Leading with Trust

The Reason Why You Don’t Trust Your Team May Surprise You

baby_in_mirrorMaybe you’ve heard these types of phrases from leaders in the past, or to bring it closer to home, perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself:

  • “I just can’t trust my team to complete the job to the quality I expect.”
  • “Deadlines always seem to be a moving target with my team.”
  • “I seem to be on a different wavelength with my team. I say one thing but they hear another.”
  • “I don’t always see or feel a sense of teamwork. We seem to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team.”

Do any of those sound familiar? All of them can point to a lack of trust between the team leader and his/her team. But have you ever paused to consider why you don’t trust your team? It may not have anything to do with them. It might be you.

Trust doesn’t “just happen” in relationships. It takes intentional effort, and in a team setting, it’s up to the leader to cultivate the right environment for trust to flourish. If you find yourself not trusting your team, explore these three areas:

Trust Signals – Trust is developed through the use of specific behaviors, and based on a complex set of variables (our personality, early childhood upbringing, past experience, and our values, just to name a few), each of us is “tuned in” to certain behavioral signals that communicate trust. The challenge in a team environment is every person can be tuned in to different trust signals, so what communicates trust to you may be different than what communicates trust to someone else. It’s important to establish a common language of trust so that everyone is picking up the same signals. A helpful tool to get everyone on the same page of trust is the ABCD Trust Model. It takes the four elements of trust (competence, integrity, care, and dependability) and puts them in an easy to understand model that provides a common set of trust signals for everyone to use.

Mis-aligned Expectations – Many times the reason leaders don’t trust their teams is they haven’t done a good job of clarifying expectations. Leaders often assume the team knows the importance of the goal, the quality standards expected, or the deadline for completing the work. When the team doesn’t perform as expected, the leader jumps to the conclusion that the team can’t be trusted. Step back and reassess the situation. Did you verbalize your expectations and make them absolutely clear? Did you equip or train your team to meet those expectations? Did you provide the day-to-day coaching needed or did you just leave the team on its own? When expectations aren’t met, we have a habit of judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intent. Judge your team by their intent and explore whether or not your expectations were communicated clearly.

Lack of Vulnerability – Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. That leads to team members always playing a guessing game as to what the leader wants. People can’t do their best work when they don’t know what to expect from the leader. The cure is for leaders to be clear on their Leadership Point of View (LPOV). Your LPOV is your leadership philosophy. It’s a statement of why you lead, what’s important to you as a leader, what your team members can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Developing and communicating your LPOV lets team members “behind the curtain.” It shows vulnerability on your part to be real and authentic with team members and it creates tremendously high levels of trust.

Trust has been called the miracle triple-acting agent for organizations. It provides the lubrication that makes people, processes, and systems work more smoothly. It also acts as the bonding agent that brings people together, allowing them to collaborate effectively and achieve more together than they could as individuals. And trust also functions as the catalyst to spur the innovation and creativity that’s necessary to propel organizations to higher levels of success. So don’t underestimate the power of trust, and when you feel it’s lacking with your team, take a look in the mirror first. The problem may be staring back at you.

Do You Have These 4 Requirements for BOLD Leadership?

Rock ClimberWhen you think of bold leadership, what comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, the idea of bold leadership conjures up images of big, charismatic, larger than life personalities. Most of us think of bold leaders as being driven, visionary, and having a take-no-prisoners approach to accomplishing their goals. In the world of sports we think of bold players being the ones who want the ball when the game is on the line. They want to take the last second shot that will win or lose the game. In business, it’s the leaders who are willing to make the multi-million dollar decisions that will propel their organizations forward or put people out of jobs.

If bold leadership is limited to the popular definition I just described, then you and I don’t have much of a chance to be bold, do we? I mean, face it, most of us won’t ever be in those types of situations. We’re just average Joes trying to make a living, doing our jobs the best we can, and if we’re lucky, making a small, positive difference in the world in the process. Bold leadership is for the chosen few, right? Wrong!

Bold leadership is not what you think. BOLD leadership is:

Building trust – Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship and it’s absolutely critical for successful leadership. Leadership without trust results in fear, withdrawal, compliance, and risk aversion. Leading with trust creates an environment of safety and freedom that result in collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, and innovation. The most successful leaders are trust builders. There’s no two ways about it.

Others focused – Bold leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead. Do you put their interests ahead of your own? Are you striving to help them succeed or are they just pawns in your grand scheme to achieve corporate domination? Bold leaders take the strengths of their team members and blend them together in such a way that the team as a whole is stronger than any one individual. You can’t do that if you’re only focused on yourself.

Leading with humility – Popular culture says humility equates to weakness, the polar opposite of being bold. That’s a bunch of malarkey! Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less. Humility is a quiet confidence in your skills and abilities that allows you to subvert your own ego for the greater good of the team, department, or organization. Arrogant leaders are the ones willing to pursue their own agendas at the expense of everyone else, whereas humble leaders consider the needs of all the stakeholders, recognize the stakes at hand, and make reasoned decisions for the welfare of the group.

Daring to be vulnerable – Bold leaders aren’t afraid to let down their guard a bit and be authentic with those they lead. Employees are yearning for leaders to express genuine care and concern, to acknowledge and appreciate them as individuals with hopes, dreams, and fears, and not treat them as mindless drones, valued only for the work they do on the job. Being vulnerable means sharing information about yourself and the organization and taking an interest in the lives of your people. You don’t have to pour out your life story and be BFFs with every employee, but you do need to open up and help your people see the real you.

Bold leadership isn’t reserved for the chosen few, and it certainly isn’t limited to popular culture’s definition of big, brash, loud leadership. Bold leadership is about the everyday behaviors we use to build trust, focusing on the needs of others, leading with confident humility, and vulnerably engaging with our people in authentic and genuine ways.

Be BOLD!

Don’t Lead Scared – 6 Tips for Leading Like a Badass

John WayneOne sure way to kill your leadership career is to lead scared.

Leading from a position of fear never brings good results. It causes you to make rash decisions, shrink from opportunities, and needlessly fight the wrong battles.

The opposite of leading scared is leading like a badass. What does a badass leader look like?

He confidently marches to the beat of his own drum, not swayed by popular opinion or the need to please others. He doesn’t put on airs, pretending to be something he isn’t, but stays true to his principles and values in all that he does. He doesn’t have to talk about being a badass (that’s a poser) because he knows he is a badass. A badass leader isn’t an uncooperative jerk, indiscriminately ticking people off. A badass leader knows his limits and takes pride in working with others to achieve the goals of the team. Understated, purposeful, and pursuing excellence in all he does. That’s a badass.

Examples of well-known badasses:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Presidential Badass
  • Condoleezza Rice – Diplomat Badass
  • Derek Jeter – Baseball Badass
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Badass
  • Mother Teresa – Spiritual Badass
  • Albert Einstein – Intellectual Badass
  • Aristotle – Philosophical Badass
  • John Wayne – Western Movie Actor Badass

Get the idea? So how do you become a leadership badass? Here’s six ways:

1. Develop your competence – Competence breeds confidence, no two ways about it. If you want to be more secure in your leadership abilities then you need to keep learning and growing. Read books, take classes, get a mentor, and learn from others. Badass leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They are always striving to improve their craft.

2. Be vulnerable – Huh? Isn’t that the opposite of being a badass? No! Leaders that display vulnerability show they don’t have anything to hide. Posers are those who lead with a false sense of confidence, trying to hide their weaknesses from others. Badass leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. People crave authentic leadership and badasses are nothing if not authentic.

3. Focus on building trust – Trust is the foundation of badassery. You have to earn people’s trust before they will follow you and give their all. Badass leaders focus on building trust by being good at what they do, acting with integrity, caring for others, and following through on their commitments.

4. Build up other people – Badass leaders don’t feel the need to build themselves up by tearing down others. Secure enough in their self-worth, badass leaders take pride in the accomplishments of their team members and do everything they can to set them up for success. Badass leaders know that their success comes from the success of their people.

5. Get stuff done – Badass leaders don’t make excuses, they make things happen. They remove obstacles for their people, find the tools and resources they need, and provide the right amounts of direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Badass leaders are about doing, not talking. Badass leaders get stuff done.

6. Go against the grain – Doing what’s right is not always the popular choice, but badass leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it’s the right thing to do. Badass leaders know they can’t base their self-worth on the applause of others and they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers on occasion.

Every leader has the ability to be a badass. It’s an attitude, a belief, a way of being. Don’t lead scared, letting fear drive your behavior, but tap into your inner badassness and lead with confidence and assurance. Before you know it, people will look at you and say, “Now that’s a badass leader!”

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on what it means to lead like a badass.

Five Ways to Rapidly Increase Trust in Your Relationships

Trust Magnified“Trust takes a long time to build and just a moment to destroy.” You’ve probably heard that old adage before, haven’t you? Well, it’s not true.

Like many aphorisms, there is an element of truth to the saying as it applies to certain situations, but the statement itself is not an absolute truth when it comes to trust. Trust can be built very quickly (consider the trust you place in a surgeon, whom you’ve never met, performing emergency surgery on you) and be one of the most resilient forces in any relationship (think of the number of times you’ve eroded trust with a family member yet trust continues to survive).

When it comes to building trust in relationships, not all behaviors are created equal. What I mean by that is certain behaviors contain more “oomph” when it comes to building trust; they help trust develop faster. Much like a weightlifter increases his intake of protein to help fuel muscle development, people interested in rapidly building trust can leverage these five, high-trust behaviors:

1. Extend trust – Trust is reciprocal. One person gives it, another receives it and gives it back in turn. Since someone has to make the first move, why not you? It’s hard for people to trust you if you aren’t willing to trust them. Trust involves risk, and if you wait for a time when there’s no risk in a relationship, you’ll never trust. Be smart about who you extend trust to and how much you give, but don’t be afraid to make the first move.

2. Listen without judgement – Think of the people you’ve trusted most in your life. There’s a good chance that most, if not all of them, were people who listened to you when you were frustrated, angry, upset, or just needed someone to talk to. They didn’t condemn you for the way you were feeling but listened to your concerns and offered appropriate and timely counsel, without judgement or blame. Listening shows you care for people and is a critical component of building trust.

3. Show care and concern – As mentioned above with listening, demonstrating care and concern in relationships is critical to building trust. You can trust people you don’t know based on their expertise, but trust really accelerates when a genuine personal relationship is established. Take the time to truly build a personal relationship with others and you’ll see trust skyrocket.

4. DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do. Consistent, reliable, and dependable behavior is at the core of building trust. Follow through on commitments. Keep your promises. Be on time. Meet deadlines. It sounds simple enough, but unfortunately these commonsense basics are often the very behaviors we neglect the most. DWYSYWD and trust will blossom.

5. Admit your mistakes – Combined with number 4, admitting your mistakes is one of the most high-powered, trust-building behaviors you can use. Why is that? It shows your sense of humility and authenticity when you own up to your mistakes. It demonstrates to people that you are secure in yourself and you respect others enough to be up front and honest. Showing a little vulnerability goes a long way in building trust.

I’m not suggesting you use these behaviors in a manipulative fashion in order to further your own selfish agenda. Too many crooked politicians, televangelists, and corporate barons have already laid claim to that tactic. However, for people genuinely interested in building trust, these five behaviors can supercharge your relationships to new and higher levels.

What are your thoughts? Are there other behaviors you’ would add to this list to rapidly build trust? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Five Ways Leaders Help Others Belong, Not Just Fit In

belongingThere’s a big difference between fitting in and belonging. In fact, fitting in can be one of the biggest barriers to belonging, says researcher and author Brené Brown. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and adapting who you are – your personality and behaviors – in order to feel accepted. Belonging is about freedom – freedom from having to change in order to be accepted and being valued and respected for being who you are.

In Brown’s research she asked a group of eighth grade students to describe the difference between fitting in and belonging. Here’s what they said:

    • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
    • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
    • I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.

Not much has changed since eighth grade, has it? Sadly, too many leaders and organizations expect people to just fit in. After all, it’s much easier to tell people they need to adapt in order to fit with the organizational culture, rather than find ways to help people belong and have the organizational culture absorb and reflect their uniqueness as individuals.

Helping people find a sense of belonging leads to them being fully engaged and committed to their work and the organization. It causes people to tap into their discretionary energy to accomplish the goals of the organization versus settling for just fitting in and doing the minimum to get by.

Leaders create belonging when they…

1. Give power away and allow people to take ownership of their work. People who feel they belong in an organization have a sense of ownership; it’s their organization. That ownership mentality comes from being given responsibility and authority for doing their jobs and being given the freedom to achieve results. Equip and coach your people, delegate wisely, and then get out of their way.

2. Listen and respond to feedback. Most leaders say they are open to hearing feedback; fewer leaders actually listen and do something with it. Leaders create an environment of belonging and safety when they actually take the time to sit down and listen, acknowledge a person’s concerns, and discuss how they will respond to the feedback. People don’t feel they belong when leaders don’t listen, dismiss, or disregard their input.

3. Help people understand how their work connects to the broader goals or purpose of the organization. People have an innate desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. Leaders tap into this reservoir of power when they help their people understand how their daily work helps the organization achieve its goals and makes the world a better place.

4. Appreciate and celebrate the diversity of their team. Each person is created with unique gifts and abilities and it’s a leader’s responsibility to leverage the individual strengths of their people. Treating your team members as individuals rather than nameless and faceless workers creates a sense of belonging that’s extremely powerful. One of my team members, Ed, has a jovial personality and great dance moves. Who do you think we go to when we need to make a fun team video? Another team member, Kim, is a champion snowmobile racer. Who do we brag about when we have team gatherings? How much do you know about the personal lives of your people? Get to know them and watch their sense of belonging increase.

5. Accept people where they are but refuse to let them stay there. Good leaders accept their team members for who they are, yet also have a desire and commitment to help them learn, grow, and become the best versions of themselves possible. When leaders show commitment to their people’s growth, it fosters a sense of commitment and belonging that can’t be underestimated.

Creating a sense of belonging for people requires that leaders be engaged. It means investing time and energy to understand what’s going on with their people, their hopes and dreams, their fears and insecurities. Fostering belonging is about humanizing the workplace and creating a safe space where people can be vulnerable, real and authentic. The payoff of having engaged, committed, and fulfilled team members is worth the effort.

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

Want to Build Trust? Get Naked!

Establishing trusted relationships is a critical imperative for leadership success today, and a key way to develop trust with those you lead is by being vulnerable. I’m not talking about getting on the proverbial therapist’s couch and telling your direct reports all of your deep, inner secrets. I’m talking about disclosing appropriate and relevant amounts of information about yourself over the course of time as relationships grow and develop.

In his book, Getting Naked, author Patrick Lencioni discusses three fears that keep us from being vulnerable…from “getting naked.” Lencioni discusses these fears in the context of sabotaging client relationships, but the lessons are equally relevant for leaders in regards to developing trust with their followers. Leaders sabotage trust by giving in to the following fears:

  • The fear of losing followership (“business” in the context of Lencioni’s parable about client relationships) – The business of a leader is influencing others to achieve their personal goals and those of the organization. Sometimes leaders fear being vulnerable because it could be perceived as a sign of weakness, or evidence that their leadership isn’t needed. Leaders can conquer this fear by being “other-focused” rather than self-focused and remembering that their top priority is to help others succeed. When your followers believe you have their best interests in mind, they will trust you and give you the discretionary energy and commitment that is essential for organizational success.
  • The fear of being embarrassed – Many leaders are afraid they will be embarrassed by not having all the right answers or being proven wrong in public. To prevent embarrassment, leaders play their cards close to the vest, don’t share information with others, and don’t allow participation in decision-making. Creating a culture where mistakes are celebrated as learning opportunities, risk taking is encouraged, and stupid or obvious questions encouraged will help allay this fear and lead to higher levels of trust in leaders’ relationships.
  • The fear of feeling inferior – This fear is rooted in the leader’s ego. Ken Blanchard likes to say that EGO stands for “edging good out.” Leaders do this by focusing on their reputation and social standing and pushing all other interests aside. These kinds of leaders often derive their self-worth from the successes they achieve and the applause of adoring fans. Trusted leaders overcome this fear by cultivating an attitude of humility. Humility doesn’t mean that you think less of yourself. It means you think about yourself less. You build trust by keeping the focus on the goals of the team and the needs of your followers and not worrying about who gets the credit for success.

The bottom line effect of getting naked with your followers is that you’ll develop trusted relationships that will fuel the success of your team and organization.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
M. Scott Peck

“Situational Crying” – An Effective Way to Build Trust?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, made news recently when she admitted to crying at work during a speech at Harvard Business School. Sandberg said,

I’ve cried at work.  I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder’, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs.  I try to be myself – honest about my strengths and weaknesses – and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

My colleague, Maria Capelli, sent me and several other colleagues a link to this article which prompted an interesting email discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of showing emotion in the workplace, especially from a leadership perspective.

Maria said that “Being vulnerable, not only as a leader but as a fellow co-worker, can help build trust.  Being real/authentic can help build credibility.  I am not saying we should all start crying at work – it’s situational. As long as it’s not disruptive or frequent, I think it’s perfectly healthy.  And besides, suppression of our emotions for long periods of time cannot be healthy for the mind, body and soul.”

Our colleague, Susan Fowler, co-author of our Situational Self Leadership training program and our soon-to-be-released program, Optimal Motivation, mentioned that the real “F” word in corporate America is “feelings,” and the interesting paradox leaders are faced with when regulating their emotions: Is not crying when you want to a form of self-regulation, or is crying and owning your emotion a form of self-regulated courage to be honest in the workplace?

I agree that a critical part of building trust is being vulnerable and authentic, and sometimes that involves showing emotion in the workplace, within reason of course. I think Susan brings up an interesting connection between self-regulation, managing emotions, and being emotionally intelligent. My experience is that people who are emotionally intelligent and good at self-regulation have the ability to express the appropriate emotions at the appropriate time. Those who are challenged in those areas seem to be the ones that go overboard which leads to being known as emotionally unstable and unpredictable. Being reliably consistent and predictable in your behavior is a key component of developing trust with others.

Emotional intelligence is a critical success factor for succeeding in today’s business world. A recent survey by CareerBuilder showed that hiring managers are increasingly looking for candidates with high EQ’s because they are more likely to stay calm under pressure, handle stress better, and approach workplace relationships and conflict with greater maturity and sense of perspective.

There’s no doubt that showing the proper amount of emotion, in the right place at the right time, can be a key to building trust. The key is for leaders to develop the emotional intelligence and maturity to properly discern when the timing is right and when it’s wrong. As my colleague Maria said, “it’s situational.”

Three Circles of Trust

If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law Greg is a trustworthy and honorable husband for Pam, his only daughter. From his point of view, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between.

Effective leaders have learned to have multiple circles, each with varying degrees of trust, depending on the people, context of the relationship, and the circumstances involved. Consider these three circles of trust:

The outer most circle is the Community and is the group of individuals that you would consider your acquaintances. Perhaps you’ve met them a few times, may know their names, and occasionally interact with them such as the clerk you regularly see at the grocery store, your plumber, or the teachers at your child’s school. This circle is characterized by the lowest degree of trust which tends to be based on the norms of the context of your relationship. There tend to be  rules, policies, procedures, or contracts in place to prevent one party from taking advantage of the other. There isn’t anything wrong with this level of trust. It’s appropriate for the transactional nature of your relationships in this circle.

The Crowd circle contains those relationships that have a deeper level of trust characterized by personal knowledge of each party. A relationship moves from the Community circle into the Crowd by demonstration of trustworthy behavior over time to where the parties involved can reliably predict each other’s behavior. This is the circle where you would typically find relationships with your team members, co-workers, or social organization associates.

The innermost circle is the Core. This is the circle of trust reserved for the closest relationships in your life such as your spouse, family, and best friends. This level of trust is characterized by the parties knowing the hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities of each other. These relationships have the highest levels of trust because they also have the highest levels of vulnerability. Over the course of time these relationships have experienced increased amounts of personal disclosure and the parties have developed a history of respecting and protecting the vulnerabilities of each other.

Contrary to what’s portrayed in Meet the Parents, there isn’t just one circle of trust. Our relationships are too varied and complex to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach and successful leaders have learned to extend and cultivate the right amount of trust depending on the given circle of the relationship.

What are your thoughts? How would you categorize your circles of trust? Feel free to share your comments.

Are You a Scary Boss? Six Ways to Lower Fear and Build Trust

The coach of the opposing team at my son’s high school basketball game yesterday clearly tried to lead his team through fear and intimidation. His voice had one volume setting – LOUD! He wasn’t just speaking loud so that his players could hear him in the noisy gym. He yelled. He screamed. The entire game. He criticized his players for making mistakes and made sarcastic comments about their performance. He threatened them with time on the bench if they didn’t follow his instructions. I mentioned to some other parents that when a coach constantly yells and screams at his players, they eventually start to tune out, or even worse, become so afraid to make a mistake that they fail to give their best effort. That clearly was the case with this team.

Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, and you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.

Fear is the enemy of trust. In fact, if you have fear in a relationship, you can’t have trust. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).

In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:

1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.

2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.

3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.

4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.

5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.

6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.

My son’s basketball team ended up winning the game quite convincingly, and in marked contrast to the other team’s coach, my son’s coach doesn’t lead by fear and intimidation. As a result, the players feel secure in the consistency of his leadership and perform without fear of how he’ll respond if they make a mistake. Give it a try with your team and watch the victories pile up.

Want to Build Trust? It Helps to Embarrass Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

Three Levels of Trust – What Level Are Your Relationships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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