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!

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? 

The Lunacy of Lying

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Lies are lies. If it’s not the truth it’s a lie, no matter how much you want to believe it. When you tell a lie you damage your credibility, credibility that you need in order to lead. 

Let’s begin with some incredible research findings about deception. 

  • Humans are lied to as many as 200 times a day. 
  • Humans detect lies with only 54% accuracy. 
  • Of the lies we tell 25% are for someone else’s sake. 
  • Children begin deceiving as early as 6 months of age. 
  • Avoiding eye contact is the most presumed sign of lying around the world—even though it’s false.
  • People engaged in normal honest conversation only make direct eye contact 30-60% of the time.
  • Law enforcement officials—including FBI agents, customs agents and judges— performed no better than the average person in detecting deception.

The research suggests it’s harder to tell when someone is lying than we think it is and that around half the lies told go undetected. 

That’s all kinda bad news but it pales in comparison to this absolute truth: the lies we tell ourselves do immeasurably more harm to our ability to lead than the lies we tell others. That’s true because when we lie to ourselves, when we convince ourselves that fiction is fact, we will surely share that lie with others. 

Once you master lying to yourself you will lie to anyone, whether you intend to or not. You actually can become unsure of what the truth really is. It is possible that you don’t even consider an untruth to be a lie. Deception simply becomes a tool you use to manipulate others.

Leading people has nothing to do with manipulating them. Leading requires a relationship of sorts between the leader and the follower. When people feel manipulated they do not trust the manipulator. Absent trust, there can be no relationship. 

Not only does lying damage the ability of others to trust you, it damages YOUR ability to trust others. People who are untrustworthy have major issues trusting other people too.

The people you lead NEED to know they can believe what you say. They need to know that they can trust you. Once, yes once, you’re caught in a lie you make it much harder for your people to follow you.

But I’m betting that you don’t consider yourself a liar. You’re an honest person who maybe just “withholds some details,” or doesn’t exactly tell the “whole truth” in order to allow someone to save face. 

I get that but here’s what you need to get: The absence of truth is a lie. Withholding even part of the truth is lying. You need to be very very careful with the first lie because the first lie very often leads to telling a second lie to protect the truth from the first lie. Lying is the leading cause of more lying. 

Some people excuse themselves for lying with the statement that “the truth hurts.” Well telling someone the truth is like pulling a band-aid off quickly, telling a lie is like pulling it off slowly. The fact is, lies hurt too, they just hurt longer.

Lying is lunacy, it always burns the liar in the end. Even if no one else catches you in the lie, you know that you lied and if you’re a normal person, that in itself will eventually burn you.

Lies almost never work out, the truth almost always does….play the odds, tell the truth! 

 

The Trouble with Trust

In my last post I started out writing about trust and it sort of morphed into something else. Let’s see if I can stay on track this time…

Trust! It’s vital to any positive relationship. While I suppose we can have some sort of relationship without trust it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a relationship that we would truly value.

The trouble with trust is that it is fragile. Very, very fragile.

If you’re actually going to lead people then trust is even more vital. I don’t know a leader, any type of leader, who would intentionally destroy the trust of their people and yet, destroy it they do!

Whether by accident, by mistake or by simple thoughtlessness, trust is damaged by leaders every day. Once the damage is done it can take years and tremendous effort to repair it.

So what are the “accidental” destroyers of trust? Well here are just a few “accidents” that leaders sometimes make without even thinking.

Broken Promises
Your leadership is only as good as your word. This one seems obvious but it depends on the definition someone applies to the word “promise.” What you as a leader might think is a kind of throw-away noncommittal answer your people may take as a promise. Make your communications clear, concise and definite to avoid this issue.

Changing the “Rules”
There are two challenges here, one is actually changing the rules in the middle of the game and the other one is applying the rules differently to different people. It has taken me a long time to understand how “gray” life really is, black and white rules, orderly processes and zero “exceptions” would be a easy way to live. It’s also an unrealistic way to lead. Your ability to apply “the rules” equally will determine your effectiveness as a leader. So if I were you, I’d be perusing your organization’s policy manual to get rid of unnecessary rules and regulations. The more unneeded “rules” you have the more likely you are to put yourself in a tough spot when it comes to applying then equally.

Shirking Your Responsibilities
Your people won’t do more than they see you doing. You can ask your people to move mountains and they will, IF they see you pushing with them. If they get to the mountain only to see you in your LazyBoy then don’t expect great things from them. While you’re relaxing your credibility is going down the drain and the trust of your people is going with it.

Public Criticism
I get the fact that sometimes your emotions “win” and you just let loose with a barrage of criticism in front of the team. That causes lots of problems but here is the big one: not only did you destroy the trust of the person you criticized, you destroyed the trust of the rest of the team too. They are just waiting for their “turn” to be flogged in front of their colleagues. The likely result is that they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you. Their efforts begin to center around protecting themselves… from you.

Avoided Conflict
This is a hard one because it is kind of counterintuitive. On the surface, conflict would seem to erode trust but the opposite is actually true. If you’re an Authentic Servant Leader then you care enough to confront with compassion. That builds trust because your people always know where they stand and they know what is expected of them. If you are a conflict avoider then you are NOT helping anyone. You’re simply allowing the conflict to fester and grow. Whether you realize it or not unresolved conflict negatively affects your relationships with the people around you. No one knows what you really think, they don’t know where they stand with you and as a result, their trust level goes down.

Running from or ignoring conflict is no way to lead. Do yourself a favor and stop considering conflict to be about fighting and start considering it to be about resolution, relationship and trust building. If you can’t build trust you’ll find it very difficult to lead, some might even say impossible to lead.

I could go on and on about situations that harm trust. It is just so darn easy to damage and so darn hard to repair. So I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from Dale Carnegie: when you’re wrong admit it quickly and empathically.

If you’re leading people you’re going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will make it harder for your people to trust you. Failing to acknowledge your mistake harms your credibility even more. 

You’re people actually DO want to trust you, make it as easy for them as you possibly can.

Trust is no Accident

I’m putting the finishing touches on a new program I’m going to present for the first time next week. I’m pretty sure I’ll title it “Building a Trusted Relationship.” It has been fascinating to research the subject of trust.

I’ve learned a lot.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that trust rarely just happens; it must be earned. More than that, it must be intentionally and repeatedly earned. Pretty much everything you say and do, everyday, either adds to or subtracts from, the level of trust that somebody has in you.

Once earned it must be protected like it’s your prized possession. Actually if trust isn’t one of your prized possessions then your likely not doing enough to earn it intentionally and repeatedly.

Trust is amazingly fragile; while it is usually a long slow process to build and maintain trust, it can be destroyed in an instant. It doesn’t have to be something big that destroys it either, it can be something that seems almost trivial…. except to the person whose trust has been lost.

Lots of honest people aren’t trusted. It’s not because they have done something to lose the trust of those around them, it’s because they have done nothing to earn it. You see, there seems to be two distinct types of people in the world. Those who trust you until you do something to destroy that trust and those who won’t trust you until you do something to earn it.

Sadly, it appears the later group is growing.

The class I’m preparing is 3 hours long so the “how to” build trust part of this post could go on a very long time. It won’t, but let me sum it up for you like this:

If you want to earn the trust of the people you interact with then just be you. Whatever you are, you’re better off as you then you are trying to be somebody you’re not. When you try to “fake it” there is so much to remember; who you told what and when you told them. How you should dress when you’re with this person or that one. How you speak and which words do you use.

When you mess around like that you WILL be found out. You just can’t fool anyone forever. Life is so much easier, earning the trust of others is so much easier, when you’re just you. Research shows that the average person lies 7 times a day. My own little very unscientific research says the vast majority of those lies are people trying to project an image that isn’t really them. And yes, those little white lies are still lies, no matter how much you want to believe them.

I don’t suppose this has always been true for me but at this point in my life it certainly is – I’d rather be thought of as an honest idiot than a dishonest genius.

It really makes no difference whether you’re trying to build trust as a leader, as a sales professional or just a person living life; if you can’t maintain trust in a relationship then you can’t maintain the relationship.

Do not take the trust of others for granted. Building trust isn’t something that happens, it is something you do. You may be the most trustworthy person on the planet but if you’re not proactively building trust then trust most certainly will not be built.

Build yourself a bit of trust today….. and everyday!