leaders and front-line employees, the first area I explore is the sense of connectedness between the two groups. Almost always the issue boils down to the front-liners not having any semblance of a personal connection to senior leaders.
It’s a predictable dilemma. The further up a leader moves in the organization, the wider her span of control becomes and the harder it is to have a personal relationship with each employee. However, through effective communication techniques, conveying a sense of authenticity by sharing information about yourself, and intentionally making the time and effort to connect with people as much as possible, you can develop rapport with your employees that leads to high trust and loyalty.
Virtually everyone agrees that trust is a vital ingredient for healthy and successful relationships. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about trust until it’s been broken. That’s the worse time to realize its importance because by then it may be too late to fix the damage that’s been done. Instead of leaving trust to chance, we need to have an intentional focus on proactively building it. When our attention is focused on a specific goal, our energy will flow in that direction to help us accomplish it. There are three truths about trust we should keep in mind as we strive to build high-trust relationships.
Trust is a skill—Trust doesn’t “just happen.” It’s a skill that can be learned and developed through intentional effort. In order to do so, it’s helpful to have a framework of what comprises trust in a relationship. In our Building Trust training program, the ABCD Trust Model is used to represent the four elements of trust. Trust is built in a relationship when you are Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. Able people are trusted because they are competent in what they do. They have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform well in their roles. The second element of trust is Believable, which is acting with integrity. You are Believable when you behave in alignment with your values and those of the organization, are honest, ethical, and fair in your dealings with others. Connected people build trust because they develop rapport with others, are good communicators, and have the best interests of others in mind. Finally, Dependable people do what they say they will do, are accountable, and responsive to others.
Trust drives results—Trust isn’t just a “soft” interpersonal skill that fills our relationships with warm fuzzies, unicorns, and rainbows. Trust drives bottom-line results in organizations. The Great Place to Work Institute has shown that high-trust organizations have 50% lower turnover than low-trust organizations, and employees who trust their leaders perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. Our own research has shown that people who trust their leaders intend to perform at higher levels, use their discretionary energy to benefit the organization, remain with the organization, endorse the organization as a good place to work, and be a good organizational citizen.
Trust begins with you—Without risk, there’s no need for trust. Trust and risk go hand in hand. In order for trust to develop, someone has to be the first to extend it. It’s been said that the best way to see if someone is trustworthy is to trust them. Someone has to make the first move and I advocate that each of us needs to take the responsibility to extend trust to others. When we do so, we open the door for others to prove themselves trustworthy and reciprocate by extending trust to us. It’s a virtuous cycle that reinforces itself.
Building trust is like raising plants in a garden. You have to plant the seeds, feed them, nurture their development, and regularly tend the garden. The same is true in our relationships. You have to plant the seeds of trust, feed them, and nurture their development. You may not see results immediately, but over time you’ll see the level of trust grow and one day will reap the rewards of having high-trust relationships.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tomorrow to cast your vote in local, state, and national elections, consider the trustworthiness of the candidates by examining their ability, believability, connectedness, and dependability.
We live in an instant gratification society. One-click purchases, overnight or same-day delivery, self-checkout lines at the grocery store, microwave ovens, and real-time global communications in a 24/7 world—whatever we want, when we want, and how we want it.
When I conduct training sessions on building trust I often get questions from participants along the lines of “How can I build trust quickly with someone?” The questioner is often a time-crunched manager struggling with a low-trust relationship and is looking for a quick and easy solution to his “trust issue.” Trust is a multi-dimensional construct that doesn’t fit easily into our desire for quick and easy solutions. It’s a relational dynamic that is constantly ebbing and flowing with each trust-building or trust-eroding behavior or situation we experience. However, there are key behaviors a person can use to turbocharge the development of trust in relationships. Here are five important ones to consider:
1. Admit Mistakes — It’s inevitable; we all make mistakes. The key to building or maintaining trust is how you handle the situation. If you make excuses, try to shift the blame, cover it up or pretend it didn’t happen, the trust others have in you will plummet. If you readily admit the mistake, stand up and take responsibility for your actions in a sincere and humble way, trust in you will sky-rocket. People yearn for authentic connections in relationships, and in order for that to happen there has to be a level of vulnerability. Admitting mistakes is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate vulnerability, and as a result, the development of trust.
2. Follow-through on Commitments — I believe that most people genuinely intend to honor their commitments. The problem is we often lack a plan for doing so. We over-commit ourselves or fail to sufficiently plan our course of action and end up dropping the ball. Few things erode trust more than not delivering on a commitment. If you want to build or sustain trust, make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. If something looks like it’s going to get in the way of you being able to deliver on your commitment, speak up early and reset expectations. Negotiate new deadlines or seek additional resources to meet the original commitment, and most of all, don’t use the “P” word (Promise), unless you absolutely know you can deliver on your promise.
3. Be Nice and Helpful — People want to do business with those they like and trust, and it’s amazing how much trust you can build by simply being nice and helpful to others. You learned the basics from your parents and it’s still true…say “please” and “thank you.” Look for ways to make your colleague’s job easier, and even more so, make it easy for others to work with you. Smile, laugh, and extend simple courtesies to others; it really does work in building trust.
4. Be Interested in Others — People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You may be extremely competent at what you do, but if you don’t take a personal interest in the welfare of others, people will withhold a measure of trust from you. You don’t have to be an extroverted social butterfly to be a “people person.” It only takes a little effort to build rapport. Ask people how their weekend went, inquire about their kids, learn their hobbies, and take a genuine interest in them as individuals, not just as co-workers doing a job. When you start to do that, and do it genuinely and authentically, trust will blossom.
5. Walk the Talk — Acting with integrity is the foundation of being a trustworthy person. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word integritas, meaning soundness, wholeness, or blamelessness.” When we say a bridge or building has structural integrity, we mean it’s sound, sturdy, and stable. So it is with a person of integrity. That person is steady and consistent in his behavior. Being a person of integrity means being honest, treating people fairly and respectfully, and acting in alignment with honorable values. If you say one thing and then do another you will severely injure trust in your relationships. Gossiping, spinning the truth to your benefit, omitting facts, or taking credit for the work of others are sure ways to diminish your integrity and the trust people have in you.
Sit down, buckle your seat belt, and consistently practice these five ways of relating to others and you’ll see the turbocharged development of trust in your relationships.
We are in desperate need for a new model of leadership in organizations. 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. Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front doors of their workplace as they trudge through another day of work that lacks inspiration, purpose, and is disconnected from all other parts of theirs lives.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 fostering trust, community, and optimism. We need a new approach to leadership; we need people-centered leadership.
1. Send employees to learn other parts of the business — Early in my career I worked in the funeral service business. Yes, I said funeral service, as in cemeteries and funeral homes. I worked in the corporate headquarters of the cemetery division, far removed from those on the “front lines.” In order to help everyone learn the business and build collaborative relationships with those who worked in the field, all new employees were sent to work at a cemetery or funeral home for three days. It was an experience that transformed me. I came away from it with greater understanding of the business, more appreciation for colleagues working with our customers, and an increased connection to the important service we were providing.
2. Inquire regularly into the team’s effectiveness — Peter Drucker said that nothing good ever happens in organizations by accident. It takes intentional planning and effort and that’s especially true when it comes to staying in touch with how your team members are feeling and performing. It’s easy to fall into the practice of “no news is good news.” An important way to foster trust is to have regular check-in meetings with your team members. We advocate 15-30 minute one-on-one meetings every 1-2 weeks. The agenda is driven by the team member and it can be anything on their mind: how they’re feeling, discussing how things are going at home, direction or support they need on a particular task, or just sharing an update with you about their recent accomplishments. Knowing what’s going on with your team members removes barriers that often derail collaboration.
3. Hire people with collaborative tendencies — In his book, Murphy shares an example of how Menlo Innovations tests job candidates for collaborative tendencies. Candidates are put into pairs, given a challenge to solve, and told that their goal is to make their partner look good. People with a tendency to collaborate make it to the next stage in the hiring process. Instead of asking your job candidates if they like to collaborate, devise some sort of exercise that allows them to demonstrate their skills. Murphy points out that collaboration is not merely an action, it’s also a mindset.
4. Develop routines that reinforce collaboration — You know those committees that get formed to plan holiday parties, team BBQ’s, or other group activities? They can be really frustrating, can’t they? But they serve an important purpose: they reinforce social and team norms that allow people to collaborate and bond with each other. Many of these practices seem out of date in today’s technology-enabled world. Who needs a committee when you can just create a Facebook event and invite everyone, right? Wrong. Leaders who foster high-trust and collaborative environments look for opportunities to bring people together.
5. Create spaces for random collisions — I love this recommendation! We all know that many times the most important decisions or creative breakthroughs happen in the hallway or lunch room conversations after the formal meeting. Murphy recommends we look for ways to structure our work environment that allow people to naturally and routinely “collide” with each other. When people collide in these natural ways, they feed off each others’ energy. It leads to deeper engagement between team members which results in more creative exploration of ideas and concepts. For some organizations the open work space concept works well, while for others it doesn’t fit their culture or business needs. Whatever approach you use, look for ways to help people interact in positive ways.
6. Make time for face to face meetings — Knowledge workers are increasingly isolated as we move to more people working virtually. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to congregate in the same location to get work done. Work is not a place you go; it’s something you do. In this environment it’s even more important to foster human connections. Webcams, Instant Messenger, and other technologies are good starts, but nothing replaces face to face interaction. It’s critically important to bring your team members together at regular intervals so they can deepen their relationships with one another. Trust and commitment to each other is built during these times and it’s the lubrication that keeps relationships working smoothly.
The climate of our organizations set the tone for how people “show up” on the job. Unfortunately, too many leaders are thermometers, reflecting the poor climate of their teams, rather than being thermostats, the climate controllers. Murphy’s book offers a wealth of tips on how leaders can take a proactive approach to being those “thermostats” that create more optimistic workplaces where people flourish.
The new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.
She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.
Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.
The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:
1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.
2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.
3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.
4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.
5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.
6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.
7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.
8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.
9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.
10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.
I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.
Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
In relationships, time is our most precious, non-renewable resource. It takes large doses of time to develop the rich, lasting, trustful relationships that we all desire, even if we’re afraid to admit it. It’s much easier to settle for surface level relationships through social media because it fits our busy lifestyles. A person can have hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers”, yet have very few, if any, deep relationships with high levels of trust.
There are no shortcuts to developing high-trust relationships. You can’t download a trust app to your smart phone to get it, order it from the drive-thru lane of your local fast food joint, or buy it online from Amazon or eBay—it takes time. Second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour. Time…pure and simple.
Here are four principles to keep in mind about the role time plays in building trustful relationships:
Quality Can’t Replace Quantity – Our “always on, always connected” digital culture has elevated busyness to higher (yet false) levels of importance. We wear busyness on our sleeves like a badge of honor, believing it signifies our importance at work or validates our out of control, misplaced priorities in life. We’ve bought into the lie that “quality” time is more important than the overall quantity of time we spend with others. Quality time is great, I highly recommend it. But if I had to choose between spending 15 minutes of quality time a week with those most important to me versus spending 2 hours, I’d choose quantity every time. It’s in those unstructured, relaxed periods of time with people that quality time emerges. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you can develop deep, trusting relationships by choosing quality time over quantity.
Your Use of Time Reveals Your Priorities & Values – I have a surefire way to help you discover what your top values and priorities are in your life—keep a time journal of your activities for a week or two. You may not like what it tells you but at least you’ll know the truth about your priorities. How many hours a week do you spend mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook news feed, surfing the web, playing video games, or watching TV? None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but when they come at the expense of investing time in what we say we value (our children, health and fitness, friends, faith, etc.), then they have become activities that distract us from fulfilling our higher purpose.
You Reap What You Sow – The universal law of the harvest teaches us that we reap what we sow. If we invest the time and effort in cultivating deep relationships, we usually achieve long-lasting, high trust relationships. If we only invest in surface level, casual relationships, that will be what we usually achieve. It’s important to remember there may be longer periods between the sowing and the reaping than what we would expect or prefer. Many citrus trees start producing fruit when they are 2-4 years old, while pear or apricot trees may take 5-7 years before they mature. Not all of your relationships will develop at the same rate. Be patient, keep sowing, watering, and tending. The fruit will come.
You Can’t Get it Back, So Choose Wisely – Most of us don’t give much thought to ever running out of time, mainly because we don’t like to think about death and the end of our lives. Whether it has to do with spending time with our children, investing in our education, or pursuing our career goals, we often devalue time because we feel there will always be more of it available tomorrow. Someday tomorrow won’t come. Each of us has a finite number of days on this earth, and each day that goes by is one less day we have to invest in those we love. The best investment we can make in life is the investment of time in other people. All the stuff we accumulate in life—money, degrees, power, fame, possessions—disappear when we pass away; we can’t take any of it with us. The one thing that will remain after we’re gone is the investment we placed in other people—the love, encouragement, concern, belief, and confidence that those people will carry with them for the rest of their lives and hopefully pass on to others as well. We would do well to heed the words of Psalm 90:12 that says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” You can’t get time back so use it wisely.
Time is essential to developing long-lasting, high-trust relationships. We all have the same amount of time in a day. The question is, how will we use it?
In most workplaces the “F” word is taboo. There are some words you just don’t say out loud and the “F” word tops the list. Leaders, in particular, are afraid to even think about the “F” word, much less say it in public. Experienced leaders have learned that mentioning the “F” word is like opening Pandora’s Box. You flip the lid on that bad boy and you’re in for a world of hurt. Some things, including the “F” word, are just better left unsaid.
I think that needs to change. Leaders need to use the “F” word more. Much more.
I used to be afraid of the “F” word until I learned better. Now I find myself using the “F” word whenever I get the chance. Here are four reasons why I use the “F” word – feelings – in the workplace (you didn’t really think I was talking about that“F” word, did you?!):
1. It recognizes reality – People don’t check their feelings and emotions at the office door. Every one of your employees is a walking, talking, bundle of thoughts and emotions that affect the way they “show up” at work. Even though every manager in the world wishes that people kept their personal lives at home and didn’t bring their issues to work, that’s just not realistic. Everybody, including you and me, have issues in our lives that affect our work performance. Maybe it’s a sick child, an ailing parent, marital problems, financial pressures, <insert challenge here>, you name it – we all have ups and downs in life. Effective leaders have learned to be emotionally intelligent and understand the need to manage the whole person, not just the faceless/mindless “worker” that shows up to do a job.
2. It builds trust – There is no more important leadership competency than building high-trust relationships. There is very little chance for success in the leader/follower relationship without a solid foundation of trust. One of the core elements of a trustworthy relationship is “connectedness.” People trust you when they know you care about them as individuals and not just workers being paid to do a job. Acknowledging emotions, maintaining open communication, and recognizing/rewarding people for their accomplishments are key behaviors in building trust. You can’t build trust without using the “F” word.
3. It fosters engagement – Research has shown there are 12 primary factors in creating passionate employees at work. By “passionate” I mean engaged employees that are willing to be good corporate citizens, perform at high levels, and devote their discretionary energy to accomplishing their goals and those of the organization. Two of those 12 factors are relationship-focused: connectedness with leader and connectedness with colleagues. Like the theme song from the old TV sitcom “Cheers” says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” People need rewarding interpersonal relationships with their coworkers to be fully engaged on the job. Employees also want and need a supportive and personal relationship with their boss. Of course this varies by personality types and other factors, but everyone wants to have a positive and productive relationship with their leader. You have to talk about feelings if you want engaged employees.
4. It helps manage stress – People need an appropriate emotional outlet at work to share their concerns and frustrations. There needs to be a “safe zone” where people can voice their feelings without fear of recrimination, and in order for this to be possible, there has to be a high level of trust. Admittedly, this can be scary. If there aren’t proper boundaries in place, venting can quickly turn into gossiping, whining, complaining, and general negativity. That’s why I think it’s important for leaders to take charge on this issue and create a culture where their people feel safe in coming to them to share these concerns. People are going to vent about their frustrations whether the leader chooses to be involved or not. Why not be purposeful about creating a system, process, or structure to positively channel these feelings? (Oops, there I go…using the “F” word again.)
The world at work has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. The “F” word used to be off-limits. Everyone understood that people showed up for work, punched the clock, did their job, punched out, and went home. There wasn’t any namby-pamby talk about feelings, engagement, well-being, or happiness at work. You want to be fulfilled? Get a hobby outside of work. That will fulfill you.
Nowadays there is much less separation between a person’s personal life and work life. Technology has blurred the boundaries between those areas and it’s created new dynamics in the workplace to which leaders have to adapt. Whether you like it or not, leaders have to know how to deal with feelings in the workplace. Get used to it, you’re going to have start using the “F” word more. Much more.
The 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.
Connected—Connected 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.
Never in history have we been so technologically connected to each other in the workplace. Email, instant message, text message, and social media have enabled us to be in constant and immediate communication with each other. Yet record numbers of people are disengaged on the job and distrust their organizations, senior leaders, and coworkers.
We are dysfunctionally connected.
Based on research from the Pew Research Center and The Ken Blanchard Companies, 81% of employees say their leaders don’t listen well and 82% feel they don’t receive helpful feedback. Only 34% say they meet with their boss weekly and 28% never or rarely discuss future goals and tasks even though 70% wish they did. If that wasn’t depressing enough, consider that 64% of employees say they want to talk to their boss about problems they’re having with colleagues but only 8% say they actually do.
We are dysfunctionally connected.
“The typical workplace is at risk of becoming dysfunctionally connected,” says Ken Blanchard, author of more than 55 business books and world-renowned leadership expert. “People crave a deeper human connection at work. They need to feel a more personal and authentic connection with their managers and their peers that goes beyond what technology can provide.”
Creating trust and human connection starts with conversation. We have to detach from technology and actually speak to each other…you know…the old-school way of establishing a relationship. Demonstrating care and concern for others—being connected—is one of the four elements of a trusting relationship. It’s a critical requirement for any successful relationship in the workplace. Here’s three ways to build trust and true relational connection:
1. Have a people focus – People are more important than things. Don’t get so wrapped up in the busyness of your job that you neglect to build authentic relationships with others. Take interest in the lives of your colleagues and appreciate the diversity that everyone brings to the organization. Ask people what they did over the weekend, how their kids are doing, or what hobbies they enjoy. And here’s a novel idea – instead of sending a colleague an IM, get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and actually have a discussion!
2. Improve your communication – I love the line from the movie Cool Hand Luke when the prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character, Luke, “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” That could be the motto for today’s workplace. You can build trust and connection by sharing information about yourself, and if you’re a leader, about the organization. Examine the frequency and ways in which you communicate and make adjustments if needed, particularly when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Most importantly, listen. Simply taking the time to listen to people and truly empathizing with their concerns is one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can employ.
3. Recognize people’s efforts – Whenever I conduct training workshops I ask participants to raise their hands if they receive too much praise and recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand. The truth is that most people are starved for genuine appreciation for the work they do and a simple word of “thanks” or “attaboy” go a long way toward building trust and commitment. Learn how people like to be recognized and rewarded and find ways to catch them doing something right.
The leadership styles and practices of managers are key drivers of trust and engagement in the workplace. Last week, The Ken Blanchard Companies announced the release of The SLII® Experience, a new learning design for its flagship product SLII®, the world’s most taught leadership model. Learning to flex your leadership style to the needs of your followers, giving them what they need when they need it, will lead to high-trust relationships that foster the kind of connection and engagement that people crave in today’s workplaces.
“Trust takes a long time to build and just a moment to destroy.” You’ve probably heard that old adage before, haven’t you? Well, it’s not true.
Like many aphorisms, there is an element of truth to the saying as it applies to certain situations, but the statement itself is not an absolute truth when it comes to trust. Trust can be built very quickly (consider the trust you place in a surgeon, whom you’ve never met, performing emergency surgery on you) and be one of the most resilient forces in any relationship (think of the number of times you’ve eroded trust with a family member yet trust continues to survive).
When it comes to building trust in relationships, not all behaviors are created equal. What I mean by that is certain behaviors contain more “oomph” when it comes to building trust; they help trust develop faster. Much like a weightlifter increases his intake of protein to help fuel muscle development, people interested in rapidly building trust can leverage these five, high-trust behaviors:
1. Extend trust – Trust is reciprocal. One person gives it, another receives it and gives it back in turn. Since someone has to make the first move, why not you? It’s hard for people to trust you if you aren’t willing to trust them. Trust involves risk, and if you wait for a time when there’s no risk in a relationship, you’ll never trust. Be smart about who you extend trust to and how much you give, but don’t be afraid to make the first move.
2. Listen without judgement – Think of the people you’ve trusted most in your life. There’s a good chance that most, if not all of them, were people who listened to you when you were frustrated, angry, upset, or just needed someone to talk to. They didn’t condemn you for the way you were feeling but listened to your concerns and offered appropriate and timely counsel, without judgement or blame. Listening shows you care for people and is a critical component of building trust.
3. Show care and concern – As mentioned above with listening, demonstrating care and concern in relationships is critical to building trust. You can trust people you don’t know based on their expertise, but trust really accelerates when a genuine personal relationship is established. Take the time to truly build a personal relationship with others and you’ll see trust skyrocket.
4. DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do. Consistent, reliable, and dependable behavior is at the core of building trust. Follow through on commitments. Keep your promises. Be on time. Meet deadlines. It sounds simple enough, but unfortunately these commonsense basics are often the very behaviors we neglect the most. DWYSYWD and trust will blossom.
5. Admit your mistakes – Combined with number 4, admitting your mistakes is one of the most high-powered, trust-building behaviors you can use. Why is that? It shows your sense of humility and authenticity when you own up to your mistakes. It demonstrates to people that you are secure in yourself and you respect others enough to be up front and honest. Showing a little vulnerability goes a long way in building trust.
I’m not suggesting you use these behaviors in a manipulative fashion in order to further your own selfish agenda. Too many crooked politicians, televangelists, and corporate barons have already laid claim to that tactic. However, for people genuinely interested in building trust, these five behaviors can supercharge your relationships to new and higher levels.
What are your thoughts? Are there other behaviors you’ would add to this list to rapidly build trust? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
I’m a fan of the television show Breaking Bad. If you’re not familiar with it, the show chronicles the transformation of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a mild-mannered, milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who “breaks bad” and turns into a crystal meth-producing drug lord in order to finance his cancer treatments and provide for his family after his likely death.
The writing, story-telling, character development, and dialogue in the show are top-notch, and despite the edgy subject matter, I was hooked…addicted?…after just a small taste. As the series comes to a close tonight with the premiere of the final eight episodes, I reflected on some leadership lessons from Walter White. He’s an excellent study on how NOT to lead. If you employ these strategies you might achieve temporary success, as Walter White has, but eventually you’ll go down in flames…which is my prediction for Walt’s fate this season.
1. Don’t trust anyone – Walter White never fully trusts anyone, even himself at times. He only trusts people enough for them to do what he needs them to do, so he keeps people on a “need to know” basis, hoards power and information, and makes the final decisions. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and if you don’t have it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder to see who’s on your trail and your relationships will always have an air of suspicion and doubt surrounding them.
2. The end justifies the means – Walt started with the noble, yet morally ambiguous, goal of wanting to provide for his family. His odds of beating cancer were slim, and with a son starting college and a baby daughter on the way, Walt saw the cost of his cancer treatments leaving his family in financial ruins. What started as a quick-hit scheme to meet the financial needs of his family quickly devolved into Walt being willing to do anything – lie, cheat, steal, murder – to protect his drug empire and meet the dark and desperate needs of his shadow self. This strategy is particularly useful for leaders who view people as objects, just mere speed-bumps on the road to success, and are willing to run over anyone at anytime in order to get what they want.
3. Erode your morality and integrity one choice at a time – Walter White didn’t become an evil mastermind and drug kingpin overnight, it was a series of small choices that led him down the road to destruction. The work of Dan Ariely and Tavris and Aronson provide insight into this slippery slope of human behavior. Tavris and Aronson use the “Pyramid of Choice” to illustrate the “what the hell effect,” which explains how our rationalizations of wrong choices makes it easier for us to make further wrong choices that continually erode our integrity. Moral of the story? Every decision counts. Make good ones that reinforce your integrity.
4. Intoxicate yourself on power – Studies have shown that money and power can make you less empathetic toward other people and Walter White’s experience illustrates that phenomenon. As Walt gains money and power in the drug world he quickly loses sight of his original goal. Jesse, Walt’s former student and partner in crime, points out that Walt originally said he needed to make just shy of $1 million to provide for his family, and now that he had $5 million stashed away it still wasn’t enough. If you’re in a leadership role to fulfill your needs for power, position, and status, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Get out now!
5. Let your ego drive your actions – Over the seasons we learn that Walt co-founded a company called Gray Matter Technologies, sold his share for $5,000, and now the company is worth over $2 billion. Walt never reconciled his ego-needs with the direction his life took, and now that he’s got money and power from his drug business, his ego runs wild and manifests itself as “Heisenberg,” Walt’s street name. In one memorable scene where Walt is arm-twisting a rival drug dealer into becoming the distribution arm for Walt’s superior product, he not only revels in revealing his identity as Heisenberg, he forces his competitor to pay homage to him by demanding that he “Say my name.” Use that tactic in your next team building meeting and see how far it gets you.
6. Manipulate people to get what you want – Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a picture in manipulation. Walt goes so far as to poison the son of Jesse’s girlfriend and convinces Jesse to break up with her so there would be no one competing for Jesse’s time and attention. Jesse is ultimately a pawn in Walt’s strategy to build his drug empire. Demonstrating care and concern for people is a key factor in building trust, and if you aren’t genuine and authentic in wanting to be in relationship with people, others will quickly see through your facade.
It will be interesting to see how the character of Walter White fares over the last eight episodes of this series. We’ve seen plenty of real-life examples of prominent leaders who display these traits and characteristics and their fate isn’t pretty. Will Walter White fare any better? I don’t think so.