When Trust is Gone

Of all the things a person needs to be an Authentic Leader none is more important than the trust of the people they lead. They actually cannot lead anyone who doesn’t have a high level of trust in them. 

That’s because a sign that someone is an Authentic Follower is a commitment to the leader. Human beings don’t have the emotional ability to commit to someone they do not trust. 

People follow a leader for what the leader does for them and the organization. When they see a leader who makes decisions solely, or even mostly, for their own benefit then the trust erodes quickly. What many people in leadership positions fail to understand is that they are under a microscope and it’s the people they are trying to lead who are looking at them through that microscope. They need to know if they can trust their leader. 

They listen to what the leader says and look even closer at what they do. When the words and actions don’t align the perceived integrity of the leader takes a dive and trust goes with it. 

Authentic Leaders intentionally work to earn the trust of their people. They also demonstrate that they trust their people. 

What many people in leadership positions forget is that trust is a two-way street. While they want and often even expect their people to trust them they are less than willing to return that trust to their people. 

Most of the time people won’t explicitly tell someone they are trusted. So people generally go with their feelings. We can “just kinda tell” whether someone trusts us or not. We look for “signs” that indicate we are trusted. Things like being allowed to make decisions, call an audible on a decision that had already been made, or perhaps even work from home on occasion. 

When people are not allowed to make the most basic decision without running it past their manager (notice I didn’t say leader because leaders don’t operate this way) they feel as if they are not trusted. People who are micro-managed don’t feel trusted. People who must document every minute of their day don’t feel trusted. 

When people feel as if their manager or leader does not trust them then they will not trust their leader. It’s almost impossible to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. Absent that trust there can be no commitment. Absent that commitment there can be no Authentic Followership. Absent that followership there is no Authentic Leadership. 

You may call yourself a leader, you may hold a leadership position, you may have a big important title but if no one is following then you aren’t leading. 

If you cannot trust your people then you should have no expectation that they will trust you. If you cannot trust your people then maybe you’ve hired the wrong people. It‘s also possible that you’ve not yet earned the right to lead. 

Either way, when trust is gone so is the basic element required for a committed relationship between a leader and their people. Building trust requires effort. It requires time. It requires consistently doing what you say you will when you say you will do it. 

If you’re not willing to put in the time and make the effort then you will always struggle as a leader and your people will always struggle to follow you. 

Promises and Commitments

Is there a difference between a promise and a commitment? The short answer to that question is YES!

I’m reminded of the story of the guy who sat down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. There were two animals involved in the production of that breakfast. The first one was a chicken who made the promise of a great tasting breakfast. The second was a pig. The pig made an absolute commitment to a fantastic breakfast. 

I am surprised, disappointed really, at how some people make promises with no real intention of keeping them. Even though they are in the minority too many people make promises and then quickly forget about them. 

That’s why Authentic Leaders don’t make promises. They make commitments. Commitments seem to carry a great deal more emotional “weight” than a mere promise. I might be naive but I think most people have the best of intentions when they make a promise. When they make a commitment however it goes beyond good intentions. Often way beyond.

I try to never ask anyone for a promise. I try to never put someone in a position where they feel the need to offer one either. But I will ask team members, colleagues and anyone I’m mentoring for a commitment. I don’t do that for my benefit, I do it for theirs.

More people honor commitments than honor promises. Especially to themselves. If you want to lose weight then stop promising yourself that you’re going to start tomorrow. Make a commitment to begin today. A sign that you’ve made a commitment rather than a mere promise is that you’ve also carved out time in your schedule to honor it. 

While a promise can quickly slip into the “afterthought” area of your brain commitments tend to remain top of mind much longer. They kind of peck away at your consciousness until they are honored. 

I feel bad when I break a promise but I, like most people, get over it rather quickly. The very few times I have failed to honor a commitment I feel terrible, for a very long time. 

If you think the difference between a promise and a commitment is semantics then stop making promises and start making commitments. Especially to yourself. You WILL see and feel a difference and you’ll accomplish more than you knew you could. 

You’ll gain greater respect from your peers, your friends and most importantly, your family. 

Promises are nice but they are as easy to break as they are to make. Commitments mean more and are more likely to happen as a result. 

Whether or not you enjoyed your breakfast doesn’t matter to the chicken. They are going to lay another egg tomorrow either way. The pig however gave (well maybe not gave) their life in pursuit of a perfect piece of bacon for you. If that’s not commitment I don’t know what it could be.

People with good intentions make promises. People of good character make commitments. Which person are you?

Leadership Trust

I find it amazing how many people in Leadership Positions are not trusted. I find it amazing because building and maintaining trust just isn’t that hard. All you need to do is be honest. Do what you said you would do. Do it exactly when you said you would do it. Do those things every day of your life and presto… you have now created trust. 

Notice in that first sentence I said people in Leadership Positions…I didn’t say Leaders. That’s because true leaders, Authentic Leaders, people who actually lead, are trusted. They are trusted because they do what they say they will do. They do it when they say they will. They do not say yes when what they mean to say is no. 

They may occasionally fail at honoring a commitment but not because of a lack of effort. Their people reward that effort with their trust. 

The actions of the most trusted leaders always match their words. Special emphasis on the “always” part of that last sentence. Trusted leaders know that we all have what I would call a “credibility bank” that determines how trustworthy we are.

The greater the balance in your credibility bank the more people will trust you. When your words always match your actions you’ll have a very large balance in your credibility bank. Do what you say you will and you receive a very small deposit into that account. Do it when you say you will and you’ll receive another small deposit. Say exactly what you mean and follow through on what you said and yep, another small deposit. 

But mess up and fail to follow through and you’ll be making a gigantic withdrawal from your account. Say one thing and do another and bingo, another massive withdrawal. As if that’s not damaging enough, after a couple of those large withdrawals the deposits you receive for doing what you say you will get even smaller. So small in fact that the balance in your credibility bank may never return to what it once was. 

Make absolutely no mistake about this leadership fact; if your people can’t trust you then your people can’t follow you. If you’re seen as lacking integrity then you’re seen as lacking the most basic quality of Authentic Leadership. 

You may be able to force the compliance of the people you are supposed to be leading but you’ll never earn the commitment you need to truly lead. Protect the balance in your credibility bank as if it were gold because in a world short on Authentic Leadership it’s far more valuable than that. 

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. 

The Enemy Within a Me

People get frustrated with me when I tell them that it’s very likely the greatest obstacle to success they face is themselves. 

They tell me I don’t understand, but I do. They tell me I don’t know, but I do. They tell me I don’t know how tough it can be “out there,” but I do. 

I also know that in any situation where I’ve struggled to advance or accomplish a goal my greatest enemy was within me. That enemy slowed down my progress. My doubts about my own abilities prevented me from moving forward. Those doubts opened the door to my true enemy which was fear of failure. 

Despite the compliments I get about my speaking ability, the things I write and other stuff I do, I know this undeniable truth about myself…overall I’m a pretty average person. I don’t say that about myself in a bad way, in fact my “averageness” is one of my greatest strengths. It helps me relate to the people I’m trying to help. 

That’s why I can say with a high degree of confidence, I do understand, I do know. 

I also know my main enemy is within a me! 

I know the best way for me to block that enemy is to believe in myself. People who believe in themselves are pretty darn near impossible to stop. When YOU believe in yourself you are pretty much unstoppable.

Believing in yourself leaves no room for doubt. Without doubt to open the door fear has no way into your head. 

Any battle is halfway won when when your enemy within is kept away. Obstacles become opportunities when the enemy within you can’t mess with your head. 

So the next time doubt starts to creep into your thoughts you need to immediately ask yourself,  “is this an actual problem, or is this the enemy within a me just tearing down my confidence?”

If you’re average like me, and most of you are, (see, that’s how “average” works) you’ll know it’s the enemy within. You should also know you can defeat it by ignoring it. I know that if you believe in yourself you will be unstoppable. 

I know that about you cause I know that about me. I’ll never let the enemy within a me make me doubt my ability and neither you should you.

How to Make People Trust You

If you were to take the title of this post literally it would be my shortest post ever. That’s because you cannot MAKE someone, anyone, trust you. That’s not within your control.

But what is within your control is making yourself trustworthy. You have control over doing things that people will feel makes you a safe bet in the trust area. You also have control, complete control, over not doing things that would cause people to lose trust in you.

If you want to be seen as trustworthy then you must honor your commitments. You must do what you say you will do and you must do it when you said you would. Every time you fail in this area you cast doubt on the next commitment you make. It doesn’t take long before your commitments are worthless. Remember that…it doesn’t take long.

Be honest. Obviously not lying requires you to tell the truth. Being honest is more than not lying. Being honest requires that you tell the entire truth. Hiding details that matter is lying. Very often being completely honest is very difficult. If you have a dictionary handy check out the definition of difficult. Then look up the definition of impossible. You’ll see that “difficult” is not the same as impossible. So be honest if you want to be trustworthy.

Be timely. Said another way, show up when you said you would. Always! Punctuality matters and calling ahead from your cell phone to say “you’re running late” is a poor substitute to honoring another person’s time by being on time yourself. If people can’t trust you with something as basic as being on time they will doubt everything else about you as well. They really will.

Only tell your secrets. Most people love it when someone tells them a secret. They love it so much that they can’t wait to tell the secret to someone else. Don’t be a quidnunc. If someone trusts you enough to share their secret with you then keep it a secret. There probably isn’t a faster way to destroy the trust of someone than to share something they told you in confidence.

Remember, the people you gossip with today are the same people who will gossip about you tomorrow. A quidnunc is a person who loves to gossip. Are you one of those? Nobody likes to admit to gossiping but most everybody gossips. Want to destroy trust? Gossip. It’s like a nuclear bomb to trust.

Admit when you’re wrong. It’s almost funny when someone who is clearly wrong refuses to admit it. Almost funny. If you don’t have the confidence in yourself required to admit you’re wrong then how can anyone else have confidence in you? Dale Carnegie said, “when you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” Admitting to a mistake or admitting to being wrong about something you said is a trust builder. People won’t have to double check you because they know you’re double checking yourself.

Trust is the basis for all successful relationships. But even the strongest trust is fragile. It needs constant attention and effort. You can’t make someone trust you but you can make it easy for them not to.

The good news is you can also make it easier for them to see you as someone they should trust. It takes effort, it takes time, it takes consistency, and it takes intentionality.

You have what it takes to be trustworthy. The question is, will you do what it takes?

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?