Leading with Trust

Are Your People Ready to Stage an “Occupy” Protest? Four Ways to Build a High-Trust Culture

If given the chance, would the people in your organization stage an “Occupy” protest? Do they have feelings of inequity, spawned by the perception that the top 1% in your organization receive a disproportionate amount of the rewards at the expense of the 99%?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the “Occupy” movement that has spawned social protests on Wall Street and various cities and venues around the world. Underlying these protests of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money and lobbying in politics, is a profound lack of trust between leaders and those being led.

What can we learn from the Occupy movement to help us build organizational cultures of high-trust? I think the following four areas are good places to start:

1. Share information liberally
We live in an information age, where just about anything we want to know is but a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks away. Yet in many of our organizations, leaders withhold information as a way to maintain power and authority over others.

A lack of information sharing about the compensation system at the Mayo Clinic had created perceptions of inequality and just a 17% satisfaction level in 1999. By increasing the frequency, clarity, and transparency of communication about all compensation related matters, the Mayo Clinic was able to raise the level of satisfaction to 82% in 2011, with very little change to the fundamental structure of the compensation system itself.

In the absence of information, your people will make up their own version of the truth. Share information openly so that your people know the facts about what’s going on in the organization and trust that they will use and respond to that information responsibly.

2. Increase employee involvement in decision-making
My friend, colleague, and organizational change expert Pat Zigarmi, likes to make the point that contrary to popular opinion, people don’t resist organizational change; they resist being controlled. When people are shut out from contributing to decisions that will directly impact them, they develop a sense of distrust and skepticism toward the decision makers.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, my organization suffered a loss of over $2 million dollars of booked business due to clients eliminating corporate travel. Our company had to make immediate moves to reduce expenses, but rather than making the easy and obvious decision to layoff staff, our leadership engaged everyone across the organization to generate ways to decrease costs or increase revenues in order to avoid layoffs. Hundreds of ideas were surfaced and many were implemented which resulted in the company being able to not only survive the economic downturn, but continue to make a profit and avoid eliminating jobs.

Involving your people in making decisions will lead to higher levels of trust and commitment. Remember, those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

3. Give people what matters most – your time and attention
Google is legendary for the perks that it offers its employees. At the Googleplex, Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, team members have unlimited access to free haircuts, massages, meals, dry cleaning, and even on-site medical care.

Yet when Google undertook a study to determine what employees valued most, they overwhelmingly said “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Just like workaholic parents who fool themselves into believing they can make up for their lack of presence in their kids’ lives by spoiling them with all the latest toys and gadgets, leaders often fall prey to the same line of thinking by believing corporate perks and benefits can make up for the lack of intimate one-one-one leadership. Developing genuine and authentic relationships is a primary way to build a culture of trust.

4. Have an ethical and equitable compensation system
Economic inequality is one of the primary platforms of the Occupy protest movement. According to research done by Kevin Murphy at USC’s Marshall School of Business, in 1971 the ratio between the average CEO’s salary and that of an employee was 30.6 percent (averages of $212,230 vs. $6,540). In 2009, the last year of his research, it was 264.4 percent ($8.47 million vs. just over $32,000).

Although research has consistently shown that money is usually not a primary motivator for employees, it would be a huge mistake to discount the negative effect of unfair compensation. In a recent HBR blog article, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, make three excellent points about the importance of fair compensation.

First, compensating your employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. Second, fair compensation creates a more positive “inner work life effect” – the positive flow of emotions, thoughts, and motivators about the employee’s perception of their work. It’s confirmation of Ken Blanchard’s old saying that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.” And third, compensation is more than a paycheck. It’s a signal to employees about their value to the organization and the importance of the work they do.

If we’re willing to pay attention, we can learn several important lessons from the Occupy movement. Sharing information liberally, increasing employee involvement in decision-making, nurturing one-on-one relationships, and compensating people fairly will lead to higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement in our organizations.

Want to Build Trust? It Helps to Embarrass Yourself

Oh, those feelings of embarrassment! You feel your body start to sweat, your face turning red, and it feels as if every person in sight is staring at you while you make a buffoon of yourself.

Those embarrassing moments you experience may actually help build trust with others. A recent study by researchers at U.C. Berkeley suggests that the display of embarrassment may increase others’ perceptions of you as a trustworthy individual. Participants in this research watched videos of people describing their embarrassing moments and reported that they perceived those individuals as more generous and trustworthy compared to individuals who tried to downplay the situation and pretend they weren’t embarrassed.

I can’t say the results of this research are terribly surprising, but they do reinforce some fundamental truths about building trust.

  • Being “real” builds trust – We trust people when we perceive them as being authentic and down to earth. When people try to put on airs and pretend to be something or someone they aren’t, we immediately label them as being a fake, a phony, or a poser (pick your adjective). What’s the advice that virtually every parent gives their child who’s nervous about attending the first day of school and making new friends? “Just be yourself.” Displaying emotions of embarrassment tells others that you’re being real, that you acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation, and that you aren’t trying to be someone you’re not by pretending you’re not embarrassed.
  • Vulnerability builds trust – Being embarrassed is a moment of vulnerability when you can no longer hide behind your public persona and you’re subject to the reactions of those around you. People who try to hide their feelings of embarrassment probably have a low-level of trust in how they will be received by others in their social circle. Because of that lack of trust and unwillingness to be vulnerable, they try to hide their embarrassment so they don’t run the risk of being looked at as “less than” the people around them. Willingness to be embarrassed shows others that you are confident in your self-image and standing within the group and a few minutes of embarrassment won’t change the dynamics of your relationship.
  • Shared experiences build trust – Bonding occurs in a group of people when they all go through a common experience and embarrassing moments can serve as one of those community building events. This happened with my team a few years ago when I was given a surprise birthday gift during a team meeting. It was my 40th birthday and the team put together a PowerPoint presentation with embarrassing pictures from my childhood (courtesy of the covert help of my wife), one of which included a side-by-side comparison of my 9th grade high school photo with that of the movie character Napoleon Dynamite (there is a striking resemblance!). It was quite embarrassing and we all had a good laugh, but it brought us closer together and it lives on in the lore of our team.

So the next time one of those embarrassing moments comes along, don’t be a poser and try to pretend it didn’t happen. Embrace the moment, acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation, and use it as an opportunity to build trust and deeper relationships with those around you.

Trust Busters – The Top Five Ways Leaders Erode Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Every interaction leaders have with their followers is an opportunity to develop trust, and “trust boosters” are those behaviors we use that build trust with others while “trust busters” are those things we do that erode trust in relationships. Here are five common Trust Busters leaders commit that erode the level of trust in relationships:

1. Making promises you can’t keep – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Not following through on commitments – This trust buster is clearly linked to the first one about making promises you can’t keep, but it also goes beyond to failing to live up to even the routine or mundane commitments you’ve made. Common examples include being habitually late for meetings and appointments, rescheduling deadlines because you haven’t finished your part of the assignment, and canceling meetings without explanation. Consistency and predictability in behavior is a fundamental aspect of being a trustworthy individual. If others cannot count on you to be consistent and predictable in following through with even the simplest responsibilities, they certainly won’t trust you with the truly important ones.

3. Not being good at what you do – This may be one of the most overlooked trust busters that leaders commit. Others trust you as a leader when they know you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise that’s needed in your role, both from a technical standpoint as well as a leadership standpoint. Many of today’s leaders face the challenge of not having the specialized technical skills of the people they manage, but they can still display competence in their role by mastering the fundamentals of their particular field and relying on the advice and partnership of team members who possess that technical knowledge. Leverage the technical skills of your superstar performers and continue to improve your own leadership skills so that you can effectively manage the entire operation.

4. Spinning the truth – Being dishonest is obviously a major trust buster, but sometimes a less obvious way leaders erode trust is by spinning the truth – intentionally trying to shape someone’s understanding or perception of the facts of a particular situation. Of course leaders want to be positive in the way they deliver news to support the goals and strategies of the organization, but when they fail to acknowledge the realities of the situation, don’t engage team members in authentic dialogue to address their concerns, and blindly tow the company line, that’s when trust is eroded because team members can clearly see through the leader’s charade. When delivering news about significant changes in the organization, leaders need to address the information concerns that people have (what is the change?), their personal concerns (how does this affect me?), and implementation concerns (how is this going to work?). Be honest, forthright, and authentic with your people and you’ll gain their trust and commitment.

5. Not giving credit where credit is due – This trust buster can manifest itself in different ways. One common occurrence is taking personal credit for the accomplishments of others. When speaking about the success of your team, check your language. Do you speak more of “we” or “me?” In my experience I’ve found that leaders who think and speak in terms of “we” are more trusted and respected than those who claim success for themselves. Another way leaders bust trust in this way is being stingy with praise. Some leaders believe that in order to keep their people motivated they have to keep them on edge, and if they’re given too much praise they’ll get complacent and won’t work as hard. In my own leadership journey and through the work I’ve done with clients I’ve yet to hear any employee say they’re having problems with their boss giving them too much praise.

I’m curious if you’ve experienced other trust busters that you think should rank in the Top Five. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

A Brain, a Heart, and Courage – Three Requirements for Rebuilding Trust

What does the Wizard of Oz have to offer us when it comes to rebuilding trust? Three things: a brain, a heart, and courage.

During a recent TrustWorks! training class for a client, I was leading participants through a process of crafting an outline for holding a conversation with someone to address the state of low trust in their relationship. At one point a participant asked, “Do people really do this? I can’t imagine having a conversation with someone and saying ‘I don’t trust you.'”

That question prompted a rich discussion on the emotional courage and personal maturity it takes to address issues of low or broken trust in a relationship. As I’ve thought about courage, the image of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz keeps popping into my mind. Not to over-simplify the complex and difficult issue of rebuilding trust, I think the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion offer some insights into what it takes to address issues of trust in relationships.

Dorothy: “How can you talk if you don’t have a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don’t know…But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking…don’t they?” 

A Brain – You need to be smart about the way you approach the situation when you’re rebuilding trust. I wouldn’t recommend opening the conversation by saying “I don’t trust you.” Before engaging in a conversation, you should think through the reasons why you don’t trust someone. Ask yourself a series of “why” questions to narrow down the cause of low trust to specific behaviors. When you do have the conversation, use “I” language to take ownership of your own feelings and to lower defensiveness with the other person. Keep the conversation focused on the specific behaviors that are causing low trust rather than attacking the character of the other person. Going into a conversation to discuss trust issues without being prepared is a recipe for disaster.

Dorothy: “Goodbye Tinman. Oh, don’t cry! You’ll rust so dreadfully.”
Tinman: “Now I know I’ve got a heart ’cause it’s breaking…”

A Heart – Trust is built when you demonstrate care and concern for others. If you don’t care for the quality of your relationship with someone, it will be tough to build or rebuild trust with that person. I’m not saying it’s a requirement to have a deep, personal relationship with someone in order to have a high level of trust, but you do need to recognize and appreciate the value of the relationship, both to you and the other person. As part of your preparation to address an issue of low trust, make a list of qualities you appreciate in the other person and reasons you value your relationship. When dealing with trust issues, it’s easy to only focus on the negative aspects of the relationship and disregard all the positive things that may exist.

Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
Tinman, Scarecrow: “What’s that?”
Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”

Courage – Addressing an issue of low or broken trust can be a daunting task that requires a high degree of personal maturity and emotional courage. Courage can come in many different shapes and sizes. When speaking of this topic, Winston Churchill said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Depending on your role in the situation, you may need to muster up the courage to do the speaking, or you may need to humble yourself to do the listening. If the situation is just too sensitive for you to address on your own, seek out the help of a qualified third-party to help mediate or facilitate the discussion.

We all wish that rebuilding trust was as simple as seeing the Wizard of Oz and having him bestow on us a medal or proclamation that solves our problem. Rebuilding trust isn’t that easy, but it is possible if we courageously and intelligently approach the situation with care and concern to restore the relationship on solid ground.

Hurricane Leadership – Does your leadership style wreak havoc & destruction?

Bracing for blustery winds, searching for safe cover, and fearing damage and destruction. Is that a description of East Coast residents preparing for Hurricane Irene or does it describe the way your team members react to your leadership style?

Your style of leadership – the way you speak, act, and relate to your people – can either build or erode trust. While this is a gross oversimplification that undoubtedly leaves out many leadership styles and patterns, which of these weather conditions describes your predominant style of leadership?

The Hurricane Leader

“I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain. I’m coming on like a hurricane.”
Hells Bells ~ AC/DC 

Hurricane Leaders leave a path of destruction in their wake. Team members duck and cover when the boss approaches and hope they survive the storm without any personal damage. The company grapevine serves as an early warning system – “Watch out! The Boss is on his way!” Hurricane Leaders aren’t too concerned with employee morale, engagement, or career development. Their primary concern is whether or not the work is getting done regardless of the human cost. This type of leadership may produce short-term results, but like any hurricane, its power will diminish over time and cease to be effective.

Employees have low trust with Hurricane Leaders because their behavior is often mercurial and unpredictable. Employees are also hesitant to be vulnerable with Hurricane Leaders because they aren’t sure if the leader has their best interests in mind. Hurricane Leaders can build trust by establishing consistent patterns of behavior and dialing down their gale force winds.

The Rainy Day Leader

“That woman of mine she ain’t happy,
unless she finds something wrong and someone to blame.
If ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.”
Rainy Day Woman ~ Waylon Jennings 

Rainy Day Leaders perpetually sees the glass as half-empty. Either through ignorance, apathy, or being constantly beat-down by organizational dynamics, these leaders have surrendered their power and given up hope of a better future. People are not inspired by Rainy Day Leaders. Team members want and need a leader who sets a compelling vision of the future and rallies the team to achieve that vision.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Rosey Grier, the All-Pro NFL football player and member of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line in the 1960’s. He was speaking about his work in leadership development with inner-city youth and he made the comment that “leaders are dealers of hope, not dope.” That phrase has stuck with me and serves as a reminder that a primary role of leadership is to serve as a beacon of hope, especially during the dark and dreary rainy days.

The Sunshine Leader

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry. Sunshine on the water looks so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me high.”
Sunshine On My Shoulders ~ John Denver

Sunshine Leaders are so pie-in-the-sky optimistic about everything that team members find it hard to completely trust them. Perhaps in an effort to constantly boost team morale, Sunshine Leaders can go overboard by not making realistic assessments of difficult situations around them and just “hoping” everything works out for the best. Team members want leaders with positive outlooks, but they also want leaders who acknowledge reality, admit when conditions are bad, and work to make things better.

Sunshine leaders can build trust by surrounding themselves with trusted advisers that are given permission to “speak truth” to the leader and hold him/her accountable to addressing the unpleasant issues of leadership.

A Leader for All Seasons

“To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”
Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) ~ The Byrds

Leaders for all seasons recognize there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to leadership. The first step to being a trustworthy leader is to be true to yourself by having a deep understanding of your values, purpose, gifts, and abilities as a leader, and blending them together to create your leadership persona. People trust and follow authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and live with a clear and purposeful mission.

All Season Leaders know they have to meet each of their followers at their own level, and then partner with them to reach higher levels of performance. These leaders flexibly use different amounts of direction and support to provide the right leadership style that helps their direct reports develop the competence and commitment needed to succeed in their roles. This investment in the growth and development of your people builds trust and identifies you as a Leader for All Seasons.

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.

Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

I believe that most leaders strive to be trustworthy. There aren’t too many leaders who wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say to themselves, “Hmmm…I think I’ll try to break someone’s trust today!” Yet even in spite of our best intentions, there will be times when we damage the level of trust in our relationships. Sometimes it’s due to our own stupidity when we make choices that we know are wrong or hurtful to others. Other times we unknowingly erode trust by engaging in behaviors that others interpret as untrustworthy. Regardless of how it happens, breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. When a breach of trust occurs, there are five steps a leader should take to repair the relationship:

  1. Acknowledge that trust has been broken. As we’ve learned from the success of the twelve-step recovery process, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to healing. Don’t use the “ostrich” technique of burying your head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself because it won’t. The longer you wait to address the situation, the more people will perceive your weakness as wickedness.
  2. Admit your role in causing the breach of trust. For some leaders this may be a challenging step. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s a whole other thing to admit you caused it. Our ego and false pride are usually what prevent us from admitting our mistakes. Muster up the courage, humble yourself, and own up to your actions. This will pay huge dividends down the road as you work to rebuild trust.
  3. Apologize for what happened. A sincere apology involves admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness, and taking steps to make amends to the offended party. Explaining the reasons why something happened is fine, but don’t make excuses by trying to shift the blame to something or someone other than yourself.
  4. Assess where the breakdown in trust happened using the TrustWorks! ABCD Trust Model. Did you erode trust by not being Able, Believable, Connected, or Dependable? People form perceptions of our trustworthiness when we use, or don’t use, behaviors that align with these four elements of trust. Knowing the specific element of trust you violated will help you take specific actions to fix the problem.
  5. Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future. Your attempts at rebuilding trust will be stalled unless you take this critical step to demonstrate noticeable changes in behavior.

You can’t control the outcome of this process and there is no guarantee that following these steps will restore trust in the relationship. However, the important thing is that you have made the effort to improve yourself as a leader. You’ll be able to lay your head on the pillow at night with a clear conscience that you’ve done everything under your power to cultivate the soil for trust to once again grow and flourish.

I recommend reading Ken Blanchard’s “The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager” as an elegantly simple reminder of the power of an effective apology.

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.

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.

Three Levels of Trust – What Level Are Your Relationships?

When it comes to trust, not all relationships are at the same level. Based on the context of the given relationship – professional, personal, family, social – each one can experience a different level of trust.

There are three basic levels of trust. The first level is deterence-based trust, or what I like to call “rules-based” trust. This is the most fundamental, base level of trust in all relationships. Deterence-based trust means that there are rules in place that prevent one person from taking advantage of, or harming another person. In society we have laws that govern our behavior in personal and business settings. When we engage in business we have contracts that ensure one party can trust another to hold up their end of the bargain. In organizations we have policies and procedures that provide boundaries for how we interact and treat each other, and if we violate those rules, usually there are consequences involved.

The second level of trust is knowledge-based trust. This level of trust means that I’ve had enough experience with you and knowledge of your behavior that I have a pretty good idea of how you will react and behave in relationship with me. We’ve had enough interactions over time where there has been a consistent display of trustworthy behavior that I believe I can trust you with the everyday type issues we experience together. This is the level of trust that most of our day-to-day professional relationships experience.

The third and most intimate level of trust we experience in relationships is called identity-based trust. This level of trust means that you know my hopes, dreams, goals, ambitions, fears, and doubts. I trust you at this level because over the course of time I have increased my level of transparency and vulnerability with you and you haven’t taken advantage of me. You’ve proven yourself to be loyal, understanding, and accepting.

Identity-based trust isn’t appropriate for every relationship. This level of trust is usually reserved for the most important people in our lives such as our spouse, children, family, and close friends. Yet with the proper boundaries in place, this level of trust can unlock higher levels of productivity, creativity, and performance in organizations. Imagine an organizational culture where we operated freely without concerns of being stabbed in the back by power-hungry colleagues looking to move higher on the corporate ladder. Imagine less gossiping, backbiting, or dirty politics being played because we knew each other’s hopes and dreams and worked to encourage their development rather than always having a me-first attitude.

Take a moment to examine the level of trust in your most important relationships. What level are you at with each one and how can you develop deeper levels of trust?

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