Leading with Trust

4 Ways to Move From Vendor to Partner in Client Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Causes of Low T

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

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

Treating Low T

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Have Low T?

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

Don’t Settle for Leading with Low T

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

3 Truths About Trust

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.

abcd-model-newTrust 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.

4 Ways to Measure a Politician’s Trustworthiness

trustA 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

What’s Your Leadership Promise?

promiseI recently stopped at Starbucks to get my morning jolt of caffeine on the way into the office. As I was sitting at my desk waiting for my computer to finish booting up (and wait, and wait, and wait….hey, I.T., I need a new computer!), I noticed a printed message on the side of the coffee cup. It read:

Our Barista Promise

Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.

Now, I’m not sure how long Starbucks has been printing that message on their coffee cups. Frankly, I don’t often take the time to remove the heat shield (or whatever that protective sleeve is called that keeps us from getting 3rd degree burns on our hands) to read what’s on the cup. But for some reason on this particular day the message struck me.

The “P” word: Promise. That’s a heavy-duty word. And it shouldn’t be used lightly.

I learned a long time ago, first in parenting and then in leadership, to use the “P” word sparingly and only if I knew I could truly fulfill the commitment. Anyone who is a parent has probably encountered a time where you made a somewhat casual or flippant “promise”—“Sure, Johnny, I promise we’ll go to the beach next weekend”—only for it to not happen. What is the first thing the child says when you don’t deliver? “But you promised!”

As far as Starbucks goes, in my experience they keep their promise. If you don’t like your drink then they’ll remake it or make you a different one. My son’s girlfriend works at Starbucks and I hear the horror stories of how difficult some customers can be when they are holding the company to their promise.

So, what does this have to do with leadership? Well, it’s pretty simple: What is your leadership promise? What is it your people can expect from you or count on you to do no matter what?

Here are some possibilities I think would be good starting points:

My leadership promise to you…

  • I will always listen to your viewpoint with an open mind.
  • I will strive to be equitable and ethical in all of my decisions.
  • I will never belittle or demean you.
  • I will not hold you back from other job, promotion, or growth opportunities.
  • I will be trustworthy.
  • I will be honest.
  • I will care about you as a person, beyond just an employee showing up to do a job.
  • I will give you the direction and support you need to do good work.
  • I will make time to talk with you on a regular basis.

Those examples may or may not ring true for you. The point is, you need to be clear on your leadership promise(s), because even if you aren’t, your team members have ascribed them to you based on your past behavior. You are setting yourself up to break trust with your followers if their perception of your leadership promise doesn’t align with your own.

When developing your leadership promise, consider the following:

  • What are your non-negotiables as a leader? What values, responsibilities, or priorities will you never compromise?
  • In what realms of your leadership are you willing to have people call you out if you don’t deliver?
  • What is your comfort level in setting public expectations that you’ll need to live up to?
  • What are your core values and how do those influence the way you show up as a leader?

So what is your leadership promise? There’s no right or wrong answer. We are all unique individuals with our own talents, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and our leadership promise is unique to each one of us as well.

What your leadership promise says is less important than actually identifying it, and once you know what it is, there is only one thing that remains—deliver on it.

Please leave a comment and let us know if you’ve ever considered your leadership promise. If so, what is it? How did you develop it? What advice would you give to others?

A Father’s 10 Lessons about Leadership

Father's DayToday is Father’s Day, a time we set aside to honor fathers and the role fatherhood plays in our society. Being the father of two boys (Michael 22, Matthew 18) is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve tried to be a positive role model and demonstrate what good leadership looks like to my sons. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, but hopefully the ups outweigh the downs and my children have a fairly clear idea of what good leadership entails. By no means an exhaustive list, I’ve listed ten lessons about leadership I’ve tried to teach my kids:

1. Leadership begins with trust – If you want people to give you their full commitment and passion, you have to earn their trust. You can get people to follow you by virtue of your power or title, but they’ll only do so out of compulsion or fear. Trust is essential for long-term effective leadership.

2. Be a person of integrity – Leadership flows from who you are as a person; your values, beliefs, and attitudes. All the leadership tips, tricks, and theories won’t do you a bit of good if you aren’t a person of integrity. Get clear on your values, live them out, and don’t ever stray from them.

3. Be dependable – People want consistency from their leaders. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises you aren’t absolutely sure you can keep and always follow-through on your commitments.

4. Care about others – Leadership is all about relationships. Take a genuine interest in others and get to know them as individuals, not just as teammates or employees. Your success in life will be dependent on your ability to relate effectively with others, regardless of how smart you may be. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

5. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer leader – Leaders are responsible for setting the tone for their team. Just like a thermostat controls the temperature of a room, and not merely reflects it like a thermometer, so leaders need to be proactive in creating the environment for their team to do their best work.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail – Failure is part of the learning process. There is no shame in putting forth your best effort and coming up short. The important thing is to take what you learn from the experience and use it to do better the next time. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

7. Adjust your leadership style – You can’t be a one trick pony when it comes to leadership. You have to learn to flex your leadership style to the situation. Sometimes people will need more direction and other times they’ll need more support. It all depends on the task at hand and how capable and committed the person is to perform it. Learn to be flexible in your approach with people and you’ll be much more effective as a leader.

8. Start by being a good follower and teammate – The best leaders have learned what it means to be a good follower or teammate. They’ve worked in the trenches, earned the respect of their colleagues, and learned to work with leaders who have different styles. You have to earn the right to have people follow you, and the first step in that process is to learn what it means to be a good follower and teammate.

9. Keep your sense of humor – Take your work seriously but take yourself lightly. Learn to laugh and have fun with your team, and use humor to build relationships, earn people’s trust, and keep morale high. A good laugh can make hard work easier.

10. Develop other leaders – Good leaders give their people opportunities to shine. Your job as a leader is to develop the leadership potential of everyone under your charge. Your success is reflected in the success of others, so give your team members autonomy over their work and give them all the credit when they succeed. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead.

To all the fathers out there…what leadership lessons have you tried to pass on to your children? To all the children of fathers (yes, that’s you)…what leadership lessons did your father pass on to you? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

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