Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote
Now, more than ever, people need leaders to step up and lead from the heart.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down, and people are looking to their leaders for direction on how to move forward when it seems like life has ground to a halt. Sheltering in place and social distancing may be effective strategies for slowing the spread of coronavirus, but they can be recipes for disaster by creating isolation, fear, and loneliness. Millions of workers have been told to work remotely, often with little training on how to do so effectively. That leads to a loss of productivity, frustration, low morale, and disengagement.
In order to be fully engaged and bring our best selves to work, there are four basic human needs that must be met. Meeting these needs has become even more critically important during this time of uncertainty and change, and if we lose sight of them, we run the risk of losing our best people.
In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.
The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.
The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.
The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.
These four needs – trust, hope, sense of worth, and competence – aren’t just needed during the coronavirus lockdown. They’re needed each and every day. Unfortunately, too many people show up to work each day and check their expectation for these needs at the door. They don’t think of work as a place where they should experience fulfillment. Isn’t that sad? If there is one good thing to come out of this global pandemic, I hope it’s the renewed focus that leaders have on the value of their people. Most business leaders spout the cliche that “people are our most valuable asset.” Well, now is the time to put the money where your mouth is. What are you doing to meet these basic human needs of employees during this unprecedented time?
The desire to contain the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus has led many organizations to require their employees to work from home. For some, working virtually isn’t a big change. Many workers are already accustomed to working remotely on an intermittent or regular basis. It’s been reported that 43% of Americans work from home occasionally and at least 5.2% (8 million people) work from home full-time.
However, there’s a big difference between occasionally working from your kitchen table and setting up shop in your home for an extended period of time (or permanently).
Before you pull the trigger on sending your team members home to work virtually, I suggest you formulate a thoughtful strategy. Having led and been a part of virtual teams for many years, I can testify that working from home is not a panacea. It has its advantages compared to life in a cubicle, but it has its own unique challenges as well.
Incorporate these four areas in your strategy to have team members work virtually:
Clarity—Your team needs clear direction about the expectations and responsibilities of working remotely. Questions or topics to address include: Will team members be expected to maintain specific “office” hours? Does there need to be a different process for securing a backup if someone needs to be away from their desk or has a personal appointment? What technology platforms will you use, and when, to replace face-to-face meetings? If webcams are required for meetings, will be people be allowed to opt-out because they’re having a “bad hair day” (when, likely, they just didn’t feel like changing out of their pajamas)? Are there norms established that govern how the team makes decisions, communicates, and collaborates? Don’t assume the implicit expectations of a few team members working from home occasionally are explicitly known by everyone and that they apply to having the entire team function virtually.
Communication—Effective communication is the key to working successfully in a virtual team and of primary importance is establishing trust among team members. Trust is built through interpersonal interactions, and unfortunately, working virtually reduces the amount of interpersonal connection we experience compared to working in the office. We lose the random encounters in the hallway, break room, or at the water cooler that are so important in fostering personal connection. We also lose the visual cues provided by body language that place a person’s communications in context. The reliance upon email and IM in the virtual world easily leads to misinterpreting a person’s intent, usually in a negative fashion, so be proactive about using the phone and webcams to make communications more personal. Stay disciplined about holding one-on-one and team meetings to bring people together to combat loneliness and foster a sense of team identity.
Community—There are many benefits to working remotely. Included are increased productivity, a greater sense of autonomy and control over one’s work, and better work-life balance. But it comes at a cost—isolation and loneliness. Any veteran remote worker will tell you that loneliness is a frequent visitor to their home office and intentional effort is required to prevent that visitor from settling in permanently. Remote workers need to be proactive about reaching out to other team members to connect socially, even to just chit-chat for a few minutes. It’s also important for team leaders to create opportunities for team members to bond. Strategies can include having a virtual team lunch via webcam, have team members share pictures of their pets, or give virtual tours of their home offices. Shifting employees to work virtually, either temporarily in response to the coronavirus, or permanently as part of a larger strategy, requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team. Whether it’s specific training on how to lead or work in a virtual team, or general leadership and other skill-building training, remote employees should not be treated differently from office-based team members. The out of sight, out of mind pitfall often befalls virtual workers, thereby limiting their personal development and advancement opportunities. Virtual workers must advocate for themselves and need their leaders to champion their efforts in being included in the broader organizational community.
Shifting employees to working virtually requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team.
Care—Virtual workers need to take the lead in self-care if they are going to be successful over the long haul. In addition to the challenges of isolation and loneliness, virtual workers often end up working longer hours because work is ever present. It’s hard to resist the temptation of sending just one more email, writing a few more lines of code, putting the finishing touches on that critical presentation, or doing just a bit more data analysis when the glow of the laptop screen is beckoning. To combat this challenge, have a dedicated work space, preferably with a door, where you can leave work behind at the end of the day. Establish personal norms for yourself regarding work hours and breaks, just like you would have in a physical office. Establish boundaries with housemates about noise and activity levels in the house, and how household responsibilities are handled during the workday. Build routines into your schedule that allow you to connect with others and recharge your batteries. It may be going to the coffee shop in the morning, walking the dog around the block, eating lunch outside, or taking an afternoon walk at a local park. Treat working from home much the same way you’d treat working in the office. Getting dressed in office attire puts you in the mindset of being at work, and believe me, it works in your favor when you need to join an impromptu webcam meeting!
For many occupations today, work has become something you do, not somewhere you go. Requiring people to work from home in response to the coronavirus gives many organizations a chance to see that people can be just as productive, if not more so, working virtually as compared to working in the office. This is a fantastic opportunity for organizations to build trust with their employees by giving them the opportunity to work remotely, and it’s also an opportunity for employees to prove themselves trustworthy in response.
Power. The word itself evokes a reaction. What thoughts or feelings do you have when you think of power? Perhaps you picture an organizational chart where the boxes at the top are imbued with more power than those below. Maybe you imagine an iron fist, representative of a person who rules over others with absolute authority. Or perhaps the word power conjures up feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or fear, based on negative experiences you’ve had in the past. On the flip side, maybe the word power emboldens you with excitement, energy, or drive to exert your influence on people and circumstances in your life.
I recently spoke at the Training 2020 Conference & Expo on the topic of Servant Leadership. After my presentation, a participant approached me to discuss how servant leaders use power. You see, she had noticed on one of my PowerPoint slides that I had said servant leaders “seek more influence.” That seemed contradictory to her. Servant leaders seeking more power? Why?
I explained that power is a dynamic present in all of our relationships and it’s one we need to properly manage to help our relationships develop to their fullest potential. In and of itself, power is amoral; it’s neither good or bad. The way we use power is what determines its value.
But what is power? How do we get it? And once we have it, how do we keep it?
In his book, The Power Paradox: How we gain and lose influence, author and U.C. Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner, shares twenty “power principles” that range from how we earn power, how to retain it, why power can be a good thing, when we’re likely to abuse it, and the dangerous consequences of powerlessness.
Keltner defines power as the capacity to make a difference in the world, particularly by stirring others in our social networks. Focusing on the needs and desires of others is key, and four specific social practices—empathizing, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories—are ways we develop power and sustain it over time. These four keys are in alignment with the benevolent use of power in a servant leadership context.
Enduring Power Comes from a Focus on Others
1. Enduring power comes from empathy—We express empathy when we focus on what other people are feeling. We attune ourselves to their mannerisms, language, expressions, and tone of voice to gain a sense of their emotions. This promotes a sense of connection and trust with others that allows them to be vulnerable and authentic in their behavior. We can promote empathy in several practical ways: asking open-ended questions, listening actively, asking others what they would do in a given situation before offering advice, and soliciting the opinions of those in less powerful positions.
2. Enduring power comes from giving—Giving, without the expectation of receiving something in return, is a tremendous trust builder and leads to people being willing to grant you power in relationships. Keltner focuses on a particular form of giving: touch. Whether it’s politicians shaking hands, athletes high-fiving each other, or a boss giving an affirmative pat on the back, there is tremendous power in the human touch. A reassuring touch on the shoulder or warm embrace causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, a neurochemical that promotes trust, cooperation, and sharing, and also lowers blood pressure and fights the negative effects of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. The overarching principle of giving is that it’s a way of providing reward and recognition to others that promotes goodwill.
The key to enduring power is simple: Stay focused on other people. Prioritize others’ interests as much as your own. Bring the good in others to completion, and do not bring the bad in others to completion. Take delight in the delights of others, as they make a difference in the world. — Dacher Keltner
3. Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude—Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation we have for things that are given us, whether it’s an experience, a person, an opportunity, or a thing. Importantly, it’s something that has been given to us, not something we’ve attained on our own. Expressing gratitude is a way to confer esteem on others and we can do that in a number of ways: acknowledging people in public, notes or emails of affirmation, and spending time with others. Expression of gratitude spreads goodwill within a team and causes social bonding.
4. Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite—Abraham Lincoln is an excellent example of a leader who used the power of storytelling to communicate important truths and unite people in working toward a common goal. Families, sports teams, businesses, and organizations of all kinds have a history that is communicated through story. Members of these groups establish their identities and understand their role in the group based on those stories. Stories enhance the interests of others and reduces the stress of working in a group. They also help us interpret the events going on around us and shape the way we deal with the challenges we encounter. Stories bring us together and foster the sharing of power that is necessary in organizational life.
Power is often perceived in a negative light. The natural reaction of many is to associate power with Machiavellian attempts at preserving self-interest and exerting dominance over others. It doesn’t have to be that way. Servant leaders know the best use of power is in service to others, and the four principles Keltner advocates are an excellent way to develop and sustain power in a way that allows you to influence others to make a positive difference in the world.
Most people think they have a pretty good “trust radar,” knowing who’s trustworthy, but studies show we aren’t that great at discerning who to trust. We tend to trust people whom we like on a personal level as well as those who are most similar to us even if it’s to our disadvantage. One study of hospital nurses showed the majority of them sought out advice from those they personally liked even though more competent individuals were available.
I misplaced my trust in a landscaper based on a personal recommendation from a friend. The landscaper (we’ll call him John) had done excellent work for my friend. John was personable, knowledgeable, and took me to see several of his recent projects for other homeowners. I paid John a decent sum of money to start revamping my front and back yards. Stamped concrete, landscape lighting, new sod, bushes, trees, plants…the whole deal. Well, you probably know where this story is going. John started the work, got it partially completed, but then faded out of sight. After nearly a year of constant badgering and threatening legal action, I finally got a partial reimbursement of money I had advanced John and we parted ways with one-third of my project still incomplete.
That experience was many years ago before I started studying and teaching about trust. I wished I had known then what I know now. If I had, I would have asked myself these four questions before I decided to trust John.
1. Is he a person of integrity? For me, this is the first and most important question. A person of integrity is honest, has honorable values, consistently lives by those values (walks the talk), is fair in their dealings with others, and always strives to do the right thing. Assessing someone’s integrity may require you to do some digging into their past, such as obtaining references from past employers or colleagues, checking their standing with organizations like the Better Business Bureau, or searching out online reviews. The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. If the answer to this question is no, then STOP. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Save yourself the trouble and heartache of trusting someone who isn’t worthy of your trust.
The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. (click to tweet)
2. Is he competent? Competence is having the demonstrated knowledge and skills to perform a particular task. Demonstrated is a key word in this definition. You want to trust someone who has a track record of success in relation to the specific goal, task, or project. It’s easy to mistake confidence for competence. People can talk a good game and convey the sense they are capable and motivated to do the job, but have they actually done it successfully in the past? Competence is relative to the context of the situation. It would make sense to trust your CPA to prepare your tax returns but not to diagnose and treat an illness. Make sure someone has the skills to do the job.
3. Is he dependable? Ask this question to understand if the person consistently follows through on his commitments. No one is perfect and there are times we all fail to meet a deadline, but what is this person’s history with being reliable? Does he show up on time for appointments? Is he responsive? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he hold himself and/or his team accountable? Or is he unpredictable, inconsistent, or reticent to make commitments? You could answer “yes” to the other three questions, but if the person can’t be depended on to actually do the job, does it make sense to trust him?
4. Does he care about me? This question is exploring the idea of benevolence—placing the interests of another ahead of your own. Benevolent people care about the well-being of others and act in ways to promote their welfare, not harm it. If someone cares about you, they won’t seek to take advantage of you. They will be open communicators, transparent, and authentic in their dealings with you. Although demonstrating care is an important consideration in deciding to trust someone, it may not be a deal-breaker. For example, if I need to have major surgery, I’m much more interested in trusting the surgeon who is an expert in their field, has a stellar reputation and a track record of success, regardless of their bedside manner. As I mentioned earlier, we are more inclined to trust those we like even if there are warning signs they may not be the best ones given the situation. Don’t let your heart overrule your head in this situation.
Getting back to my experience with John, the landscaper. He was very competent. I saw several examples of his work and definitely trusted his expertise in being able to do the job. He also appeared to be dependable, as far as I could tell. My friend had a great experience with John and didn’t mention any issues with his reliability. John also appeared to care. We hit it off on an interpersonal level, shared similar perspectives on faith, and he was initially very communicative and responsive. However, if I would have more deeply investigated John’s integrity, I would have quickly seen several red flags: his contractor’s license was expired; he had been taken to court several times; and he no longer maintained a physical office as indicated on all his paperwork.
If I had asked these four questions before I decided to fork over a bunch of money to John for my landscape project, I would have been much happier and my wallet a little thicker. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful for the experience. Let my experience be a learning opportunity for you. Use these questions to help you make a confident and informed decision about another person’s trustworthiness.
Growing up playing sports, coaching my kids’ sports teams, and being a sports fan in general has taught me numerous lessons about life and leadership. A few that standout are the value of setting goals and working to achieve them, persevering through failure, and the importance of everyone knowing their role and working together to make the team successful.
However, the most important lesson I’ve learned about being part of a successful team, or leading one, is the need for trust. Great teams thrive on trust (click to tweet).
It doesn’t matter if it’s a sports team, a military team, a work team, or any other kind of team, the best teams have developed a high-level of trust among team members to the point that each individual knows they can count on each other to do their part. If someone is falling short or needs help, another team member will be there to fill the gap.
But how do you build that kind of trust in a team? Well, it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentional focus and effort. It also doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and shared experiences for people to bond with one another. It’s the team leader’s job to structure the team and its environment in a way that allows trust to flourish.
Here are five strategies leaders can use to build high-trust teams:
1. Hire and develop great team members—You may be asking what this has to do with trust. Well, any leader will tell you that the team is only as great as its members. Team members need to be competent in their roles and dependable in their performance if they’re going to be trusted by their fellow team members. Of course, the best option is to recruit and hire top performers, but even if you can’t afford to pay top-tier talent, you can still train and develop team members to perform their best in their specific roles. As Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great points out, it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus, but getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.
2. Teach them about trust—One of the truths about trust is that it’s based on perceptions. My perception of what constitutes a trustworthy team member is likely different from your perception. Differing perceptions among team members is why it’s critical to establish a common definition of trust. I’m a proponent of using the ABCD framework as the “language” of trust. ABCD is an acronym that describes trustworthy team members. A team member can be trusted if he is Able (demonstrates competence), Believable (acts with integrity), Connected (cares about others), and Dependable (honors commitments). Having a common language of trust allows team members to identify actions that will build trust, and to discuss low-trust actions in an objective, behaviorally focused manner.
3. Have clear roles and expectations—One of the primary ways mistrust develops in a team is a lack of focus and clarity on the team’s purpose, goals, and roles of its members. This causes team members to step on each other’s toes and question each other’s motives. It drags down their morale and productivity and fosters disengagement. High-trust teams are crystal clear on their purpose and goals, each other’s roles on the team, and how they work together to make the team a success. A team charter provides this clarity from the get-go. Whether it’s a temporary ad-hoc team or a permanent, operational team, a team charter details the purpose of the team, the roles of team members, behavioral norms of how team members relate to each other, and how they’ll make decisions. A team charter functions like banks for a river. It provides direction and boundaries for the team to operate and channels their energy toward their goals. A river without banks is just a large puddle, and without a team charter, teams flounder and their productivity wanes.
4. Create an environment of psychological safety—Psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in their 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. A safe environment cultivates trust because it allows team members to take risks and potentially fail without fear of punishment. If team members fear the consequences of being vulnerable, they will withhold their trust from others and won’t put themselves at risk to help their teammates. Team leaders set the tone when it comes to creating a safe environment. By role modeling vulnerability, authenticity, admitting their own mistakes, and treating team member errors as learning moments rather than opportunities for punishment, the leader gives permission for team members to do the same.
5. Let them experience challenges together—Part of astronaut training at NASA includes experiencing 7 to 10-day wilderness expeditions. NASA brings together a crew and puts them in an uncomfortable environment in the wilderness where they are forced to rely upon and trust one another. It’s the breeding ground for the trust they will need to have in each other when they are living and working together in space. The key variable in this exercise is dealing with and overcoming challenges together. Now, obviously, it’s not practical or possible for most organizations to send their teams on wilderness expeditions to build trust, but it is possible to structure other activities to accomplish the same purpose. Team building events like ropes courses often get a bad wrap as being gimmicky, but if done in the context of a broader, more strategic approach, can be helpful trust-builders. The key is to let team members experience challenge together, either on the job or off it, and let them work through it themselves. We do a disservice to our teams when we try to prevent or rescue them from hard times. It’s the perseverance through struggle that builds team trust and unity.
The most successful and high-performing teams are built on trust. I agree with Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team, who said in his book Leading With The Heart, “In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”
Imagine, if you will, you are in a large hotel ballroom with nearly 3,000 leaders from 115 countries representing 38 different industry sectors. You’re attending a conference to discuss the most important leadership issues of the day, and 96% of the attendees agree that one specific topic needs to be a high priority in relation to all their other business priorities. You would guess the vast majority of leaders would have a plan in place to deal with such a widely accepted, high-priority business issue, right?
The high priority business issue that is critically important for success? Building and maintaining stakeholder trust.
The number of leaders who have a defined plan to address this issue? Just 34%.
Building trust starts with your most important stakeholders: employees. If your employees trust you and the organization, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to do good work, take risks that fuel innovation, and deliver excellent service to colleagues and customers. But as YPO’s Global Pulse survey reports, even though nearly all leaders say building and maintaining trust is important, it’s hard work to build trust with employees. In fact, survey respondents said it’s easier to build trust with vendors and suppliers than it is with employees. No wonder only a third of leaders have a defined plan for building and maintaining trust in their organization.
Building trust with employees isn’t easy because it never stops. It’s not like other business strategies that have a beginning, middle, and end. You don’t conduct a trust initiative by holding a few team-building events, hanging up motivational posters around the office, giving out t-shirts with pithy hashtag statements on them, and then consider the task done. Building and sustaining trust is part of your leadership and organizational ethos. It’s a way of being, not just doing.
So how can you get started in creating a high-trust culture? Here’s four key steps:
1. Start with You. The most important and impactful thing you can do to build trust is to be trustworthy. Leaders are always being watched, and your behavior sets the standard for what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It’s the little things that count when it comes to building trust, and those little things are your behaviors. Do you walk the talk? Do you use behaviors that build or erode trust? Building trust is a skill you can learn and develop, it’s not something that just happens automatically.
2. Create a Safe Environment. An environment of psychological safety is the fertile soil that allows the seeds of trust to grow and flourish. 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. Leaders can foster safety by encouraging and rewarding employees who demonstrate vulnerability.
3. Connect. In my experience, a primary cause of low trust between employees and their leaders or organization is a lack of personal connection. Connecting with employees involves building rapport, communicating, and acting with their best interests in mind. People trust those they know and like, and unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to foster personal relationships. Granted, in large organizations it’s not possible for senior leaders to have a personal relationship with every employee. But leaders can be more transparent in sharing information about themselves and the organization, interacting with employees in town hall meetings or company events, taking time to attend smaller department or group meetings, and generally making themselves more available and known to team members.
4. Foster Collaboration, not Competition. Research has shown that collaboration has more positive effects on team and organizational outcomes than competition. Unhealthy competition creates a scarcity mentality and perceptions of mistrust among team members, whereas collaboration encourages people to develop trust and reliance on each other to accomplish goals as a collective unit. At The Ken Blanchard Companies we have a saying that defines our philosophy about the power of collaboration in teams: No one of us is as smart as all of us.
Nearly every leader agrees that building and maintaining employee trust is a critical priority for organizational success, yet few actually have a plan to make it a reality. Building trust is not an easy-peasy, one-time effort. It takes constant effort and vigilance, however, the results are worth it because it’s the foundation of your personal leadership and organizational success.
Let me ask you a question: Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? Raise your hand if you answered yes. OK, you can put your hand down now.
Why do I think you raised your hand? Well, nearly everyone agrees trust is a critically important factor in leadership success. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success. This past week I posed that question to 120 family business owners and leaders representing dozens of industries across the Midwest United States and 100% answered in the affirmative.
Now let me ask you a second question: Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Raise your hand if you answered yes. Anyone? Anyone?
If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re not alone. YPO’s survey showed just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. Based on my personal experience, I think that number is a bit generous. The response from the group of family business owners and leaders this past week is more reflective of my experience – 3 people raised their hands (2.5%).
It can be difficult to know where to start to build trust. Trust goes deep and wide. There aren’t any magic silver bullets when it comes to building trust. It requires a comprehensive and sustained approach over time.
If you want to have a defined and specific approach to leading with trust, I recommend you consider the following three dimensions:
1. Trust in Your Mission—Organizational mission statements are common and most of our organizations have them, even if we can’t always remember them verbatim (I said they were common, not effective or well written!). But how about a personal leadership mission statement? What is your mission as a leader?
I used to think a personal mission statement was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission and express them succinctly and coherently.
You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started:
Brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.”
Create a list of ways you effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.”
Write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.”
Combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”
My personal mission statement is “To use my writing and speaking skills to teach and inspire people about the power of trust so they enjoy deeper, more meaningful, and rewarding relationships.”
There is a two-fold reason why a personal mission statement is the first dimension of leading with trust. First, if you don’t know where you’re going as a leader, why should anyone place their trust in you? People trust leaders who are clear on their beliefs, values, and priorities. Second, having a clear mission allows you to lead confidently and authentically, with a sense of purpose and direction for your life. Trust in your mission translates into others trusting your leadership.
2. Personal Trustworthiness—The second dimension of leading with trust is personal trustworthiness. Trust is based on perceptions, and perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. If you use trust-eroding behaviors with those you lead, they won’t trust you. If you use behaviors that build trust, they will trust you. It’s that simple.
There are four elements that determine your trustworthiness: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Those four elements are the “language” of trust, and to make them easy to remember, we’ve captured them in the ABCD Building Trust Model:
Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.
Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.
Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.
Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.
Personal trustworthiness is at the core of leading with trust. Trust is the foundation for unleashing the creativity, innovation, and productivity of your team. Using behaviors that align with the ABCD’s of trust is where it starts.
3. Extend Trust to Others – The third dimension of leading with trust is to extend trust to others. For trust to develop, someone must make the first move by extending trust to another. It’s the leader’s job to extend trust; it’s not the follower’s job to blindly grant trust to the leader based on their position or title.
Servant leadership is an approach that incorporates this third dimension of leading with trust. Creating a culture of servant leadership is based upon the idea that we can lead and serve at the same time. The leading aspect is represented by the traditional organizational pyramid with senior leaders at the top and front-line employees at the bottom. The leader has the responsibility to build a culture around a clear and compelling vision that includes the organization’s purpose, values, and a picture of the future where the organization is headed.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Once that’s in place, the servant aspect of servant leadership is flipping the pyramid upside down and serving the people who will bring that vision to life. It’s extending trust to those who will implement the vision and doing whatever is needed to support them with the training, tools, and resources to accomplish the mission.
Servant leaders create an optimally motivating environment for employees to flourish. Your people are constantly making logical and emotional appraisals of your leadership behavior. Every interaction in the workplace causes them to make judgments about how they think and feel about you, the organization, and the job they perform. Those appraisals lead to employees evaluating their sense of well-being. Am I feeling safe? Am I winning or losing? Is my boss for me or against me? Based on those appraisals, people form intentions about how they’re going to “show up” on the job. Our research shows that employees of other-focused, trustworthy leaders have greater intentions to do above-average work, give discretionary effort, be a good corporate citizen, stay with the company, and endorse it as a great place to work, the five hallmarks of passionate, highly-engaged employees.
Let’s circle back to the two questions I originally posed. Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? You likely answered with a resounding yes. Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Your answer was probably no. If so, build a plan based on the three dimensions of leading with trust: trust in your mission, personal trustworthiness, and extending trust to others. Your people deserve a leader they can trust.
The Ken Blanchard Companies recently unveiled the results of their 2020 HR Learning and Talent Development Trends Survey. Over 800 Learning and Development professionals participated in the survey, comprising a wide cross-section of roles, age, and level of responsibility in organizations. Respondents were asked to identify the most critical leadership skills needed in their organization. The top five skills identified, in order, were:
Creating an engaged workforce
Listening—Often taken for granted, listening is one of the most underrated yet powerful skills a leader can possess. When I conduct training sessions and ask participants to describe their ‘best boss’ to me, they frequently mention their best boss was a great listener. They describe how their leader listened without judgment, didn’t interrupt, asked probing questions to understand, paraphrased what was heard, didn’t multi-task, and was truly present in the conversation. Check out Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears-4 Tips to Build Trust for some quick help on improving your listening skills.
Coaching—Top-down, autocratic leadership doesn’t fly in the 21st century. Today’s workforce responds to leaders who come along side team members and provide a coaching style of leadership. Leaders who are good coaches know how to build trust and establish positive relationships, collaboratively establish goals and action plans with team members, and partner with them to ensure accountability for results.
Building Trust—Trust is the absolute, without a doubt, most important ingredient for a successful relationship, especially for leaders. Unfortunately, though, most leaders don’t give much thought to trust until it’s been broken, and that’s the worst time to realize its importance. Contrary to popular opinion, trust doesn’t ‘just happen.’ Building Trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and from my point of view, it’s the most important skill needed for leaders today. A quick glance at the news headlines makes it clear that trust is in a fragile state. Read We Don’t Have a Crisis of Trust – We Have a Crisis of Untrustworthy Leaders.
Creating an engaged workforce—Engagement…the elusive magic elixir that all organizations desire to achieve. Organizations spend over $700 million dollars a year addressing engagement issues, yet the latest statistics from Gallup report that 66% of the workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Research has shown that trust is a vital component in creating a culture of high engagement. Did you know that a worker is 12x more likely to be fully engaged if they trust their leader? One of the most interesting pieces of research I’ve read recently about engagement was highlighted in this article: A Study of Over 19,000 People Reveals the 2 Most Critical Factors of Highly Engaged Employees.
Managing Change—’Change’ has officially been added to the list of things that are inevitable in life (joining the famous ‘death’ and ‘taxes’). In order for organizations to thrive, they need a workforce that has a mindset that views change as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than being something to fear and resist. The most successful change initiatives are those done with people, not to people. Here are 6 Strategies for Helping Your Team Manage Change.
Would you like to learn more about HR / L&D trends in the year ahead and how they can inform your leadership development planning? Join us for a free webinar!
2020 L&D Trend Survey: 4 Key Takeaways
Tuesday, January 21, 2020, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time
In this webinar, president Scott Blanchard shares an insider’s look into the results of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ 2020 HR / L&D Trend Survey. Blanchard shares top trends from more than 800 survey respondents and provides actionable strategies for leveraging four key takeaways from the data.
Who L&D professionals are focusing on for development in 2020
The employee experience, culture elements, and leadership skills L&D professionals identify as most in need of development
The top five ways L&D professionals plan to approach the deployment of training and culture initiatives in their organizations
How L&D professionals connect training to organizational objectives—and the number one organizational initiative they are targeting
Scott Blanchard will also share the five key criteria for developing a sustainable approach to training that maximizes and demonstrates the benefits of your training investment. Don’t miss this opportunity to refine your 2020 planning using the survey data from hundreds of peers in this year’s survey and the experiences of hundreds of additional L&D professionals who will be participating live in this online event.
New year resolutions don’t work, so don’t even bother setting one. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.
So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.
A few years ago, I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.
The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.
The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.
Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that has been true in my experience.
The word I’m choosing for 2020 is trust.
If you’re a regular reader and follower of mine, this probably seems like a no-brainer. After all, as Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies, co-author of our Building Trust training program, and author of this blog (not coincidentally named Leading with Trust), trust is the philosophical foundation of my point of view on leadership and organizational effectiveness. It’s one of my core values. It represents who I am as a leader and what I believe is the key to success for all leaders.
However, trust is taking on a deeper meaning for me in 2020. I’m doubling-down on trust and focusing 100% of my professional time on spreading the gospel of trust. I’m shifting away from my operational and senior executive responsibilities to spend more time writing, researching, speaking, and training. It’s a bit scary for me, but trust reminds me to have faith in my purpose, confidence in my abilities, and hope in the new opportunities and relationships that will come my way.
The world is in desperate need of trustworthy leadership. We need leaders who are authentic, compassionate, empathetic, respectful, and focused on bringing out the best in the people they lead. I want to see a world where leaders are more focused on serving the needs of their followers and deriving joy from their success, rather than hogging the limelight for themselves and feeding their own egos. I want a world where people lead at a higher level. Trust is the key to making that happen.
Trust…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.
So, don’t bother setting a new year’s resolution, and instead, choose one word to focus your energy and intent for next year. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it.
I recently watched an excellent TED talk, which I think you’ll love, too. It’s about why the best leaders make loving employees a higher priority than profit.
Since the talk is only 9 minutes long, and the topic is an important, yet nuanced one, I have interviewed the speaker, Matt Tenney, to give you a deeper exploration of the topic. After you watch the video of Matt’s talk, I think you’ll enjoy my interview with him, which is below.
1. When you talk about loving employees, you say you’re not talking about a touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy emotional feeling, but rather being concerned about the long-term well-being of team members. Can you give some examples of how leaders can show commitment to an employee’s well-being?
Some general examples include frequently asking about and seeking out ways that we as leaders can help team members to be happier both at work and at home.
This can include removing obstacles that prevent people from doing their best work, reducing bureaucracy, facilitating skillful communication around problems in the workplace, setting clear boundaries between home and work so that employees don’t feel that they need to be checking emails and texts when they’re not at work, and investing time and resources in helping team members grow both personally and professionally.
A specific and counter intuitive, yet extremely impactful example of being committed to the well-being of team members, is refusing the demands of a customer when those demands create unnecessary negative impacts on the well-being of team members. This is something most, if not all, business leaders can relate to.
We have all dealt with external customers who are extremely demanding, not very grateful, and who create lots of stress for team members. A leader who is truly committed to the well-being of team members as the top priority would have a candid conversation with this customer and let them know that if they do not change their ways, the organization would no longer be able to serve them.
This doesn’t mean that the leader doesn’t love the customer. The leader could certainly refer that customer to a competitor who would take care of them.
Supporting team members in this way is a powerful demonstration of love and a powerful way to build loyalty with team members. And, I’m confident than in almost all cases, this can actually improve the profitability of the organization. Oftentimes we find that the most difficult customers are the ones with the lowest gross margins, providing the least amount of profit for the company, despite being the most work.
By finding someone else to serve them, we can create a huge synergistic effect that improves business outcomes. This can give us more time to serve the customers that are easy to work with, who are often the ones with higher gross margins, and who provide us with more referrals.
Also, by making the lives of our employees easier, they will be better equipped to serve those customers well. And, of course, there are side benefits like reducing sick days and improving overall productivity.
2. You share the example of Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines as models of love in action and the success it brings. Why haven’t more leaders and organizations adopted the same approach? What gets in their way?
There are a lot of reasons that leaders and organizations, especially companies, fail to prioritize people over profit.
In some cases, unfortunately, it’s because owners and senior leaders are greedy and self-serving, and only care about enriching themselves. However, I think this only true for a small percentage of profit-focused companies.
I believe the vast majority of leaders want to prioritize people over profit, but there are many forces that prevent them from doing it. In the case of most publicly traded companies, leaders face incredible pressure from the board to maximize stock performance.
Unfortunately, most shareholders have no connection to a company other than the stock they own. They’ve never met a single employee in the company they own. Thus, the company is nothing but numbers on an exchange listing to them. As a result, these shareholders generally only care about whether the numbers are going up or down. And, they want them to be going up every quarter.
Thus, most boards hire and incentivize senior leaders based on their abilities to make the numbers go up every quarter. It only takes a bad quarter or two, and leaders start losing their jobs. That type of pressure to hit the numbers in the short term makes it very hard to do the things necessary to create a culture that drives long-term success, which is a people-first culture. However, all leaders face similar pressure to hit the numbers to some degree.
And, it seems that the bulk of the conditioning all leaders have received most of their lives has been to prioritize winning, or hitting goals, over loving well. This just seems to be what our modern culture values most, especially in the for-profit business world. This conditioning to focus on goals and winning is not easy to overcome, and it hinders our ability to love well.
3. What role does ‘trust’ play in loving your employees?
Trust is an absolute non-negotiable requirement for loving team members.
If members cannot trust leaders, it is essentially impossible for the leader to consistently have a positive impact on the well-being have team members. There will always be a subtle anxiety present whenever trust is absent. This is going in the complete opposite direction of making a positive impact on well-being.
Also, giving trust away is a powerful way to demonstrate love. When leaders convey unquestionable trust and their team members, those team members are empowered to grow personally and professionally, and to be the best version of themselves.
4. What are the top 3-5 behaviors/actions/strategies you suggest leaders follow to start putting these concepts into practice?
First, and most important, we need to consciously make love the top priority to begin undoing the conditioning that I mentioned earlier.
An easy but effective way to do this is to change one’s job description. This doesn’t mean asking HR to officially rewrite your job description. What it means is just internally, for yourself, rewriting the job description in a way that reflects what’s most important. Most job descriptions start with a description of the responsibilities to the organization. Instead, I recommend people rewrite their job description so that it starts with this:
“My job is to help the people I work with to thrive: to help them to grow both personally and professionally and to do my best to contribute to their long-term well-being.“
Everything else in the job description would be listed as additional responsibilities. Once the new job description is written, I recommend reading it out loud multiple times every day to gradually undo the conditioning that leads us to believe that achieving the goal and winning are what’s most important.
By reading the new job description out loud multiple times each day, we are telling the brain that loving well is important to us. As a result, we start to see more opportunities to love better, and we’re much more open to opportunities to develop our ability to love better.
It’s kind of like when you buy a new car, or learn a new name, and then, suddenly, you start seeing it or hearing it all over the place. This doesn’t happen because that name or that car just magically multiplied all around you. It happens because the part of the brain that filters out information we don’t think is important has stopped filtering that information out, and is allowing us to see what we now think is important.
Second, we need to look at the problem of being too busy. Most leaders I’m aware of try to do too many things. Unfortunately, there is a direct, negative correlation between how busy we are and how likely we are to love team members. The busier we are, the less likely we are to love well. This was demonstrated in the now famous Good Samaritan study conducted at Princeton University.
So, I highly recommend taking measures to do less and spend more time just being. For those who think that their productivity will somehow go down, I think you’ll be surprised. I feel very confident that your productivity will increase. Productivity is not a function of how many tasks we complete. It’s a function of the value we produce.
Doing less helps you to get clearer on what really matters and spend more time doing that. And, of course, the most important example of this is getting clear on the truth that what is most important in life is loving well. By reducing the number of things we do, we are much more likely to love better.
Third, we need to work on the bad habit of being distracted. I would guess that most people spend 90% of their time distracted either by obsessive use of technology or by their own thinking (or both). This, of course leads to increased anxiety, which makes us much less likely to love well. And, it also means that we’re habitually distracted when we’re interacting with other human beings. If we are distracted when interacting with others, people don’t feel loved in our presence because they don’t feel as though we are truly there with them. The simplest yet perhaps most tangible way to demonstrate love is to give a person our complete and undivided attention, to be fully present with them.
This is why I’m a huge advocate have engaging in mindfulness training. With mindfulness training, we can systematically break the habit of being distracted and cultivate a new habit of being mindfully self-aware and fully present. Mindfulness empowers us to consistently embody love.
Frankenboss – noun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.
With Halloween just a few days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.
You might be a Frankenboss if you…
1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.
2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s OK for them to not follow through on their commitments either.
3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.
4. Are driven by your ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.
5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.
6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.
7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.
9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.
10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.
I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.
For leaders, trust is a must. It’s the critical foundation for creating an environment where your team members can flourish, be engaged, and exercise their creativity and innovation to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Trust is the connective tissue in relationships and organizations, and it allows us to collaborate and achieve more together than we would independently.
But trust is under attack. Nearly everyday we hear or see reports of prominent leaders who have been caught in a scandal, violated the law, or broken trust with their followers in some form or fashion. Whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally, we act in ways that cause others to doubt our trustworthiness. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to undermining trust in our leadership.
What are the ways we undermine trust? Well, there are several, but five stand out above the others. These five ways have the power to destroy trust on multiple fronts. They can erode trust slowly over a long period of time, to where one day you wake up and realize the trust you thought you had in a relationship has disappeared. On the other hand, these enemies of trust can also destroy a relationship in one fatal blow, like a sledgehammer crushing a cement block. You must be on guard to constantly protect and nurture the most prized possession of your leadership—trust.
Five Ways We Undermine Trust in Our Leadership
Self-Orientation – Self-oriented leaders place a higher priority on their personal needs and desires above those of their followers. They’re in it for themselves. They are more concerned with how they look to their higher-ups than how they’re viewed by their team members. Charles Green, co-author of the book The Trusted Advisor, uses a formula to describe how trust is built. His “trust equation” is Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) ÷ Self-Orientation. The more self-oriented (aka, selfish) you are, the greater you reduce the amount of trust you build with others. Self-oriented leaders are more focused on “me” than “we.”
Control – Most people think distrust or mistrust is the opposite of trust. That’s not correct. The opposite of trust is control. That’s because trust requires risk, and you must give up a degree of control when you accept the risk of extending trust to someone. For trust to be established, someone must first extend trust, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first. Leaders who refuse to accept the risk of trusting others are forced to rely on controlling behaviors like micromanaging, not sharing information, or performing all the work themselves.
Isolation – There are a few ways we let isolation undermine trust in our leadership. One is when leaders isolate themselves from others, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional isolation happens when leaders move higher up in the organization and have less contact with their team members, become focused on other priorities, or simply get distracted with busyness to the neglect of connecting with team members. Another way isolation erodes trust is when leaders “freeze out” or intentionally ignore a team member. People trust leaders who establish a personal connection with them. They want to know their leader cares about them and their well-being. Distrust is born in the absence of connection, and isolation has a way of feeding upon itself and creating more distance in the relationship.
Unreliability – Perhaps the most common way we undermine trust, unreliability slowly chips away at trust every time a leader fails to meet a commitment. Leaders are expected to be role models of accountability, and when they don’t keep their own commitments, it sends a message to the entire team that it’s OK for them to do the same. Unreliability is also a silent killer of trust. Most people are forgiving when small, inconsequential commitments are dropped. Being a few minutes late for a meeting, a slow response to an email, or canceling a meeting at the last minute are common examples of everyday behaviors that demonstrate unreliability. A few, infrequent occurrences of those behaviors don’t have much impact on trust, but when they happen often enough that the leader develops a reputation of being unreliable, a trust gap has developed that can be difficult to overcome.
Dishonesty – Being dishonest is the cardinal sin of trustworthy leadership. Above all, trustworthy leaders are honest and act with integrity. That means keeping your promises, not gossiping, and telling the truth. Trustworthy leaders not only tell the truth, but they’re honest without spinning the truth. Spinning the truth is really mis-characterizing the facts of a situation in order to make yourself or the organization look good or attempting to influence people to interpret the truth in the way you want them to. Many people view integrity as the heart of trust, and if leaders are not honest, they have virtually no chance to win the trust of their followers.
When leaders are trusted by their followers, anything is possible. Research has consistently shown that high trust leaders have teams that are more productive, innovative, and have higher levels of engagement. The best way to build trust is to avoid breaking it in the first place, and to do that we have to quit sabotaging ourselves by acting in ways that undermine trust.