You Could be Wrong

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that my first job in management came as quite a shock to me. I was a very good salesperson until one day I was pulled into the office and asked if I would be interested in jumping several levels of management to become the General Sales Manager. 

I wasn’t actually sure what the General Sales Manager did but I did know the job came with a new car, a huge office with a private bathroom and a whole lot more money. Lots and lots of money. 

So of course I said yes and the following Monday I was in charge of a large sales organization. I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing keep me from doing it. We were selling soda pop and I sold more than anybody. How tough could it be to make sure everyone else was selling all they could too.

To say I made a few mistakes would be a rather large understatement. The worst part was everyone but me could see the mistakes coming from a mile away. I might have been a little too proud to ask the more experienced people for help but eventually I made the sales organization more of a democracy so others could share their ideas. But I made the final call because I was the boss and that’s what bosses do. 

Shortly after I was promoted I faced the biggest decision I would ever make in my new role. There were two major convenience store chains in the city where I was working. Vendors in both of those chains paid for the best shelf space. I only had the budget to purchase “eye level”  cooler space in one of the chains. The chains appeared to be about the same to me so I very strategically picked the chain with a location closest to my house. 

We would still have shelf space in the other chain’s stores but it would be “bottom shelf. ” Customers would have to look long and hard to find our products. 

My decision looked good for a few weeks. A few weeks. Just 3 weeks after making the agreement with one convenience chain it was acquired by the chain I decided not to make an agreement with. 

The chain that did the acquiring tossed all the vendor contracts from the chain they acquired. That meant in every major convenience store in a large metropolitan area, my products were now all bottom shelf. 

I was pretty lucky that my boss didn’t think that disaster was my fault. He chalked it up to bad luck and we agreed there was no way I could have seen that coming. But to this day I suspect I could have seen it coming. I know for a fact I should have seen it coming. 

I managed to mitigate much of the damage with some new sales programs and by out hustling the competition. I also learned a ton about making decisions, making mistakes, and “fixing” poor decisions. 

But what I learned most of all is to accept the fact that I could be wrong. About almost anything. That meant that people I disagreed with could be right. About almost anything. 

Authentic Leaders must make confident decisions based on the facts they have available. They must also be open to discover new facts that become available and have the courage to change a decision based on the new information. 

Leaders who cannot accept that one of their decisions may need to be changed are very limited leaders. Leaders who refuse to accept that they could be wrong have no ability to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who believe that accepting responsibility for a poor decision is a weakness will never fully have the trust of their people. 

Leaders who do not have the trust of their people are leaders in name only. For anyone hoping to truly lead making a mistake need not be fatal, refusing to admit that mistake most often is. 

Earning Trust – Part Two

It’s not only an advantage to have the trust of those you would lead, it is essential. But trust doesn’t happen by itself. Trust is built over time and that time frame can be shortened if you take specific, intentional actions to build it.

I’m about to write about actions you’re already aware of. But awareness is not enough. Most people simply do not invest the time to intentionally build trust. They hope it will happen over time. It might. But hope alone isn’t a good strategy for anything. So while you refresh your memory with these suggestions ask yourself if you’re DOING these things or if they sit comfortably in the back of your mind.

First up is this…honor your commitments. I believe that when people commit to do something they intend to do it. The problem for most people, myself included, is that they hate to say no. So they say yes to more than they can do. That causes you to either not honor the commitment or to honor it in such a way that it’s almost as bad as not doing it at all. If your goal is to build trust then promise less and do more.

It is not an overstatement to say miscommunication has started wars. World War I began in part with a failure to communicate. Effective communication is critical to building trust. Never assume, if you’re not certain what was said or what was meant then ask.

Some communication will de difficult. No one, well almost no one, likes dealing with conflicts. But the most trustworthy people won’t dodge a conflict and the challenging communication that often results. They have the conversation that needs to happen and they have it in a caring compassionate way. They choose their words carefully and when they have to choose between telling the truth and offending someone they choose the truth.

Another way to build trust is to be helpful. Extend kindness to everyone you meet. The concept of “helpful kindness” means that you’ll be helpful to others with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

Some people may question the motives for your kindness but in time they will come to see that you’re doing what you’re doing only because it’s the right thing to do.

Lastly, always do the right thing. If you’re not certain what the right thing to do is then ask someone who you trust. But I’m willing to bet you know the right thing to do. You almost certainly know what’s wrong to do so not doing that increases the odds of doing the right thing immeasurably.

Even if what you do turns out to be the wrong thing when people know that your actions were guided by your values you’ll trusted more than someone who only acts in their own self interests.

You knew about all these trust building actions before you read this post. Now that you’ve been reminded of them the next step is to use them. If you want to build trust you will. If you choose not to use them then one can only assume that you don’t place much value on being trustworthy.

So what’s it going to be?

Earning Trust – Part One

Trust is essential for leadership. Whether you’re attempting to lead people who work for you, or across from you or even above you in your organization you must have their trust in order to lead them.

You earn, or not, the level of trust other people place in you. There are some people who have a default mindset that says to trust everyone until they show themselves to be untrustworthy. But most people are more skeptical and don’t trust someone until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

The contradiction there is that the best way to know whether someone is trustworthy is to trust them.

The trust you need to lead, or even to build a strong relationship requires time to build, sometimes a very long time. But you can lose that trust very quickly and you can lose it in several ways. You can lose it by not following through on your commitments. You can lose it by lying. You can lose it by sharing information that was given to you in confidence.

I’m good with those first two…not always so good with that last one. I can’t honestly recall ever sharing something told to me when I was specifically asked not to. When I’ve been told that something was being shared with me in confidence I’ve closely held that information.

It’s when I wasn’t specifically told that something was being shared in confidence that I’ve gotten myself in trouble. I would love to say that’s okay because I wasn’t told not to tell anyone else but it’s not okay. Unless you’re a complete idiot you know, or you should know, what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. You shouldn’t have to be told. Neither should I.

Failing to protect information shared with you in confidence, whether implied or stated, is one of the fastest ways to lose trust. Even if you only tell one other person you’ve broken the trust of the person who originally shared that information with you. If the person you told tells other people then you’re responsible for all those people knowing too. It’s a pretty big screw up.

Benjamin Franklin said “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” You might want to keep that quote in mind if you’re ever tempted to share something that was told to you in confidence.

The good news is that trust can be rebuilt. It isn’t easy but if you’re interested it is possible. In my next post I’ll share several steps you can take to build trust and rebuild trust if you’ve lost it. There won’t be any secrets there, if fact I’ll bet you’ve heard them all before…the question is, are you doing them?