Successful Supervisor Part 19 – The Meaning of Trust

March 25, 2017

I work with supervisors and managers all the time, and one of the things we talk about in depth is the topic of trust, since I believe that is the most powerful positive force in business (and the lack of it is the most negative force).

Trust is such a common word that we hear it and say it numerous times every week. If you watch television, whether it be coverage of worldwide events or advertising, you will hear the word trust several times an hour.

It is astounding to me that when I ask a group of supervisors or managers to define what trust is, I get a bunch of blank faces for several moments. Finally someone will say something like, “It means you can count on another person.”

I think the reason is that there are some words that we know very well but that are hard to define without using the word itself in the definition. Another example of this paradox is the word “time.” See if you can define time without using the word time in the definition. It is more difficult than you think, isn’t it? I will give one definition at the end of this article.

Back to trust; normally, when we think of trust, we picture the concept between us and another person. We almost always think of trust as a singular concept, I trust you at some level or I do not.

In fact, trust takes on numerous forms in our lives that we rarely consider at a conscious level. Here are a few of the categories of trust that you will recognize:

• You have my back – I can count on you.
• You are reliable and do what you say.
• You do what is in my best interest, even if I am not happy about it at the time.
• You are honest and admit mistakes.
• We enjoy a relationship of high esteem.
• It is safe for you to share what you believe without fear of reprisal.
• You depend on another person to keep you safe.
• You have integrity and are not duplicitous.

These are just a few of the categories of trust that go on all the time, but we rarely think of them at a conscious level. It becomes a feeling we have about another person.

Trust not only takes many forms, but it also is manifest in various ways as we interact with our world. Let’s take a few examples and examine them consciously to illustrate how ubiquitous trust is in our lives.

People

Trust with people is the most common form of trust as we think of it. We trust every other person we know at some level, and that person trusts us at some level, but the levels are not always the same. Also, the level of trust is changing all the time as a result of the interfaces or transactions going on with the other person.

I can send a text to you that might make your trust in me go down a bit while my trust in you is going up. I can be sitting across from you at a meeting and when you roll your eyes at something the speaker is saying, my trust in you is impacted.

I might lose some trust in you by the tone of your voice when you complain about the boss. All through the day, in every interface, the trust in both directions is being impacted: sometimes both in the same direction, and sometimes in opposite directions. Trust between yourself and other people is dynamic and does not remain constant.

Products

We must trust the products we use. Most of the time the trust is implied, and we don’t even think about it. When you take a pill, you rarely wonder where the ingredients came from or who made the pill. You simply trust that there are systems in place to take care of any potential problem.

When you walk into the bathroom in the morning and flip the light switch, you trust that the lights will go on and you will not somehow get electrocuted.

You turn on the spigot and water comes out. You don’t think about it unless for some strange reason the water does not come out, or it comes out rusty.

You get into your car and turn the key. You do not think about the fact that thousands of explosions are going on under the hood every minute. When you get to a stop sign, you apply the brake and expect the car to stop.

Systems

Believe it or not, we trust our system of government all day every day. We may not be happy with all the decisions or non decisions our leaders make, but there are thousands of things that the system at local and national levels provide that we just do not think about. If there is an ice storm, you will trust that the salt trucks will be out before you have to go to work.

If you drive over a bridge, you trust that you will not fall into the water (at least on most bridges and overpasses). The mail shows up in your mailbox unless it is a holiday.

An interesting example is trust in the media. Right now there is a lot of discussion about whether you can trust anything you hear in the main stream media, yet most of us still listen to it.

Trust in the media has been declining rapidly for over a decade. There are many reasons for the lack of trust in the media, some of them are legitimate, and some of them are probably “fake news” about the news.

Organizations

We trust that if there is a disaster, the Red Cross will be there for aid. We trust our military to follow the orders of the chain of command, even if we are skeptical about the sanity of some people in the chain.

We trust that if an enemy shoots a missile at us, it will be shot down before it reaches us. We do not consciously think of these protections; we take them for granted every day.

Basically, trust is far more complex and ubiquitous in our lives than we realize. You cannot get up in the morning and go to work without experiencing trust several hundred times.

The vast majority of experiences with trust are subconscious, and we just take things for granted unless there is some reason to be doubtful (like a tornado heading for town).

Now imagine taking several hundred people and putting them together in a kind of pressure cooker called an organization, and you have a rather complex situation.

This condition is the world in which the supervisor works daily. The cumulative level of trust between people in the entire organization is what gives the entity its power to operate.

Supervisors and leaders provide the environment where this fragile commodity called trust will flourish or be extinguished. I believe more than any other factor, it is the behaviors of the supervisors and leaders that determine the level of trust in an organization.

Trust is not dependent on the desires of leaders, their intelligence, or their intentions. All leaders seek high trust. It is their behaviors that govern the reactions in people that lead to higher or lower trust.

I firmly believe that if an organization is struggling with performance issues, regardless of the direct causes, the root cause is the inability of the leaders of that organization to create an environment of sustained trust. That is both good news and bad.

The bad news is that most leaders do not believe what I just wrote. It is easier to blame others or circumstances. The good news is that there is a way to educate leaders to understand this concept and actually do better. The only difference between the bad news and the good news is getting leaders to recognize that the leverage is created by their behaviors.

My mission in life is to educate as many leaders as possible about these ideas, and by doing that, make a difference in our world, one leader and organization at a time.

Oh yes, back to the definition of time. Try using something like, “a measure of duration.”

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Leadership Mentors

October 30, 2011

In my work, I consult with management and leader groups at all levels in organizations of all sizes and types. We normally think of each group as being unique. They have their own style, idiosyncrasies, type of work, environment, and goals, yet I have found most groups to have many similar aspects.

In any group, you will find a core of dedicated and cooperative individuals who are there to help and earn a living. They have basically the same hopes and dreams, although each one has his or her unique story to tell. Then you have a few superstars who are really trying to get the most out of every experience. They shine above the others in many ways. Finally you have the slackers and trouble makers. Even though their numbers are less than 10% of the population, these people take up roughly 80% of the time of their managers. They often feel that life has dealt them a rotten hand, when it is really their own attitude that is usually causing their misery.

When I meet with a new management team for the first time, the manager often tells me “we’re different here,” and yet when you consider the entire group, despite any other differences, they are usually similar to the pattern I described above. It takes me less than 5 minutes to scope out the distribution for that particular group. Usually it is very close to a normal distribution, but occasionally I will find a group that is either much better or much worse than the norm. For those outlier situations, there is often a relationship between how people are treated and how they react. If people are treated well by leaders, the group will be better than average. If people are misused by leaders, then you find a group with more problems.

The people in a dysfunctional team can be made more positive if the leader finds ways to improve his or her own skills. The good news is that it takes people only a short time to become more motivated. The transformation can take as little as six months. The leader would have culled out the cancerous elements of the team to allow the healthy cells to shine through and work up to potential. The leader would have set up expectations and gained the respect of everyone. Trust would be in evidence every day.

Reverse the situation and put a less-skilled leader in with a high performing team, and the team will lose its edge quickly. People will start acting as if they are playing games with each other, and trust will be reduced. In that environment, some problem individuals will quickly surface to bring down the average performance of the team.

I have seen the above pattern work in both directions so many times over the past 40 years of observation that I am convinced there is a causal relationship. If you look around and see a need for higher quality leaders in your organization, it is costing you plenty.

I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing? The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.

If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors. Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.


Leaders and Managers

March 16, 2010

There is a lot of information on the contrast between leaders and managers. Typically we see a side by side comparison with items such as:

“Managers do things right” while

“Leaders do the right things.”

I like to take a different slant on describing the differences because I believe a pure manager comes to work with an entirely different mindset from a pure leader. Of course, there really is no such thing as a pure manager or leader, it is always some kind of a combination of the two concepts. Here is how I describe the differences.

The Manager

The manager wants everything to go smoothly. He or she wants every process to run the way it should and get the maximum productivity. There should be no waste. The manager wants everyone to follow all the rules and be there every day motivated to do good work. In essence, the manager wants to stabilize things and clone everything to be exactly right. The manager is all about doing things right, and is most closely associated with the mission of the organization (what they are trying to accomplish). The manager works with the process, the equipment, the schedule, and the people in terms of what they should be doing. Managers are now oriented.

The Leader

The leader is often a destabilizing force. He or she is most interested in where the organization is going rather than just optimizing today’s processes. That may mean making people unhappy for some time in order for the greater good. If people are too complacent and do not see the dangers, the leader is there to create a burning platform. Leaders are sometimes very unpopular. The idea is to do the right things, which may mean some pretty difficult decisions. The leader is all about the vision of the organization (where they are trying to go). The leader works with the balance sheet, the strategic plan, the product line, and the people in terms of what they can become. Leaders are future oriented.

The Leader/Manager

This person is able to combine the best of both worlds and act in both roles. All of us act as leaders and managers at times, but each of us favors one mode or the other. A good balance between the two extremes is the best place to be. In general, the world has far more competent managers than competent leaders, so if you have leadership tendencies, that is a good thing to have.

Really great leaders do not mind being average managers. They recognize their weakness and surround themselves with outstanding managers to handle the details.