Number eight of Deming’s Famous 14 Points was “Drive Out Fear.” In just three words, the long-deceased quality genius put his finger on the most important concept in building and maintaining trust.
I have a favorite quote that I use on my website: “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” It seems a little backward to describe the lack of something to be the cause of something else, but I really do believe that is the case. When there is low fear in a culture, trust will grow spontaneously, like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case the mold is good.
If we turn the logic around, there are a number of positive leader behaviors that do cause trust to grow. If you think about it, these behaviors are easy to name. Consider the following (incomplete) list:
- Do what you say (walk your talk)
- Act in a consistent manner
- Treat people with respect
- Honor your commitments
- Be honest
- Be transparent
- Admit mistakes
We know all these things, and we could list hundreds of behaviors that contribute to building trust on a daily basis. They all work, and yet the power of each one is significantly blunted if the general environment is one of fear.
If you are a leader, of course you need to model the seven behaviors above, along with the others I did not name, but doing that alone will not get you to the promised land.
You need to create a culture of low fear, and you will see the impact of the other behaviors is like they are all on steroids. So the question becomes, how does a leader create a culture of low fear? The answer is simple, but most leaders have a difficult time doing it, which is the reason trust is so low in most organizations.
You lower fear when you make people glad when they bring up a contrary opinion to what you thought was right. Of course, people need to bring up the disconnect in a respectful manner as opposed to an obnoxious way. When you make people glad they brought up their concern and reward them for doing that rather than punishing them, it lowers fear within your group.
You make it safe for people to tell you things that you perhaps did not want to hear. I call the behavior “reinforcing candor,” and I believe leaders who have the ability to exhibit this behavior consistently will build the highest trust organizations.
Since high trust is linked to outstanding performance, morale, and low turnover, the benefits of learning how to reinforce candor are immense. This set of behaviors become the super sauce of excellent leadership. Learn how to reinforce candor; for sure you will become an elite leader.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.