Trust is Earned

Every person on this earth is unique. There are lots of common characteristics and similarities but no two people, not even identical twins are exactly the same. When it comes to trust all those unique people seem to fall into just two categories. 

They are either in the “I trust people until they show me they can’t be trusted” category or they are in the “I don’t trust anyone until they prove they can be trusted” category. I‘m sure there are also other people like me who bounce back and forth between the two groups based on some undefinable “feeling.” But most stick to one category or the other. 

Authentic Leaders take both groups into consideration when working to build trust. They intentionally undertake trust building actions on a very regular basis. 

They tell the truth, even uncomfortable truths. This one is fundamental. It seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to minimize the importance of this when it’s convenient for us. What about when someone asks if you followed up with that email you totally forgot about? You could lie, say yes, and do it that very moment. Or, you could admit that you forgot but will do it now.

You may be seen as somewhat less reliable but your credibility remains intact. 

They admit what they don’t know. Authentic Leaders value the trust of their people more than anything else. They know that “Followership” requires a commitment and without trust there is no commitment. They don’t try to BS their way to impressing people, they impress them with their honesty and authenticity.

They do what they say they will do…every time. They do not cancel meetings at the last minute, fail to show up, or a miss a deadline. The currency most important to an Authentic Leader is their word. Not doing what you’ve said you would do causes people to instantly wonder if you’ll do it again. You’ve planted that seed. If you make a habit of it, then people will learn that this is who you are and they will instinctively not trust you to follow through with commitments.

Authentic Leaders listen. They really really listen. Showing people you are willing to put aside all distractions and completely listen to them builds trust. If you’re messing with your Smartphone or trying to multitask while someone else is talking to you then you’re sending a message that they don’t matter…at least not as much as whatever it is that’s distracting you. Once they know they aren’t that important to you they will find it much harder to trust you. 

Authentic Leaders show they care. Showing you care for someone can take trust to a much higher level. As humans it’s very difficult for us to trust people who we know don’t care about us. The opposite is true as well. When we know someone cares enough about us to invest a part of themselves in our well-being then it’s much easier to trust them. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time to get to know their people so they will know how to care for them. That’s a critical step in building the emotional trust that must exist before one person is willing to commit to another. 

If you’re in a leadership position don’t make the mistake of believing people trust you because of it. There are some people who won’t trust you precisely because of it. You need to understand that trust is built everyday. It is built upon your words and actions. Everything you say and do matters…at least where trust building is involved. 

If you haven’t taken an intentional step today to increase the trust level of your team then you may need to be concerned that the trust level has decreased.

Don’t take that chance, build trust every day…it’s the one absolute prerequisite for Authentic Leadership. 

Don’t Lose Track of This

There are many different types of assets that appear on the balance sheet of a business. Perhaps the most important asset however does not.

That asset is the organization’s culture. 

Culture can develop within an organization all by itself. It has a life of its own. It’s kind of like a wild dog. It’s a dog but you don’t want it as a pet.

A healthy organizational culture does not develop all by itself. It requires a constant effort by the organization’s top leader. Responsibility for an organization’s culture cannot be delegated. The top leader can enlist other leaders in the organization to assist with the development of the culture but they can’t turn the steering wheel over to anyone else. 

That’s because culture drives every other process. It drives innovation. It drives engagement. It drives the organization’s attitude. It is the soul of the organization. 

Productive, positive culture does not come from the top leader saying their organization has great culture. In fact, if you’re constantly having to remind the people in your organization of it’s great culture then it’s highly likely that it isn’t all that great. 

Truly excellent culture comes from the top leader showing that they care for their people. It helps if other leaders in the organization model a caring attitude as well but culture development begins at the top.

Sadly it often ends there too. 

Culture is developed in those brief hallway interactions. It grows into a productive force during those quick office “pop-ins” to “see how it’s going.” Every word and every action of the top leader and their leadership team either add to or subtract from the value of the culture. Every word and every action! 

Which brings us to a challenge of our unique times. I’ve never fired up Teams or Zoom on my computer and seen someone walking in the hall I could check in with. Most of those spontaneous interactions are on hold, at least for a while longer. The most effective culture building tool, face-to-face, personal, off the cuff conversations do not happen virtually. 

But they could. And they should.

Don’t lose track of the importance of continuous culture building because the halls of your building might be mostly empty. Pick up the phone. Start a spontaneous Zoom call. Make a FaceTime call on the spur of the moment. 

No agenda, no objective. Just one human connecting with another. 

I can only imagine the trepidation of an entry level employee receiving a call from their organization’s top leader. For many the first thought might not be good. But I can also easily imagine their chest swelling with pride when they realize the call is solely focused on them and their well-being. They know without a doubt that they matter. Their company and leader care about them as a person.

It makes no difference what size your company is, when the person at the top cares then the company cares. Do you care enough for your people to invest a few minutes a day to show it? If you do then you will. 

You want productive culture in challenging times? Then don’t wait for it to happen…go make it happen. Be intentional, be consistent and be caring. 

If you’re at the top of your organization’s leadership team then lead your organization to the culture you need for long-term success. It can happen by accident but you won’t like the result. Don’t let an accident happen, make culture your top priority every day and your organization will be at the top every day too.