Building trust is hard, but there’s an unspoken goodwill supporting your success.
There is an amazing amount of trust, tradition, and protocol that surround the inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States of America. The symbols of power are ever-present. Former Presidents, elected leadership of both major political parties, the United States Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Secretaries and nominees, elected Representatives and Senators, Diplomatic Corp, Governors, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Honor Guards, military bands, motorcades, security teams, and government staff.
As the winner of the general election, the American people have placed their faith and trust in new leaders.
It’s a good parallel for you as a leader especially if you’re new to your post or working to overcome an organization failure. There’s an unspoken and perhaps unseen goodwill encouraging you in your leadership position. It emanates brightly from the moment you accept the post. Your job, is to keep that goodwill alive and healthy by building trust. New leaders sometimes overlook the enormous power of goodwill and the trust they have coming into a leadership role. That is a mistake.
Savvy leaders know that building trust is key to their own success and that of the organization they lead. Here are five things I’ve learned about trust in my leadership career.
Trust Requires Risk Taking
Whenever I have accepted a new leadership position, one of my first actions is meeting with the entire staff and then individually with every staff member starting with the person on the lowest rung of the organization. Oftentimes, that person is the janitor, receptionist or stock room clerk. It doesn’t matter. I want them to have the same opportunity as everyone else in the firm to see the new boss up close. It’s important I get to know them and share a bit about myself. Finally, I want them to see they are an important part of the enterprise and more importantly that I see them.
Savvy leaders know that building trust is key to their own success and that of the organization they lead.
Trust, Like Respect, Must Be Earned.
It’s also true that your place as a leader will come with a loan of goodwill–funded by the “trust bank”–to get you started on your way. Don’t squander it. Expect your words to be parsed for meaning and your actions watched closely. One of my unofficial jobs as an association Chief Operating Officer was explaining what our CEO really meant.
His staff meeting edicts, shared news, or strategic pronouncements often met with much confusion among team members. Absent real trust, I became the “CEO whisperer” to staff, clarifying edicts and making meaning from his words. Being obtuse is not helpful to building trust with your team. As Warren Buffet reminds us, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
When it comes to leading, your team, your members, your Boards, Committees, and stakeholders need to meet you.
Trust Comes From Being Authentic
I’m often asked for reading recommendations for leaders. Who’s the best to read? Peter Drucker? Tom Peters? Rosabeth Moss Kanter? Jim McGregor? Steve Covey? Bill George? My answer is always the same. Carl Rogers. His book “On Becoming a Person” first published in 1961 provides exceptional leadership insight and guidance.
Written as a treatise for psychotherapists and counselors, Rogers explores the value and meaning of being authentic and the simple power of being oneself. You and your team benefit enormously from a willingness to lead with your best self. The comedian Chris Rock tells a dating joke that illustrates the point. “When you go out on that first date, you’re not meeting me, you’re meeting my representative.” When it comes to leading, your team, your members, your Boards, Committees, and stakeholders need to meet you.
Keeping Your Word Creates Trust
The greatest tool to engender trust, is to keep your word. My greatest leadership mishaps have come from not doing what I said I would. There’s never any malice behind my inaction. Oftentimes, I changed my mind after agreeing to something because upon further thought, it seemed like an unworkable or bad idea.
Saying “no” is almost always a better choice, if you cannot see a clear path to success.
If I agreed to do something under pressure, knowing the work needed to get done, the results were awful. Typically, after making these commitments I found my work schedule overloaded or worse still that I lacked the essential skills for achieving the goal. Poor choices. Worse results. Here’s what every CEO and leader has learned.
Changing your mind after the fact isn’t a crime, but your trustworthiness will take a hit, especially if you delay communicating your change of heart. Saying “no” is almost always a better choice, if you cannot see a clear path to success. Sure you can take the occasional flyer, but not at the risk of you being viewed as untrustworthy. Don’t do it.
One the ways you take the lead here is to model the behavior you expect from your team.
When Trust Is Nowhere To Be Found
How can I trust you? We’ve all been let down by someone. The team member who misses deadlines. The one who sows dissent and discomfort among the team. Those who lie, dodge, diffuse, and deflect responsibility. It’s all part of the human condition. But it’s not okay. When it comes to disruption save it for your latest innovations and product launches.
One the ways you take the lead here is to model the behavior you expect from your team. When you sense a team member is being less than truthful, ask more questions. Dig in. Clarify the issues as you see it and ask them to do the same. Avoid blaming, shaming or shifting responsibility. Use “I”messages, like those developed by clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon famous for his Leadership and Parenting Effectiveness (P.E.T./L.E.T.) Training workshops.
Building trust is challenging work. Keeping it requires you to keep a critical eye on your own behavior and actions. It’s probably worth remembering Albert Einstein‘s thoughtful assessment. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”