Leading with Trust

4 Principles for Building Trust in a VUCA World

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity…over the last several years, the term VUCA has gained momentum in everyday life as a way to describe the fast-changing, chaotic, and unpredictable global environment in which we live and do business. Everywhere you look in leadership circles it’s VUCA this or VUCA that. A recent internet search on “VUCA leadership” returned over 347,000 references! It’s clearly a dynamic that leaders must manage in today’s world.

When faced with complex issues or situations, a leader’s job is to simplify things down to a reasonable level that allows people to understand what’s going on and to act in ways that create positive, forward progress; not get stymied or stuck in complexity. Unpredictability and chaos breed distrust, so just by living in a VUCA world, distrust has the power to run rampant. It’s imperative for leaders to understand what VUCA means and how to nurture trust with their followers amidst change.

But what exactly is VUCA? And whatever it is, how can a leader build and maintain trust in a world that seemingly can change overnight?

In a recent Forbes article, author Jeroen Kraaijenbrink provides a helpful definition of VUCA. When you understand the individual components and their relationships to each other, it’s easier to know how to lead in such an environment. Within each VUCA element, I believe there are four principles leaders can apply to build trust with their teams and organizations.

Volatility has to do with the speed of change. A tweet from a world leader can set a new wave of change into motion. New markets emerge overnight, or business models appear out of nowhere that put other organizations out of business in a snap of a finger. The more volatility there is in the world, the faster things change. The trust-building antidote to volatility is for leaders to be reliable and consistent in how they respond to change. Freaking out, making rash decisions, or retreating into a shell to resist change will further erode trust in leadership. Steady, thoughtful, and predictable leadership builds trust. As my fellow trust activist Stephen M.R. Covey points out in his book The Speed of Trust, when trust is high, teams and organizations can move faster and adapt to change easier.

Uncertainty is the extent to which we can reasonably predict the future. With change happening so fast, this is a tremendous challenge for 21st century leaders. The trust-building corollary is to emphasize what is known and to keep teams focused on things under their control. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, leaders need to extend trust in times of uncertainty. Trust requires risk. If there’s no risk, there’s no need for trust, and risk and uncertainty are brothers in crime. Leaders must resist the urge to control and play their cards close to the vest. Control is the opposite of trust, so if leaders resort to controlling behaviors like micromanaging or withholding information during times of uncertainty, they’ll further erode trust with their teams and kill their ability to thrive during change.

Complexity is the number and variety of factors a leader must consider and their relationships with one another. Often, a leader’s challenge is not having enough information to make a decision, but having too much information. We are overwhelmed with data, and many times it is too vague or inaccurate to breed a sense of confidence. When dealing with complexity, a leader builds trust by leveraging the skills and abilities of team members. They involve others in solving problems, bringing their best and brightest to the table to help figure out these complex issues. Trustworthy leaders share information liberally and foster a culture of transparency, because they believe that people cannot act responsibly if they don’t have the right information. High-trust leaders know that the answers to their most frequent business challenges often lie with the front-line people who deal with them every day. To build trust, ask questions, listen to learn, and incorporate your people’s ideas into decisions. A good team axiom is no one of us is as smart as all of us.

Ambiguity refers to the lack of clarity about how to interpret something. Information may be incomplete, the truth may be indiscernible, or the data may be contradictory. Fuzziness, vagueness, and indecisiveness reign in times of ambiguity. To build trust, leaders must be clear on the vision and purpose of the organization. Proverbs 29:18 shares the ancient wisdom that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” When your team has a clear vision of where they’re headed, they can cut through the noise, confusion, and distractions swirling around them. The leader’s job is not just to articulate a clear vision, but also to equip team members with the necessary mindset and skillset to achieve the vision.

I believe that high-trust leaders are uniquely positioned to successfully navigate their teams through the waters of VUCA. People are craving leaders of integrity and truth. They are searching for anchors of confidence and hope during turbulent times. Leaders who act in trustworthy ways build trust with their teams and gain their commitment and loyalty. That is what’s needed to survive and thrive in a VUCA world.

5 Ways Servant Leaders Stand Out From The Crowd

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a scientist running a grand experiment on leadership. Your laboratory is an organization with hundreds of leaders at varying levels, and with technology, you can watch and listen to them 24-hours a day over an extend period of time. Sort of like the TV show Big Brother, except corporate style (and minus all the drama-filled antics). Essentially you get to observe the species Homo Sapiens Laederes in their native environment.

Your quest is to learn the behaviors that make servant leaders stand out from the crowd. In a noisy world where a few celebrity leaders grab the headlines, and everyone tries to copy-cat their way to becoming an overnight leadership success, servant leadership has withstood the test of time as a tried and true approach to effectively leading people and organizations. You would observe at least five key ways servant leaders are different from their counterparts.

Servant leaders…

  1. Listen more than they talk—A servant leader is much more interested in hearing the viewpoints of others than having their voice be the loudest in the room. Make no mistake, servant leaders clearly articulate their point of view and cast a vision for the organization, but they do so after they’ve spent plenty of time hearing from others, incorporating their ideas, and enlisting others in their cause. As Larry Spears observed in the book Servant Leadership in Action, listening is one of ten key characteristics of a servant leader. Listening involves paying attention to what is said and not said, identifying the will of the group, listening to the leader’s own inner voice, and coalescing that input into a clear plan of action.
  2. Say we more than meWhen servant leaders do talk, they focus the attention on their team by speaking in the collective we, rather than the personal me. Servant leaders know that leadership isn’t about them; it’s about others. Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant leader movement, said the motive of a servant leader is to serve first, and out of that desire to serve rises a conscious decision to lead. Servant leaders are driven to improve the welfare, contribution, and autonomy of others, not to garner fame, attention, or status for themselves. Their focus is on we, not me.
  3. Flex their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers—Since servant leadership is about doing what’s best for others and helping them to realize their full potential, servant leaders adapt their leadership style to provide the right amount of direction and support their followers need. There is no one best leadership style. If someone is new to a task, the leader provides higher levels of direction to teach the how, what, where, when, and why. If the follower has a moderate level of competence but is unsure of himself, the servant leader uses a supportive style to build the follower’s confidence and help him problem solve. Servant leaders understand their followers have varying levels of competence and commitment on their tasks or goals so they adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to shine the light on others—As you observe leaders in this mythical experiment, you’d notice that servant leaders make an intentional effort to give people the chance to be in the spotlight and to praise them for their accomplishments. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit; they care about helping people and the organization succeed. 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.” It’s a virtuous process that servant leaders look to perpetuate.
  5. Treat failures as learning moments—Failure is inevitable; learning is optional (click to tweet). Servant leaders view failure as an invaluable teaching tool, and rather than punish or demean people for making a mistake, they turn it into a positive and make it a learning moment. This is possible because servant leaders have a high level of trust with their followers. When people are trusted, they aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new. They know that if they fail, their leader will partner with them to use the opportunity to grow, learn, and do better next time. My friend and fellow servant leader, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, embodies this philosophy. He believes that creating a culture of learning has been one of the pillars of WD-40’s success, an organization with 93% employee engagement.

Although it would be cool to take part in this kind of mad scientist experiment, it really isn’t necessary. Research about the effectiveness of servant leadership is plentiful and the traits of a servant leader are common sense, albeit not common practice. If you look around and see people engaging in these five behaviors and others like them, chances are they’re servant leaders who are bringing out the best in their people and organizations.

Confronting Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come on, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receive coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Pause and Take Notice

I have to admit, it’s easy for me not to notice. I get focused on my own goals and priorities and everything else around me seems to fade from view. That focused attention is a good thing when I need to meet a deadline or accomplish an important task, but when it comes to leading people, it’s a deadly mistake. I can get so wrapped up in my own agenda that I neglect to notice the needs of my team members.

I know I’m not alone here. Many people fall into the same trap because they think that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Make decisions, be in lots of meetings, and wear our busyness like a badge of courage. Let me be the first to break the news to you—that’s not how you should lead. Great leaders make time for their people because they know a leader’s best ability is availability. (click to tweet)

You may not think being a good “noticer” is important but I’d argue otherwise. I think it’s one of the top priorities for leaders because it makes you other-focused rather than self-focused.

Being a good noticer builds morale. Being valued, understood, and appreciated is a basic human need, but unfortunately, too many leaders forget their people are actually human. They view people as utilitarian resources performing a specific job function and treat them as interchangeable parts. But taking time to notice people lifts their spirits. A well-timed praising, note of thanks, or even just a personal conversation can turn around a person’s day.

Noticing people also builds trust. It shows your people that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers showing up to do a job. Everyone has a story and good leaders take the time to learn the stories of their team members. I’m not talking about hugging everyone and singing Kumbaya, but simply building relationships. Asking about their kids, getting their input on new ideas, or eating lunch in the break room with your team members every once in a while. With the trust of your team you can reach new heights, but without it you’re dead in the water.

Finally, noticing others keeps your leadership on course because you’re in tune with the needs of your team. The higher up leaders move in the organization the easier it is to get disconnected from the realities of life on the front line. Being a good noticer means you have to stay engaged with your team. It means you are familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of what your team has to deal with daily. That allows you to make leadership decisions based on what’s really going on versus what you think is going on.

So I challenge you to make a commitment this week. Take 5 minutes each day to pause, consider your team, and notice what’s going on around you. If you see a person doing a good job, tell him/her so. If you see someone struggling, ask if they need help. If one of your team members seems downcast, ask if they’d like to talk. It’s not that hard; it just takes a little time and effort.

Feel free to leave a comment this week to let me know what you noticed.

Just OK is not OK When it Comes to Being Trustworthy

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

You may have seen any number of AT&T’s “just OK is not OK” series of commercials touting their wireless network. Well, I’m a fan of creative and funny TV commercials, and the first time I saw one of these I immediately saw the connection to trust. 

People form perceptions of our trustworthiness based on our behavior. Acting in trustworthy ways creates the condition of trust in our relationships. When you look at what makes people trustworthy, you find they are:

Able: Being able is about demonstrating competence. Able people have the expertise, training, and qualifications to perform well in their roles. They also have a track record of success as they demonstrate the ability to consistently achieve goals. Able people are skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable: A believable person acts with integrity by dealing with others in an honest fashion; e.g., keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, not gossiping, etc. Believable people have a clear set of values. They communicate these values to others and use them consistently as a model for their behavior: they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably is a key characteristic of a believable person.

Connected: Connected people show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps create an engaging work environment. People can create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and by trusting others to use that information responsibly. Connected people also build trust by having a people-first mentality and building rapport with others. Taking an interest in people as individuals, not nameless workers, shows that these people value and respect their colleagues.

Dependable: Being dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways people erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, those who do what they say they are going to do earn a reputation of being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires people to be organized so that they can follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable people also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for their work.

Growing in trustworthiness is a journey, not a destination. You never reach the point where you can say you are fully trustworthy. Trust in relationships is a living organism, constantly interacting with and adjusting to the dynamics of the situation and individuals involved. In order for trust to flourish, it’s important to behave in ways that demonstrate you are able, believable, connected, and dependable.

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

Want a Culture of Trust and Engagement? Get Back to Human

Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?

Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.

In his newest book, Back to Human—How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel details how technology is isolating us at work, and he provides a road map for how we can develop more human-focused workplaces by fostering connected relationships on a personal, team, and organizational level.

In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.

Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.

Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.

Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.

Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.

Research Shows These Are The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

In their academic paper Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified, five of which were agreed upon by all of the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

  1. Valuing People. Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. Servant leaders are committed first and foremost to people—particularly, their followers.
  2. Humility. Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them—things are accomplished through others.
  3. Listening. Servant leaders listen receptively and non-judgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand, and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.
  4. Trust. Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. Servant leaders are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.
  5. Caring. Servant leaders have people and purpose in their heart. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of servant leadership executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Topping the list was empathy, closely followed by selflessness and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were being authentic, caring, collaborative, compassionate, honest, open-minded, patient, and self-aware.

Both lists can serve as good starting points for HR and L&D executives looking to bring an others-focused culture into their organizations. What’s been your experience?  Feel free to enter additional characteristics of a servant leader in the comments section below.


Interested in learning more about bringing servant leadership principles into your organization? Join us for a free webinar on November 15!

Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of Brilliance By Design, will conduct a presentation for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on 3 Keys to Building a Servant Leadership Curriculum.

In this enlightening webinar, Dr. Halsey will connect servant leadership characteristics to competencies and share best practices on how to design a comprehensive curriculum for your organization. You can learn more here. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This article was written by my colleague David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

50 Practical Ways to Build Psychological Safety in Your Team

Last week I wrote about the five factors that foster psychological safety in organizations and why it’s important to be a safe leader. Creating an environment of trust and safety where team members feel secure in being vulnerable and taking risks can seem like an overwhelming task. How does one actually going about doing that?

A safe and trusting team culture is the result of a series of decisions and actions that build upon each other. The behaviors and strategies used to build psychological safety aren’t rocket science, but they require a leader’s commitment, focus, and energy. Here’s a list of fifty practical ways you can build a team culture of trust and safety:

  1. Ask, “What can I do to help?”
  2. Say, “I trust your decision.”
  3. Ask, “What can I do differently?”
  4. Ask, “What do you think is the best course of action?”
  5. Admit your mistakes.
  6. Treat mistakes as learning moments.
  7. Don’t treat everyone the same.
  8. Put employees ahead of customers.
  9. Promote learning opportunities.
  10. Be securely vulnerable.
  11. Follow the Platinum Rule – Treat others the way they want to be treated
  12. Welcome curiosity.
  13. Promote healthy conflict.
  14. Give employees a voice.
  15. Extend trust.
  16. Be trustworthy.
  17. Promote effectiveness, not efficiency.
  18. Encourage creativity in problem solving.
  19. Establish accountability with clear expectations.
  20. Share your intent.
  21. Be present; don’t multitask.
  22. Control your temper.
  23. Build rapport.
  24. Tell the truth.
  25. Follow through on commitments.
  26. Walk the talk.
  27. Solicit feedback from others.
  28. Use the feedback from others when making decisions.
  29. Listen without interrupting.
  30. Take responsibility for your actions.
  31. Share your expertise with others.
  32. Be a mentor.
  33. Keep confidences.
  34. Recognize and reward good behavior.
  35. Don’t bend the rules.
  36. Avoid gossip.
  37. Speak positively about others and the organization.
  38. Address behavior not in alignment with organizational values.
  39. Show care, concern, and compassion for others.
  40. Put others’ needs ahead of your own.
  41. Share information about yourself and the organization.
  42. Establish clear norms for your team.
  43. Develop and implement a clear decision-making process.
  44. Encourage responsible risk-taking.
  45. Encourage diverse points of view.
  46. Celebrate achievements and have fun.
  47. Promote autonomy and freedom.
  48. Implement health and wellness strategies.
  49. Conduct team-building activities and events.
  50. Provide training on communication, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, building trust, etc.

The 5 Causes of Psychological Safety and Why You Need to be a Safe Leader

Reflective Listening

Psychological safety sounds like a complex academic topic, doesn’t it? It’s quite simple when you boil it down to its essence.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University has pioneered the research on psychological safety. She says psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea.

When faced with these kinds of situations, we make micro-second calculations to assess the risk and likely consequences of our behavior. We make these decisions in light of the interpersonal climate we’re in, so we say to ourselves “If I do X here, will I be hurt, embarrassed, or criticized? Or will I be praised, thanked, or respected?”

Organizational Conditions for Psychological Safety

There are five areas that contribute to the establishment of a psychologically safe environment. The first is Leader Behavior. The leader is always being watched. What you say and do has a profound impact on whether your team members feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Research has shown that bad news is rarely transmitted up the hierarchy and team members are more likely to seek help from peers than their boss. But on the flip side, research has also shown that leaders who exhibit supportive managerial behaviors have positive effects on self-expression and creativity. Leaders must go out of their way to be open and use coaching-oriented behaviors. The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility.

The second area that contributes to psychological safety is Group Dynamics. The norms of a group either encourage or inhibit team member vulnerability. Are new ideas welcomed or discouraged? Are divergent opinions solicited or are they criticized? The interplay of team member roles and characters are also part of group dynamics. Have you ever noticed how people in teams tend to assume familial-type roles? You often have a father figure of a group that offers sage advice and direction. You may have team member who plays a mothering role, the favored son who can do no wrong, or even the black sheep of the team who tends to stir up trouble. The interplay of these roles has a direct impact on the level of safety within a team. Additionally, in-group and out-group dynamics and power distribution among team members influence psychological safety.Psychological Safety 5 Factors

The third area that influences psychological safety is Trust and Respect. There is significant overlap between trust and psychological safety as it relates to vulnerability. Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable based on perceptions of someone’s (or some thing’s) trustworthiness. If you don’t feel the leader or team is trustworthy, you won’t be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself at risk. Supportive and trusting relationships promote psychological safety, whereas lack of respect makes people feel judged or inferior, resulting in them keeping their opinions to themselves. Trust is at the heart of creating a safe environment.

The fourth area that contributes to psychological safety is the use of Practice Fields. Peter Senge coined this term in the 1990’s to describe one of the hallmarks of a learning organization. He made the point that unlike other fields, most businesses don’t employ practice and reflection to improve the skills of their employees. For example, what do sport teams do between games? They practice! Practice is a safe environment to learn, make mistakes, and work on skill improvement. Pilots train in simulators before flying a new aircraft. Surgeons observe, assist, and practice new procedures before leading an operation. Employing practice fields creates an environment where it is safe to learn and make mistakes without fear of being penalized.

Finally, the fifth area that contributes to psychological safety is having a Supportive Organizational Context. What does that mean? It means team members have access to resources and information to perform their best. When people have this level of freedom it reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Contrast this to being in a “need to know” environment where suspicion, tension, power, control, and territoriality are the norm. Organizations with healthy and ethical cultures of fairness and trust create the supportive mechanisms that allow people to feel safe, take risks, and innovate.

Results of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a win-win for both employees and the organization.

Safe environments allow people to seek feedback more often. Seeking feedback places a person in a position of vulnerability to hear negative criticism, however, when it is safe to do so, the sharing of feedback leads to improvements in quality and performance. Safe environments also encourage people to seek help from those who are in positions of greater power. It’s risky to ask for help from someone who judges your performance, but leaders who foster psychological safety make it easy for their team members to ask for help.

A culture of psychological safety encourages people to speak up about wrongdoing. It alleviates concerns about repercussions of calling out unethical or illegal behavior, which is critical in today’s low-trust environments of many organizations. Innovation is also a benefit of having a safe environment. Innovation is essentially about taking a risk and trying something new. It’s about offering new ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking which can’t happen if people are afraid of being judged or punished for stepping out of line. Lastly, psychologically safe environments allow team members to work more effectively across boundaries. It increases communication and coordination with other groups in the organization. It lowers the interpersonal risk of asking for help, resources, seeking feedback, or delivering bad news.

It’s vitally important for leaders to establish environments of trust and safety so their people can step out, step up, and achieve new heights of accomplishments. It begins by being a safe leader who is trustworthy, respectful, and committed to prioritizing the well-being of his/her team members over his/her self-interest. It begins by leading with trust.

25 Ways to Immediately Build Trust at Work

Most people assume that trust “just happens” in relationships. Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure that trust just naturally develops over the course of time, and the longer you’re in relationship with someone, the greater the likelihood you’ll build a strong bond of trust.

Well, if you believe that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. Trust doesn’t work that way.

Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors you use. If you use trustworthy behaviors, you’ll be trusted. If you use behaviors that erode trust, people won’t trust you. It comes down to those simple and routine behaviors you use every day at work.

If you need help building trust at work, here are 25 specific ways you can start:

  1. Follow-through on your commitments.
  2. Take a genuine interest in your colleagues.
  3. Mentor someone.
  4. Strive to be the best at what you do.
  5. Tell the truth.
  6. Don’t gossip.
  7. Keep confidences.
  8. Listen well.
  9. Incorporate the ideas of others.
  10. Praise people for a job well done.
  11. Be responsive to requests.
  12. Under-promise and over-deliver.
  13. Walk your talk.
  14. Stand up for what is right.
  15. Admit your mistakes.
  16. Apologize when necessary.
  17. Constantly build your expertise.
  18. Build rapport with others.
  19. Be inclusive and appreciate diversity.
  20. Be on time for meetings and appointments.
  21. Demonstrate strong organizational skills.
  22. Say please and thank you.
  23. Go out of your way to help others.
  24. Be receptive to feedback.
  25. Be friendly.

Of course those are just the tip of the iceberg. What other key behaviors would you recommend to build trust? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment.

Even In This Cynical World, Trust Is Worth It

You’ve been betrayed by people you trusted and it has shaken you to the core. Time and time again you’ve opened yourself to the risk of trusting, only to be disappointed repeatedly. You’re hurt and bruised; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even physically. You question if trust is worth it.

You’re trapped in a downward spiral of distrust. Doubt and suspicion permeate your relationships, causing you to keep others at arm’s length. You fall further into states of anxiety, fear, and self-protection, until the only solution you see is to build walls around yourself to keep the pain out. It works. Your walls keep the pain out, but trap the loneliness inside. You question if trust is worth it.

You know that life without trust is unfulfilling and you want more. You deserve more. The safety, strength, freedom, joy, and happiness that comes with trust is waiting for you, so you resolve to try again. Baby steps perhaps, but you will start again. You believe that trust is worth it.

3 Words That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership

Hemingway Quote - Trust Someone“I trust you.”

When it comes to building trust in relationships, someone has to make the first move. One person has to be willing to step out, be a little vulnerable, and place trust in another person. Is it risky? Yes! Without risk there isn’t a need for trust.

So in a work setting, who makes the first move, the leader or the follower? Some would argue that trust has to be earned before it is given, so that places the responsibility on the follower to make the first move. The follower needs to demonstrate trustworthiness over a period of time through consistent behavior, and as time goes by, the leader extends more and more trust to the follower. Makes sense and is certainly valid.

I would argue it’s the leader’s responsibility to make the first move. It’s incumbent upon the leader to extend, build, and sustain trust with his/her followers. Why? It’s the leader’s job to create followership. It’s not the follower’s responsibility to create leadership. In order to create followership—influencing a group of people to work toward achieving the goals of the team, department, organization—trust is an absolute essential ingredient, and establishing, nurturing, and sustaining it has to be a top leadership priority.

When you make the first move and say “I trust you,” through word and deed, you accomplish the following:

  • You empower your people — Being trusted frees people to take responsibility and ownership of their work. Trust and control are opposites of each other. We don’t trust others because we want to remain in control, which results in over-supervising or micromanaging employees and crushing their initiative and motivation. Extending trust means letting go of control and transferring power to others.
  • You encourage innovation — When employees feel trusted they are more willing to take risks, explore new ideas, and look for creative solutions to problems. Conversely, employees that don’t feel trusted will do the minimum amount of work to get by and engage in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior to avoid catching heat from the boss.
  • You tap into discretionary effort — Trust is the lever that allows leaders to tap into the discretionary effort of their people. People who feel trusted will go the extra mile to do a good job because they don’t want to let down the boss or organization. Being trusted instills a sense of responsibility and pride in people and it fuels their efforts to succeed.
  • You free yourself to focus in other areas — What happens when you don’t trust your people? You end up doing all the work yourself. Leadership is about developing other people to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Does it take time? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Develop and build trust with your team so that you can spend time on the critical leadership tasks that are on your plate.

Let me make an important point—I’m not suggesting that leaders extend trust blindly. It’s foolish to give complete trust to someone who isn’t competent or hasn’t displayed the integrity to be trusted. I’m talking about extending appropriate levels of trust based on the unique requirements and conditions of the relationship. Leaders have to use sound judgement in regards to the amount of trust they extend and it usually begins with small amounts of trust and grows over time as the person proves to be trustworthy. But the point is, someone has to make the first move to extend trust in a relationship.

Leaders—It’s your move.

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