Leading with Trust

Want to Build Trust? Speak Less and Listen More

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

The Leader’s Role in Building Trust

Whose responsibility is it to build trust in a leader-follower relationship? The leader! It’s up to the leader to make the first move to earn the trust of his/her followers. Not only does the leader have to earn trust, the leader has to grant trust to others so they feel empowered to act responsibly and with authority to achieve the goals set before them. I was interviewed for the June issue of Ignite!, the monthly leadership newsletter of The Ken Blanchard Companies. The article discusses the leader’s role in building trust, challenges of low trust, strategies leaders can pursue to start building trust, and the benefits of high trust levels on both the personal and organizational levels. Check it out!

Shortly after the interview with Ignite!, I viewed a TED Talk by General Stanley McChrystal, where he shared some of his key leadership lessons. He emphasizes the responsibility leaders have to develop trust with those they lead when he says “I came to believe that a leader isn’t good because they’re right; they’re good because they are willing to learn and to trust…You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars. But if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up. And if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.”

Wise words for us all to consider.

Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy. Period.

My grandpa would frequently say to me “There’s no right way to do a wrong thing.” The resignation this week of embattled Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is the latest public example of the consequences a leader can face when he chooses not to be honest and transparent in his duties and relationships with others.

If you’re not familiar with the story, this week’s Sports Illustrated has a cover story that is worth reading as a leadership case study. The cliff notes version is that last year Jim Tressel was made aware of behaviors his players were engaged in that were against NCAA rules (exchanging personal school memorabilia in return for tattoos and other services), and rather than alerting his superiors and the school’s NCAA compliance office, he kept the information to himself. It wasn’t until the story came to light that Tressel admitted that he was dishonest and hid the truth.

Being honest is a core attribute of any successful leader. Being honest in your relationships with others strikes at the core of who you are as a person because your actions reveal what you truly value and believe as a leader. Honesty is demonstrated not only by telling the truth, but not covering up, or obscuring the truth. Honesty means admitting your mistakes and accepting responsibility for your actions. As illustrated in this case with Jim Tressel, covering up the truth always leads to worse consequences than if you own up to your misdeeds from the very beginning.

Now, I have to practice some transparency and be completely honest by saying that I’m a native Michigander and huge University of Michigan football fan. “That school down south” is our chief rival, and any day that’s a bad day for Ohio State is usually a good day for me. But in this case, I’m saddened, because Jim Tressel has always had a public persona of a leader who “got it,” and even though his team has had my team’s number the last several years, I’ve quietly admired the way he’s led his team. He’s written books on what it takes to be a successful leader and he’s experienced a tremendous amount of professional success. This experience has reminded me of the delicate nature of trust in relationships. Trust can take a long time to build, and an instant to ruin.

Honesty is always the best policy. Period.

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