Invest in Trust

All leadership is based on trust. If someone doesn’t trust you they simply will not be committed to truly following you. They might comply with you, they may do what you tell them to do, they may even kind of like you but they will not commit to you.

 

Building trust takes time. When I hear someone say “you must earn the right to lead” what I really think they are saying is “you need to build some trust before anyone will actually follow you.”

     

Authentic leaders know that their title or position does little in the way of building trust. People don’t trust titles, they don’t trust positions, and they don’t trust names. People trust people.

     

Trust building must be intentional. It should happen every day. If you’re a leader, or someone in a leadership position, (of course you know that holding a leading position doesn’t mean you’re actually a leader) then you should be aware that your people are watching you. They want to see if your actions match your words. They want to see if you honor your commitments, and not just to them but to others as well. If they are going to trust you then they expect you to honor your commitments, period.

     

Every leader, every person really, has what I call a “credibility bank.” Every time we do what we say we will a small deposit is made into our bank. Every time we fail to do what we say we will do a large withdrawal is taken from our bank.

     

If that doesn’t seem fair get over it. Building trust takes time and real trust doesn’t come easy for most people. The next time you’re tempted to blow off a commitment just remember your credibility bank and maybe the temptation will pass.

     

If trust building must be intentional as I’ve already said it must, then how do you plan to go about it? Seriously, I’m suggesting to you that you don’t just let trust happen, don’t just assume that people trust you. I’m suggesting that you become intentional in building trust.

     

Take tons of notes about the commitments you’ve made, block time on your calendar to honor those commitments. Return phone calls, answer emails, if you say you’ll do something then by any and all means possible, do it! Always, every time, no exceptions and no excuses. 

     

Virtually everything you say and do sends you to your credibility bank, the only questions is; will you be making a deposit or withdrawal?


Think about that for a while and then get busy adding to your credibility bank!

It All Matters

I have this thought that we all have have what I call a credibility bank. Every time we do or say anything either a deposit or withdrawal is made from our account. Every time! That means everything we say or do matters, all of it, all the time.

 

When we do what we say we will a small deposit is made. When we fail to do what we say, or we say something that doesn’t align with our stated values or principles, a very large withdrawal is made. So we get very little “credit” when we do what’s right but we are heavily penalized when we do what’s considered wrong. 

 

That almost doesn’t seem fair but it is what it is.

 

There are no neutral actions or interactions. Everything you do and say either improves your standing with others or lessons it to some degree. Everything you say and do either leaves a person feeling better about you and themselves or worse. 

 

Your words and actions matter, all of them. 

 

That’s why it’s so hard to pretend to be someone you’re not. Over time the real you comes out. You can fool some people for a long time but not for all time. 

 

That’s why I would always tell aspiring leaders not to try to look or act like a leader. Simply lead. Don’t try to be the kind of person someone would want to follow, be, really be, the kind of person someone would want to follow. 

 

Understand that your words and actions will determine whether or not you earn the opportunity to truly lead. If your credibility account drops too low that opportunity will be lost because without credibility you simply cannot lead.

 

Don’t let that happen to you. You are a combination of what you say and what you do, when those two align your credibility balance will grow by the day. If they don’t align it will drop like a rock.


It all matters!

Your Reputation Precedes You

I think I’ve written before about the fact that I attended a Military High School. It would be a bit of an understatement (okay, a huge understatement) to say that they took their discipline very seriously there. When a student messed up they paid a hefty price. Discipline came quickly and it was, at least in my opinion, often disproportionate when compared to the offense. 

 

But it worked. 

 

In my Freshman and Sophomore years I decided to “test” the system. Though the rules were very clear regarding attendance I decided to skip a class or two, well maybe three, here and there. I was caught every time and the punishment grew with each infraction. After my third attempt to beat the system I found myself in detention everyday after school for a month. 

 

I found a better way to beat the system in my Sophomore year but sadly, it wasn’t really good enough to get away with it. I fought the law and the law won. Once again I spent the last month of the school year in detention everyday after classes had ended.

 

By my Junior year I had learned my lesson. I was promoted to officer which was considered a big accomplishment for a Junior and I didn’t even consider skipping a class.

 

So imagine my surprise when I was called to the Principal’s office with about a month left in the school year and told I was being given detention for the rest of the semester. I protested and was told they “knew” I was skipping classes but had obviously finally figured out a way to get away with it. 

 

I was offered “amnesty” if I spilled the beans on how to get past their vaunted attendance process. Since I wasn’t skipping classes and hadn’t figured out how to beat the system I couldn’t  “accept” the amnesty. 

 

So off to detention I went. The good news is that since I was the only officer in detention I was now in charge of the other cadets in detention. Since I was wrongly accused and darn unhappy about it those poor souls probably had the worst time in detention in the history of detention. To be sure it wasn’t as brutal as flying on United Airlines but it was pretty rough. Such is life at a military school. 

 

That was the year when I learned about the concept of “your reputation precedes you.” 

 

In the business world you are what people think you are. Now I wouldn’t advise stressing over that too much but you do need to realize that it impacts how people perceive you. Their perception of you will change how you’re treated, whether or not you’re trusted, and whether or not you’re considered for advancement.

 

Now here’s the hard part that you may not like to hear; you earn your reputation. Even if you’re certain they are wrong about you that misperception likely came from somewhere. You can’t simply dismiss it without considering if there is any hint of truth to it. 

 

While it may not have been easy for me to accept at the time people thought I skipped classes because I was known to skip classes. The fact that I wasn’t skipping classes didn’t change the fact that I had. I earned that reputation. 


You’re creating history everyday…it’s your history. It’s also your responsibility to make it a history that you can be proud of. Never blame others for what they think of you without considering your role in creating that perception. 

 

By the way, despite perfect attendance in my Senior year I spent my final month of High School in detention after school. Once again I was in charge of the younger and lower ranking cadets. This time however I tried to help the cadets understand the benefits of conforming to requirements. I helped them grow, I probably didn’t do a very good job of it but I tried to help them become leaders. 


It was part of my effort to change some perceptions about me and it also happened to be the right thing to do. 

Results Aren’t all That Matters

If you’re a leader then you surely know that results matter. You’re in your position to get things done and as a leader you coach, motivate, and teach other people to help you get them done.

As a leader you must also know that results aren’t all that matters. Success is important but how you succeed is vital. Leaders who are willing to succeed “at all costs” almost always eventually learn that some costs are just too high, regardless of the level of success. (For the purpose of discussion here I should point out that the particular results I’m writing about are the “bottom line, profit driven” type of results)

If you’re a sales leader you must produce the numbers. If you’re a leader in finance you must make certain the numbers are accurate. If you’re an IT leader you must keep your network secure. Wherever you lead there is a desired result to be achieved. 

Authentic Servant Leaders are results driven, there should be no question about that. But they balance that drive with additional, equally important drives. It’s these additional “drivers” that help ensure their success as leaders goes beyond mere bottom line results.

First and foremost Authentic Servant leaders work to build trust in everything they do. 

They create a transparent organization where secrets are kept to an absolute minimum. They know that information isn’t powerful when it’s locked away in a safe. Information only becomes useful when it is shared with the people who can use it to accomplish something. 

Authentic Servant Leaders confront reality, always, and that helps them right the wrongs they comes across almost as fast as they come across them. It should be noted here that this is one of the biggest failings of leaders who are solely results driven. They allow “wrongs” to live and grow in the name of results. To them the ends absolutely justify the means. They don’t just bend the rules, they obliterate them. It’s that attitude that destroys trust and without trust they cannot truly lead.

Authentic Servant Leaders build trust through accountability and they know that accountability begins with them. They do not expect more of their people then they expect of themselves and those expectations are laid out for everyone in a clear and concise manner. They are measurable and durable, the expectations and how they are measured do not change for the sole purpose of achieving the desired bottom line result.

Authentic Servant Leaders never forget that ethics and morales must always outweigh the drive for results. They are more than willing to suffer a short-term setback for long-term success achieved with honor. They know that it’s not just what they achieve that matters, they know that how they achieved it matters even more.

If that all seems too pollyanna to you then perhaps you’re a bit too bottom line results driven to be a truly Authentic Servant Leader. You may want to consider balancing your need for results with the need to actually lead as well.

 

The High Cost of Low Trust

Trust is hard to come by today. In the United States the two people who will compete for the Presidency this fall are the least trusted candidates ever to run for that high office. 

Laws are put in place basically to combat lack of trust. U.S. Federal regulations cost businesses the equivalent of a little more than 10% of the gross domestic product. Lack of trust is truly expensive.

When trust is low within an organization then every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is doubted, slowing things down and increasing costs. Some research shows that a lack of trust can as much as triple the time it takes to accomplish anything worthwhile.

Building trust and credibility should be a daily activity for all leaders. Just because you have trust today doesn’t mean you always will. Trust must be constantly nurtured. Assuming that you are trusted simply because you consider yourself trustworthy is an all too common mistake for leaders. 

There are many actions that a leader can take to build trust on a daily basis, here are just a few.

Be a straight talker. Use tact, be polite, and show compassion. But when something needs to be said then say it. Say it in a way that won’t be misunderstood. Ask a question or two to verify that the message you intended to convey is the message that was heard. Assume 100% responsibility for the effectiveness of your communications, after all, you have the audacity to call yourself a leader. So don’t make someone else responsible for understanding something you said.

Admit when you’re wrong. Leaders can be wrong, just like every other human being on earth. Dale Carnegie said, “when you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” That is an important principle for leaders to keep in mind. Trying to hide a mistake is often a bigger mistake than the mistake you’re trying to hide.

Be trusting. If you want other people to trust you then you need to trust other people as well. I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that they would never “just trust” someone. They said that trust had to be earned. They said that they “tested” people by asking them to do little things, the kind of things that it didn’t really matter if they were done or not. The people were not told they were being tested with meaningless tasks. 

When I said it seemed to me that they might be deceiving people to determine if they were trustworthy I was told that “you can’t be honest with people you don’t trust.” That my friends is some messed up thinking and the kind of thinking that will certainly kill trust. 

The only honest way I know of to find out if someone is trustworthy is to trust them, really trust them. If you’re a leader and you want people to trust you then you must trust them first. It is called leading for a reason, you need to trust first.

Those are but a few of the many actions a leader must take daily to build trust. Clearly one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume they are trusted just because of their title or position. 

Actually, in today’s environment the opposite is more often true.

Forgotten Trust

If your people can’t trust you then they can’t follow you either. Notice I didn’t say “won’t” follow you, I said “can’t.”

They can’t because to truly follow a leader there must be an emotional commitment. Subconsciously we humans can’t make ourselves commit to a person we don’t trust. There will always be a level of skepticism that acts as a barrier to true commitment.

Through the years I’ve seen many very good leaders work hard to earn the trust of their people. Despite their efforts they often fail to earn that trust because they forget one vital step in earning the trust of others.

They forget that if they want their people to trust them they must first trust their people. Just like it’s really hard to like someone who doesn’t like you it is very hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. (If you’re someone who claims to be a leader then don’t you dare say that you’ll trust your people when they first trust you…you’re the leader, not them.)

Leaders can tell their people they trust them but if their actions, policies, procedures, and programs don’t demonstrate that trust their people will know the truth. 

They are not actually trusted. 

Authentic Servant Leaders demonstrate trust by allowing their people to make decisions and by allowing them to take on a certain level of well thought out and considered risk. Trust is also demonstrated by applying accountability practices in a positive fashion, not a punitive fashion. 

The difference between positive and punitive accountability can be tough to define but your team members most certainly can feel the difference. When an Authentic Servant Leader holds their people to a high standard of performance their people excel. When someone who is seen as a mere boss tries to hold their people accountable their people most often rebel.  

The difference is that an Authentic Servant Leader has a history of showing they care and at best a boss merely says they care. It’s all in the words and tone that you use to hold your people accountable. 

If you want your people to truly follow you then you must work everyday to earn their trust and you must do more than say you trust them, you must show it. 

One more thought …. it is not your people’s responsibility to figure out whether or not you trust them. It is your responsibility as a leader to make that fact so crystal clear that it is completely obvious to all who would follow.

If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then step up and lead, be a person they will want to follow and a person they are able to follow. 

Be a person they can trust by never forgetting to demonstrate that you trust them first.

Trusted Leadership

Congratulations on having a big shot sounding title or a lofty position at some company. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve worked hard to earn your position and I’m also going to give you some advice: don’t screw it up.

Don’t screw it up by assuming that any title or position can make you a leader. Positions don’t make someone a leader and neither does a title. Saying you’re a leader doesn’t make you a leader either. 

In fact there is only one thing that can truly make you a leader and that’s followers. If no one is following you then you may occupy a leadership position but you are most certainly not a leader.

The privilege to lead, and make no mistake, leading is a privilege, cannot be given through promotion. The privilege to lead must be earned and it must be earned everyday.

People don’t follow positions or titles they follow people. Therefore, do not aspire to a position that people will have to follow. Aspire to be the type of person they will want to follow. 

If you’re wondering what makes a person “followable” (did I just make up another new word?) then just ask look at the people you’ve considered to be good leaders in your life.

Most likely you trusted them. I say that because people want, actually people need, a leader they can trust. Leadership without trust is like a car without gas, it might look nice but it doesn’t go anywhere. 

To build trust you should know, you need to know and you must know that everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. It all counts, every last word and action. If you’re not ready or willing to live under that kind of magnifying glass then perhaps you’re not ready to lead. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to lead; there are no perfect leaders on earth. But some leaders are better than others and one key thing that makes them better leaders is that more times than not, many more times in fact, their words and their actions match. 

To be a leader you must have a follower and for someone to be a true follower they must be committed to you as a leader. You should never believe, even for a moment that someone will commit to you if they can’t trust you. They may “follow from the edges” but that’s not at all the same as commitment. You must be clear on that fact or you’ll fool yourself into thinking you’re leading when you’re not.

Leadership works best when the leader sees the word trust as a verb rather than a noun. 

How do you see trust?