Leading with Trust

The Great Communicator – Four Ways Ronald Reagan Built Trust

On Tuesday, November 6th, those of us in the United States get to participate in the great American experiment of democratic self-government when we go to the polls to cast our ballot in the presidential election. One of the key roles of the President of the United States, and for any leader in general, is to inspire trust in his or her followers. Few have done it better than Ronald Reagan, the “Great Communicator.”

The first time I was old enough to vote in a presidential election was in 1984 when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in a landslide, earning 525 of the 538 electoral votes, the highest total in history. Reagan communicated in such a way that allowed most Americans to trust and follow him and to believe in the direction he wanted to take the country. Far from being an exhaustive treatise on the Reagan presidency, here’s four ways that Reagan built trust through his communications. Leaders in any organization at any level can benefit from applying these principles:

He had clear values – Whether you agreed with him or not, Reagan had very clear values that drove his actions. His view on the supremacy of individual freedom and the limited role of government was clearly articulated when he said, “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” Trusted leaders have a keen sense of their own personal values and are not hesitant to communicate them to their people and make decisions in alignment with those values.

He helped people believe in themselves – Reagan’s belief in the capabilities of individual Americans inspired a sense of confidence in people. When he used phrases such as “It’s morning again in America” or “America is back and standing tall,” he communicated a sense of belief in Americans that had been lacking in prior years. Leaders build trust with their people when they express their belief and confidence in them. Don’t ever let an opportunity go by to build someone up.

He had an authentic sense of humor – One of Reagan’s most endearing qualities was his sense of humor. He, along with other successful leaders, knew how to take his work seriously but himself lightly. Reagan frequently took heat for being one of America’s oldest presidents yet he didn’t become bitter about the criticism. He said “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” Leaders will always be successful when they focus on being a first-rate version of themselves rather than a second-rate version of someone else.

He had a clear vision – Reagan frequently talked about America becoming the “shining city on a hill,” a vision of American exceptionalism, a vision of America reaching its full potential in all aspects of its existence and being an example for the world to model. In his farewell address in January 1989, Reagan said. “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Regan’s vision for America captured the hearts and minds of its citizens and tapped into an innate need that every one of us has; the need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One of a leader’s primary responsibilities is to clearly articulate the vision of his or her team. Why does your team exist? What is your mission? What are you trying to accomplish? Answer those questions and clearly communicate them to your team and you’ll take a big step toward creating a trusted and loyal followership.

Bears QB Jay Cutler on Body Language – A primer for leaders on what NOT to do

This past Thursday night my wife and I watched the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers football game. At one point in the game, Jay Cutler, quarterback for the Bears, was shown on the sidelines striking a pose similar to the one on the right. I made a comment to my wife about Cutler having the worst body language of any player in the NFL, and the more I thought about it in the context of trust and leadership, the more I was reminded of the power of our body language to either build or erode trust in relationships.

Even from his days playing college ball at Vanderbilt, Jay Cutler has caught flak for the negative vibes he puts off because of his mannerisms and facial expressions. Although he’s heard the feedback, either he’s had difficulty modifying his behavior or he simply doesn’t care to change. Either way, Cutler’s example provides an excellent case study for leaders on what NOT to do when it comes to communicating through body language.

Don’t let your body language…

Say “I’d rather be anywhere else except here” – The faraway look in your eyes, frowning, restlessness, or checking your watch and phone are all classic signals that tell your colleagues that you’d rather be anywhere else except with them. It’s easy for leaders to get preoccupied about pressing deadlines or situations, but it’s important to stay present in conversations and communicate your interest by leaning forward, paraphrasing what you’ve heard, and making steady eye contact.

Imply that you’re blaming others and refusing to take ownership of your own performance – Literally throwing your arms up in exasperation over someone’s mistake or reacting indignantly in an effort to cast the blame of your mistake to someone else are surefire ways to erode trust. People don’t like to be “thrown under the bus,” so the next time you get ready to point your finger at someone, remember that you have four fingers pointing back at you.

Show that defeat and discouragement has gotten the best of you – Leaders will undoubtedly face times of struggle and loss. The true character of a leader isn’t revealed during the good times when the team is winning, but in the bad times when the losing streak occurs. Keep your head held high, shoulders back, and walk with a purposeful stride. Your team will gather strength and confidence from your behavior and follow suit.

Communicate smugness and indifference toward people – That little “know it all” smirk that forms on your face, which seems to come particularly easy for leaders with large egos, is a death knell for high-trust relationships. Most people can tolerate a sense of arrogance from someone if they’re able to back it up with performance results, but demonstrating a lack of respect for others by rolling your eyes, smirking, or folding your arms in disgust or impatience turns people away from you forever.

From the moment of a first impression to the repeated behavior of ongoing interactions, the way you communicate with your body language plays a critical role in building trust. Don’t unintentionally erode trust by letting your body language communicate things you don’t mean. It’s awful easy to develop a bad reputation and it’s extremely hard to turn it around. Just ask Jay Cutler.

Face Time Builds Trust & Teamwork

Last week my organization conducted our annual all-company meeting, and for the first time in a few years, we were able to have a face to face gathering. Prior to the all-company meeting, I held a team-building event for my department, Client Services. Nearly 50 people from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Singapore gathered in Old Town San Diego for an “Amazing Race” kind of scavenger hunt that built teamwork, relationships, communication skills, and trust.

My experiences last week reminded me of the critical importance of face to face interactions to build a successful team. The prevalence and ease of use of video-conferencing technologies, webcams, and social media applications has caused many leaders and organizations to question the need for in-person meetings. Those are fantastic tools for many business meeting needs, but nothing can replace the value of “face time,” those personal interactions that form the cohesiveness and trust necessary for high-performing teams.

Regular face time allows for the building of personal rapport and trust at a faster pace than what can be accomplished in virtual mediums. Body language, facial expressions, speech patterns, and hand gestures can only be fully appreciated when observed in person. It also allows preconceptions about relationships to be broken down. It’s easy to form judgments about others when you only interact with them via electronic communications, but when you’re able to spend time together, you form a more personal and deeper relationship that provides a deeper level of understanding of each others’ behavior.

The deepening of relationships through in-person meetings provides a greater level of accountability among team members. It’s much harder to let someone down when you know them on a personal level versus a person you’ve only interacted with via email or the phone. Humans are social creatures and face time allows us to form complex social bonds that transcend simple mechanical work relationships. Learning about a teammate’s family background, hobbies, values, likes and dislikes, creates a more intimate, transparent relationship that greatly enhances teamwork. Perhaps most importantly, face to face meetings allows for the expression of fun and humor in a much richer setting than via technology. Fun is a dynamic condition created magically through personal interactions in a specific place and time that can only occur when people are gathered together. I believe a team that plays together is one that stays together.

Don’t neglect the opportunity to gather your team together for a face to face meeting or team outing. You’ll reinforce the important norms and values of your team’s culture and provide the opportunity for your team members to build higher levels of trust and commitment with each other.

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.

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.

We vs. Me – Lessons from USA Women’s World Cup Soccer

The USA Women’s World Cup soccer team had an amazing and entertaining run through the 2011 FIFA World Cup tournament. Despite their heartbreaking loss today to Japan, their tournament run was filled with dominating performances, miraculous comebacks, and several nail-biting contests.

I found that one of the most interesting aspects of their journey was the intense focus on teamwork versus reliance on a single individual to carry the team. This team clearly understood the value of “we” versus “me.” This stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic attitude that seems to prevail in not just sports, but in much of our culture today. Bill Taylor recently wrote an excellent article, Great People Are Overrated, that discusses our faulty perception that a superstar performer will help an organization be more successful than having a whole team of talented contributors.

Practicing a “we” mentality builds trust and commitment with those you lead. When team members know that their leader cares about them as individuals, will get in the trenches to co-labor with them, and help secure the resources the team needs to succeed, they will devote themselves to following the leaders’ vision and accomplishing the goals set for the team.

Here are a few tips for building trust and commitment with your team that will lead to the fostering of a “we” versus “me” mentality:

  • Communicate your leadership point of view – Your team members want to know what motivates you as a leader. They want to know your core values and how they guide your decisions, because after all, your decisions have a direct impact on their experience at work. Team members also want to know what you expect from them and what it takes for them to be a success in your eyes. Communicating your leadership philosophy and expectations establishes a fair playing field for the team.
  • Share information openly – Hoarding information breeds mistrust. Keeping your team members informed of organizational strategies and decisions, sharing data about the team’s performance, and regularly fielding the team’s questions and concerns lets team members know that you have nothing to hide and you trust them with the same information you’re entrusted with as a leader.
  • Get to know your team members as people, not just as employees – Every team member wants to be known as an individual, not just as another cog in the machinery of the organization. All of your team members have stories that accompany them to work: caring for an elderly parent; a child who has run away from home; a spouse who recently lost a job; or maybe something as routine as having a terrible commute into the office. Leaders who routinely take the time to engage their people in conversations and listen to their concerns, hopes, and dreams will build trust and commitment.
  • Verbally recognize good performance – Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” Praising team members for good performance is the fuel that keeps that cycle in motion. Praisings don’t have to be saved up until performance review time. Dish them out whenever you notice praiseworthy performance! Specifically tell team members what they did right, why it’s important, how it makes you feel as their leader, and express your trust and confidence in their continued good performance.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the acronym T.E.A.M.: Together, Each of us Achieves More. Fostering trust and commitment through a “we” mentality will help leaders transform a collection of individuals into a true TEAM that achieves more together than they would separately.

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