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?

Does Trust Really Matter?

I heard the Secretary of State for the United States give an interview the other day. He said that “we” don’t always get to choose who the United States negotiates with. He said some of the people the US government talks to are pretty awful people. He also said it doesn’t matter if they are trusted or not, we still have to talk to them. 

 

That makes me glad I’m not in government. I get to choose not to talk to or do business with people I don’t trust. I hope that is true for you as well. 

 

It’s also true of most people you know. If you want to be trusted you’ll need to earn it. There are some people who freely give their trust to anyone until it’s proven a person can’t be trusted. These days however the people who make you earn their trust far outnumber those who give it freely. 

 

How do you earn trust? Well the simplest way is to do what you say you will. Always! Tell the truth. Always! When the truth is hard to tell you must tell the truth anyway. Always!

 

Building trust and credibility takes time. 

 

And sincere effort.

 

The fundamental beginning to developing trust is being genuinely interested in other people. Asking pertinent questions while listening with complete attention demonstrates that they matter to you. It shows their importance in your life. It reflects your interest in developing a real relationship with them. 

 

It really is just that simple.

 

Trust matters. If you’re a leader and your people don’t trust you then they absolutely will not follow you. If you’re in sales and people don’t trust you they will go to great lengths to buy from someone else. 

 

When people in general don’t trust you then you miss out on the deep relationships that make life so meaningful. 


Don’t expect people to trust you because you think you’re trustworthy. Make the effort to build trust every time you interact with another human being. It’s worth the effort because trust matters in everything you do.

Trust Goes Both Ways

Years ago, many years ago actually, I was calling on a candy manufacturer in the Eastern United States. They generously offered me a tour of their building and since there were bowls of my favorite candy all over the place I quickly accepted their offer. 

 

The tour somehow felt a little weird from the start but I couldn’t figure out why. As the tour continued it dawned on me that none of the offices or conference rooms had doors. There were door frames and you could see that at one time there were doors but they had all been removed. 

 

That struck me as very odd so I asked what happened to the doors. One of the founders of the company was giving me the tour and his answer was confusing too. He simply said that “they” didn’t like rumors. 

 

He went on to say that information is the enemy of rumor so they share as much information as they possibly can. He also made a point to say that nearly all information is shareable. He felt that most companies needlessly withhold information from their employees and that is how rumors begin. 

 

When I asked about information such as recipes and other intellectual knowledge he said they share as much of that as possible too. I mentioned something about needing a lot of trust to do that and his instantaneous response was that they didn’t hire people they couldn’t trust. 

 

Considering that trust is a necessary ingredient for leadership that statement has stuck with me for all these years. I think everyone would agree that a leader needs to have the trust of the people they hope to lead. 

 

But what about the other direction? Does a leader need to trust their people in order to truly lead them? 

 

Before you answer that question think about this…do you find it easier or harder to trust someone who doesn’t trust you? If you’re like most people you find it harder, much harder. Maybe even impossible. 

 

That would mean that a leader who doesn’t trust their people is a leader who isn’t trusted by their people. That means that they aren’t a leader at all. 

 

I go back to my conversation with the candy maker who wouldn’t hire people that he couldn’t trust. I’d bet one of the reasons the company has flourished since 1941 is that incredible level of two-way trust.

 

So what about you. Are you hiring people who you can’t trust? I’ve asked that question to leaders face-to-face and they always tell me “of course not.” But they share very little information with them. They allow them to take minimal if any risks. They are not allowed to deviate even a little from long established processes and procedures. These leaders claim to “empower” their people but they don’t trust them enough to let them make a single change.

 

They are trusted in word only. Every decision and action indicates that they are not trusted in practice. But the organization’s leadership expects the trust of their people. 

 

It doesn’t work that way. 

 

Trust is a two-way street. Either start hiring people you can trust or start trusting the people you’ve already hired. 

 

The fastest way to make someone trustworthy is to trust them. If you’re waiting for them to trust you first then perhaps you’ve forgotten that YOU’RE the leader…you go first. Show that you trust your people because if you don’t it’s unlikely that they will ever trust you. 


Trust goes both ways or it doesn’t go at all! 

Do You Have the Trust of Your People?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single person. An individual’s character determines the character of the organization.” Is your’s the shadow that Emerson was talking about? 

 

If you’re in any leadership position you should know that you cast a large shadow on those who follow you. Your shadow can either shade them from difficulties or make their work environment a very dark place. 

 

It all depends on the level of trust YOU create with your people.

 

Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey trusted their top management. A third distrusted their immediate bosses. I truly hope your people trust you but you can’t lead by merely hoping you’re trusted. You must work intentionally, every day, to earn the trust and respect of the people you lead.

 

That trust can only come from a consistent display of integrity. Your integrity comes from your actions, not your image and not the statements you make. Your people will do what they see you doing far faster than they will do what you ask them to do.

 

When what you say doesn’t match what you do then you can be certain they will do what you did and not what you said to do.

 

When thinking about the quality of your own integrity consider these questions.

  • Are you the same person no matter who you are with?  
  • Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you?  
  • Do recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

Image is what people think you are, integrity is what you really are.  Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image matches your level of integrity. 

 

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has huge influence value. If you have the ability to influence others then your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever.

 

Integrity is a hard-won achievement; it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. You must work on your integrity every day because while it’s a long process to earn it, you can lose it overnight.

 

It’s also a good idea to seek input from others about your integrity. You won’t always see yourself the same way that others may see you. So ask someone who knows you well, in what areas of your life they see you as consistent. (you do what you say) In what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) 


If you don’t like their answers remember, you can change. You can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.

 

 

 


Are you a Trusted Leader?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. Their character determines the character of the organization.” (today we would say “person” instead of man but the point remains the same) 

 

So how would you answer the following two questions? Are you the person in your organization that Emerson was talking about? If you are then is your integrity always above reproach? By the way, I should probably point out that you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at any time. Integrity is not a part time job.

     

If your integrity is indeed above reproach then you have the opportunity to lead others, really lead. Maybe before you answer those two questions you should consider a little research: Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey believed their top management was always truthful; a third distrusted their immediate bosses. Current research says that 85% of employees across all businesses and industries are actually demotivated by their “leader.” 

 

What does that survey have to do with you?  Maybe nothing, but maybe, just maybe, you could consider it a wake-up call. A call telling you that you must be especially diligent in making certain that you live by the high standards that you expect from those who you hope to lead. Perhaps the survey results can serve to remind you that you have to work every day to earn the trust and respect of your people. You should never lose awareness that your people are always watching to see if your words match your actions. 

     

Consider as well this fact: Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just an image! Before you answer the questions above, ask yourself these questions: Are you the same person no matter who you are with? Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you? Are you quick to recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

     

You see, image is what people think you are, integrity is what, and who, you really are. Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image reflects who you truly are.

     

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has high influence value, if you have the ability to influence others than your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever. Effective leadership is not based on being clever; it is based on being consistent. No one can fool all of the people of all of the time, insincerity can’t be covered up. Leaders who are sincere don’t have to advertise the fact.

   

Integrity is a hard-won achievement, it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. Your team expects four things from you on a consistent basis: honesty, competence, vision and inspiration. Those areas all impact your integrity. 

     

Ask something who knows you well what areas of your life they see as consistent (you do what you say) and what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) If you don’t like their answer remember, you can change, you can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.

    

So, now it’s time. Go ahead, answer the two questions in the first paragraph and then do whatever it takes to be certain your answer is always, always, yes.

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!