Leading with Trust

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.

Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust: Lessons From College Football Conference Realignment

This past week the landscape of college football conference membership shifted again when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced that they would be leaving the Big East to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The universities issued statements discussing academics, geographical relationships, and peer institutions as reasons for the switch, but everyone knows the motivation is money. Syracuse and Pitt believe they can make more money playing in the ACC than in the Big East.

Earlier this month Texas A&M announced they would leave the Big 12 conference in 2012 to seek a new conference affiliation, preferably with the SEC. In announcing this decision, university President, R. Bowen Loftin, said it was “in the best interest of Texas A&M” and that they were “seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M.” (Translation: We’re tired of playing in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns and we think we can make more money in a different conference.) The combination of Texas A&M’s decision, and the news this week about Pitt and Syracuse, caused Oklahoma to start shopping itself to other conferences as well. Oklahoma and the other Big 12 schools are envious of Texas’ move to create their own Longhorn TV network and keep most of the money for themselves. David Boren, President of OU, was quoted as saying that Oklahoma wouldn’t stay in the Big 12 and just be a “wallflower.” No ego in that statement.

Of course, conference realignment isn’t anything new. It’s happened over the years to varying degrees, but these recent developments clearly point out the hypocritical nature of college athletics. University Presidents and Chancellors can talk all they want about the student-athlete experience and academic integrity, yet it’s clear that each school is out to get the biggest piece possible of the multi-billion dollar pie. Former Big East Commissioner, Mike Tranghese, stated in an interview this week that he believes these decisions are clearly motivated by greed, money, and display an extreme lack of honor and loyalty by the leaders of these schools.

I considered Tranghese’s words in relation to leadership in general and the effects that greed, ego, and a lack of loyalty have on trust.

Greed is the excessive desire to possess wealth or goods. Although we most commonly associate greed with money, in the organizational leadership context I think greed rears its ugly head when we strive for excessive power, position, or authority. Power, position, and authority are amoral; there is nothing right, wrong, good, or bad about them in and of themselves. In the hands of an authentic and virtuous leader, power, position, and authority are tools for doing more good for their followers and the organization. In the hands of a self-serving leader, they can become objects of worship. People will not have high levels of trust with leaders who are greedy because they know that those leaders value fulfilling their selfish needs more than they value serving their followers.

Ego is the shadow side of leadership. Being in a position of power and authority can be a heady thing. You often have access to privileges and opportunities not afforded to others and over the course of time you begin to think you’re entitled to these benefits, rather than recognizing them for the gifts that they are. The opposite of being an egotistical leader is being a leader of humility. Ken Blanchard likes to say that being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. Humble leaders tend to have a stewardship approach to leadership. They understand that their position of leadership is something that they’ve been entrusted with to use to the best of their ability, not as a right that has been given to them to use as they please.

Loyalty is a primary characteristic of trustworthy leaders. Why is that? It’s because loyal leaders are predictable and consistent in their behavior and that creates a level of security and trust with followers. Trustworthy leaders display loyalty when they assume best intentions of others, don’t automatically place blame when mistakes are made, and advocate for the best interests of their followers. Being loyal doesn’t mean turning a blind-eye to bad performance or troubling situations; that’s negligence. Loyal leaders are committed to helping their people and organizations realize higher levels of performance and success.

As you would expect, the university leaders of these college football powerhouses are smart people. They definitely have this equation down pat: Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust.

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.

Leading in the Post-9/11 World – It Begins with the ABCD’s of Trust

In the ten years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, trust has taken a hit. The mental and emotional effects of living in a world of suspicion and wariness, combined with global economic meltdowns fueled in part by faulty and unethical leadership practices, has left many people in a perpetual state of distrust with leaders in government, business, and organizations of all shapes and sizes.

The restoration of confidence and faith in leadership begins with trust. Trust is the foundation of all successful and healthy relationships, and without it, the very fabric of our society begins to fray. Trust is what allows for commerce among nations, business between organizations and individuals, and cooperation among community members.

We don’t often pause to think about the elemental nature of trust, yet it drives most of our basic interactions with each other. Driving on the road requires we trust each other to stay in our lane of traffic, obey traffic rules, and operate our cars in a safe manner. When doing business with each other we trust that we’re paying a fair price in exchange for a quality product or service. We trust that the doctor, attorney, plumber, auto-mechanic, or business consultant is skilled in their particular field and operates honestly and ethically and won’t take advantage of us. Trust or the lack thereof, is the basis of the quality and nature of our relationships.

So how can we lead with trust? I think it starts with the ABCD’s of how leaders build and maintain trust. Leaders are trustworthy when they are:

Able – Leaders build trust when they demonstrate competence. People trust you when you have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to competently lead in your chosen role or profession. Able leaders produce results by using strong problem-solving and decision-making skills that allow them to set and achieve goals that produce a track record of success. People don’t trust incompetent leaders, no matter how lovable or respected they may be.

Believable – Leaders are believable when they act with integrity. Behaving in an honest and ethical manner, admitting your mistakes, and “walking your talk” are key ways that leaders build trust. Treating people ethically and equitably through fair policies and not playing favorites builds trust and confidence in a leader’s character to do the right thing.

Connected – Trusted leaders connect with their followers on a personal level. They use good communication skills to establish rapport and they take the time to appreciate and recognize the good work of others. Connected leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. They understand that every person has a story – their life experiences, hopes, dreams, and fears – and they make that personal connection that lets their followers know they are valued and respected.

Dependable – Being reliable and dependable builds trust. Following through on commitments, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking accountability for your actions (and those you lead) is all part of being a dependable leader. Dependable leaders have an organized system that allows them to follow-through and meet deadlines, and they are timely in responding to others and don’t drag their feet when making decisions.

We are in desperate need for a new leadership model in the post-9/11 world, a model where leaders operate at a higher level, strive for the common good, and maintain trust with those they lead. Learn the language of trust – the ABCD’s – and start building trust today!

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.

Got Ethics? Three Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed – 57% of more than 600 attendees in a recent webinar I conducted cited this as the most influential leadership behavior that builds trust. Making ethical decisions is a key component of being an honest and trusted leader, yet many of us don’t have a defined process or rubric for handling ethical dilemmas.


A simple, yet powerful process that I’ve relied upon is one that I learned from Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale in their book The Power of Ethical Management. Blanchard and Peale suggest that leaders ask the following three questions when making a decision about an ethical problem:

  1. Is it legal? The purpose of this question is to get you to look at existing standards. The legality of the decision should be examined not just from the civil law perspective, but also in regards to company policies or standards. If the answer to this first question is “no,” there isn’t much need to ask the following two. If your organization doesn’t have an ethics policy or company values that outline the behaviors desired by team members, check out a recent article from my friend and colleague, Chris Edmonds, that will help you get started.
  2. Is it balanced? The purpose of this question is to activate your sense of fairness and rationality. Will the decision be fair or will it heavily favor one party over another, in the both the short and long-term? Decisions that produce big winners, at the expense of making others big losers, often come back to haunt individuals and organizations. It’s not always possible to make decisions where everybody wins, but leaders should strive to avoid major imbalances over the course of their relationships.
  3. How will it make me feel about myself? This last question gets you to focus on your own emotions, standards, and sense of morality. How would you feel if what you were considering doing was published on the front page of your local newspaper or CNN.com? Would it make you and your family proud or embarrassed? If you’re losing sleep over the situation, it’s probably an indication that your conscience is wrestling with the decision and its alignment with your personal values. As John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

Constant use of these three questions as an ‘ethics check’ can help guide you into a pattern of ‘right’ behavior that can become habit-forming and put you on the path to being an ethical and trusted leader.

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences in handling ethical dilemmas. Have you used this ‘ethics check’ process? Please leave a comment below.

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.

Are You Playing Fair? You better be, because your people are keeping score

Coaching a bunch of energetic 5-6 year old kids in tee-ball is really just controlled chaos. Tee-ball is normally the introduction to baseball that children experience at age 5-6, and generally speaking, most leagues don’t keep an official score for tee-ball games. The purpose isn’t to win, it’s to teach the fundamental skills and rules of baseball. Notice that I said the leagues don’t keep an official score. I remember many occasions while coaching tee-ball that kids in the dugout would be tallying up the score to see who was winning and losing!

Fast forward 20 years or so to the workplace and we find that not much has changed. Adults are still keeping score, only now it’s about who received the new project, promotion, or corner office. And as soon as someone perceives that the leader made an unjust decision, the first thing we hear is exactly what five-year old tee-ballers say when they think another player has violated the rules: “That’s not fair!”

Leaders aiming to build trust in relationships need to pay particular attention to the issue of fairness. “No problem,” you may say, “I treat everyone the same, no matter what.” Actually, that can be one of the most unfair things you do! A quote from Aristotle speaks to this: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” People should be treated equitably and ethically, given their individual needs and circumstances, and the differences between people should be recognized and valued, not diminished.

In order to build and maintain trust with followers, leaders need to exhibit fairness through the distribution of organizational resources and application of policies to all team members. It’s helpful to understand exactly what “fairness” means in an organizational context. Fairness is composed of two main elements: distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is fairness in the organization’s pay, rewards, and benefits for employees. Procedural justice is fairness in the organization’s decision-making processes of how those rewards and benefits are doled out. Of the two, procedural justice is the element most under control of individual leaders and is the aspect of fairness most closely linked with building or eroding trust with followers.

According to the results of a survey published in the July/August issue of Training Magazine conducted by a team of researches from The Ken Blanchard Companies, procedural justice was ranked as the most important organizational factor for employee retention. Additionally, over 60% of respondents believed the primary responsibility for influencing and improving procedural justice rested with their immediate supervisor.

So how can leaders be fair and build trust with their team members? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be transparent – Share information about the criteria and process that you use to make decisions. Putting all your cards on the table eliminates doubt and mistrust.
  • Increase involvement in decision-making – As much as possible, involve the people who will be affected by your decisions in the process. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
  • Play by the rules – Clearly establish the rules, play by them, and hold others and yourself accountable to following them.
  • Listen with the idea of being influenced – Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know it all. Ask others for their input and genuinely listen with an open mind and be willing to change course if needed.
  • Don’t play favorites – No one likes a teacher’s pet so don’t create one. That will eliminate a key source of jealousy.
  • Save spin for the gym, not the office – Be authentic and genuine in your communications. People see through the political spin.
Remember, your people are keeping score of your every behavior. Play fair!

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.

Four Leadership Practices to Build a Culture of Trust and Openness

In today’s fast-paced, globally-connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness. Here are four suggested leadership practices to help in this regard:

  1. Encourage risk taking – Leaders need to take the first step in extending trust to those they lead. Through their words and actions, leaders can send the message that appropriate and thoughtful risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. When people feel trusted and secure in their contributions to the organization, they don’t waste energy engaging in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior and are willing to risk failure. The willingness to take risks is the genesis of creativity and innovation, without which organizations today will die on the vine. Creating a culture of risk taking will only be possible when practice #2 is in place.
  2. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – Imagine that you’re an average golfer (like me!) who decides to take lessons to improve your game. After spending some time on the practice range, your instructor takes you on the course for some live action and you attempt a high-risk/high-reward shot. You flub the shot and your instructor goes beserk on you. “How stupid can you be!” he shouts. “What were you thinking? That was one of the worst shots I’ve seen in my life!” Not exactly the kind of leadership that encourages you to take further risks, is it? Contrast that with a response of “So what do you think went wrong? What will you do differently next time?” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, characterizes these incidents as “learning moments,” where planning and execution come together, a result is produced, and we incorporate what we learned into our future work.
  3. Transparency in processes and decision making – Leaders can create a culture of trust and openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making critieria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organizational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. On an individual basis, it’s important for us leaders to remember that our people want to know our values, beliefs, and what motivates our decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.”
  4. Information is shared openly – In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and mis-information which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.

Please take a moment to participate in the Leading with Trust poll that appears below. I’d like to hear your feedback on whether or not these four leadership practices are present in your organization and I’ll share the results in a future article.

Do You Have Truth Decay?

Winston Churchill once pointed out that people occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. The great American author and humorist, Mark Twain, opined that many people must regard truth as their most valuable possession since they were very economical in its use. His advice was simply, “Always do right.”  Truth decay is the gradual erosion of honesty and integrity in a relationship, and if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can result in a complete loss of trust. Here are four warning signs of truth decay and suggestions for prevention and treatment.

  1. Withholding information – This causes suspicion in the leader, a lack of empowerment in the followers, and wasted time and energy as people try to manage the business without all the right information at their disposal. People without information are incapable of acting responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly. Share information about yourself and the organization openly and in the appropriate formats and forums, and set the expectations of how the information should be used. Trust your folks to do the right thing.
  2. Not “walking the talk” – When leaders say one thing yet do another, followers quickly learn that the leader can’t be trusted. Leaders can not underestimate the power of leading by example. Get clear on what values are most important to you as a leader, communicate those to your team, and give them permission to hold you accountable to living those out.
  3. Dropping balls – Not following through on commitments is a leading contributor to truth decay. Make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t commit to do something unless you know you can follow-through. It can be tempting for leaders to think they have to say “yes” to everything, but if you don’t follow through on your commitments, then people begin to doubt that you are a person of your word. As the Scripture advises us “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’, ‘No.'”
  4. Gossiping – When you engage in gossip or talk disparagingly about a colleague behind their back, you demonstrate a lack of care and respect for others. Your followers observe this behavior and begin to wonder to themselves “If my leader treats others this way, is he/she doing the same to me when I’m not around?” Remember, one of your most precious assets as a leader and colleague is your reputation and good name.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis has noted, “So much lip service is paid to the issue of business ethics; but how do you in fact build an organization distinguished by tangible integrity, moral vision, and transparency? The key is a commitment on the part of the corporate leader to establish a culture of candor in which followers feel free to speak the truth to power, and leaders are bold enough to hear such truth and act on it.”

As leaders we are responsible for setting the example of ethical behavior for our team, and if we pay attention to the warning signs of truth decay and take actions to prevent its spread, we will build a culture of high trust, engagement, and productivity.

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