When I was growing up, my dad and grandpa dug the well at our cabin by hand. I still remember how deep they were, how they had to reinforce the dirt to make sure it didn’t collapse and and how scary it was. They had to keep digging deeper and deeper before they hit water. They had to have a deep trust in each other and in what they were doing to stay safe. After about 32 feet they struck water and 53 years later we still get our water from that well.
Leadership may not be quite so dangerous, but it does require trust. Diane Gray, owner of Grayheart Consulting, describes three levels or depth of trust that leaders need to build to be successful. As you get deeper, it gets harder, but the payoff is worth it.
One Strike and You Are Out Trust
This is the most shallow level of trust. It is transactional and exists when there is a punishment as a consequence for behaviors that break trust. Fear of reprisal and positional power are the basis for trust at this level. Trust is fragile and broken easily. While it is a tenuous trust, it can be successful when leaders act with integrity.
Knowledge and Understanding Trust
This is the mid-level of trust. It exists when people know and understand what they need to do and when others know and understand what to do. Interactions and behaviors are predictable and “make sense” so people trust each other. This level of trust takes time to develop since it requires multiple interactions and repeated behavior. It isn’t based on immediate transactions, includes forgiveness and a more complete understanding of behaviors, and thus is a deeper level of trust. Trust at this level creates loyalty and more engagement.
The deepest level of trust. Leaders develop this level of trust by demonstrating “they have their people’s backs.” When leaders are open, transparent, and willing to listen to their people they can build deeper relationships and deeper trust. Taking the time explore options, argue, share concerns and how decisions are made helps people feel valued and safe. They trust that their leader will advocate for them and are willing to fully engage in their work and the success of their organization. Gray suggests that this depth of trust includes:
How deep is your well of trust? Do you need to do some digging?
I recently had a chance to attend a Talent Development conference and came away with lots of good ideas. It reminded me that professional development helps people stay engaged and excited about their work.
One session highlighted the importance of trust in the workplace. Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller talked about the difference between a “judging” mindset and a “joining” mindset.
A judging culture includes win/lose and problem-finding behaviors. People hold onto the past, act defensive, and withhold trust. They tend to think small and contribute less. A joining culture is accepting, exploring, and focuses on problem-solving. People can let go of the past and extend trust. They are able to think big and contribute more.
The presenters said that judging is our individual and organizational default, especially in times of stress, fear, and conflict. When we feel uncertain, our cognitive biases are more likely to kick in, which can lead to making judgments about others.
Here are four strategies we can use to generate a joining culture:
- Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
- Listen as an ally.
- State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
- Accept that others’ thoughts and experiences are true for them.
Years ago when I was a new supervisor I learned a good lesson about joining. One of my employees had performance issues, and looking back I think my coaching style made her feel judged. It was going down a bad path until life circumstances caused us to listen to each other as allies around a shared experience we were both going through. Making that personal connection helped the work conversations go more smoothly, and I think it was about building trust.
You can view the presentation slide deck here. What ideas strike you about creating a culture of joining instead of judging?
Dee Anne Bonebright
“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.
I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?
Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.
In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?
In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.
T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala
- I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
- WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives
R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”
- I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
- WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership
U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”
- I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
- WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support
S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up
- I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
- WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes
T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust
- I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
- WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges
Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?
Predictability is a core foundation of trust. In fact it is a requirement if you want people to trust you. And in the world of work it is often where you, as a leader, have the best opportunity to earn the trust of the people you work with.
The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.” Or in my words, can you count on someone! Certainly being honest and having skills is important but what people are watching is your behavior. Do they have confidence in what you will do or say next – based on what you have done and said in the past.
Roger Fisher and Scott Brown in their book, Getting Together, highlight that personal predictability is the one constant that can maintain trust, even in complex and uncertain work environments. So how do leaders demonstrate predictability? You certainly can’t make guarantees and you can’t predict the future with 100% certainty but you can take the following actions:
- Don’t over commit. Carefully examine what what you are committing to do. Following through on a commitment is more important than making a large number of commitments.
- Document or note your commitments. In the chaos of leadership it is easy to lose track of statements you have made to people.
- Take time to review your commitments. It is easy to get distracted or to move on to your next task. Taking the time to review commitments and purposely finishing them makes you trustworthy to others.
- Provide updates. Let others know the behind the scenes progress you are making or share the reasons that priorities have changed. Don’t be a black hole.
There are few guarantees in the world but demonstrating that you can be counted on helps your people say, “Yes, I trust you!”
I recently listened to a TED talk by international consultant Jacqueline Oliveira. She had some very interesting observations about building trust in cross-cultural institutions. As our higher ed workplaces become more diverse, it was a great reminder that trust is shaped and colored by culture.
Oliveira said that trust is a belief in the virtue, ethics, and honesty of another person. But she also pointed out that we don’t see beliefs, we see behaviors. Trust is related to our actions that show:
- Competence – doing our jobs right
- Integrity – sticking to a code of behavior
- Caring – demonstrating that we care for our colleagues
“There are so many behaviors – some different, some similar, some contrary – all driven by these three attributes,” she says. “Imagine your multi-cultural colleagues behaving in ways that they were taught from childhood, and then being marginalized or even disciplined for behaving in this way.”
We rarely think about what we mean when we say someone is behaving in a trustworthy manner. It’s just the way things ought to be. When working with colleagues from different backgrounds we can increase trust by:
- Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you? It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
- Writing it down. Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
- Being flexible and willing to change.
Building trust can be complicated. Building trust across cultures is even more so. But the result is a stronger workplace where everyone feels included.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Trust at work can be defined as the willingness to accept personal risk based on another person’s actions, according to an article on the Business-2-Community website.
That could mean that I’m willing to guarantee a deadline because I’m confident my team members will do their part on time. It could mean making decisions based on someone else’s data, because I’m sure the data is accurate. Or it could mean accepting a stretch assignment because I’m sure my supervisor will help me succeed and back me up when I make mistakes.
Developing that kind of trust between employees and leadership can be difficult. In fact, studies show that fewer than half of employees say they have a high trust in their leaders. But it’s important because:
- It leads to greater productivity and employee retention. Forbes has measured 15-20% difference in profit and productivity when organizations put a priority on trust.
- It leads to better outcomes on the job. One study found that 82% of employees said trust in their supervisors was critical to their performance.
- It enhances engagement. Among highly engaged employees, 90% say they trust their leaders.
How can we build this kind of trust? The article and a related infographic gave the following advice.
- Gather employee input when making organizational decisions.
- Increase transparency by helping employees understand how decisions are made.
- Tell employees what is going on, even when things aren’t going well.
- Ensure consistency between leadership words and actions.
As employees, we want to work in environments where there is high trust. As leaders, trust will help us be more effective in meeting organizational goals. How have you been able to build trust with your work teams?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Welcome to the month of May. In the Midwest we are working hard to rid ourselves of our final snow piles and welcome the first signs of spring. Less than two weeks ago we had over 20 inches of snow on the ground but this weekend my first tulips poked through. Sometimes it is hard to trust that they will return but they do! May is also the month that we will be talking about leaders building trust. Not just building trust but earning trust!
The late author Max De Pree stated “Earning trust is not easy, nor is it cheap, nor does it happen quickly. Earning trust is hard and demanding work.” And the author of The Trust Edge, David Horsager states that the starting point for leaders is to “resist the urge to think about others and whether or not they deserve to be trusted. Take responsibility for yourself … when you change yourself, you have the best chance of impacting your organization …”
Specifically Horsager tells leaders to focus their attention on the question, do people trust me? What am I doing so that they “believe in my ability, my consistency, my integrity, and my commitment to deliver.” When you are believed in you are trusted.
We will be sharing ideas and opening a dialogue with you on actions you can take to build, sustain and earn the trust of the people you lead. It is a never-ending process but as the leadership pioneer and scholar Warren Bennis says, “trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”