Leadership Barometer 183 The Nature of Trust

February 7, 2023

In my work, I help organizations understand the nature of trust and how to obtain more of it. I have noticed that people tend to visualize trust in pretty narrow terms. They believe it is a feeling of one person toward another. I trust you or I do not trust you. 

Different kinds of trust 

I start many of my programs by demonstrating that trust is far more complex than we realize. It is extremely dynamic.  If you believe trust is one thing, think again. Consider this (incomplete) list of the different types of trust in our lives:

  1. Assurance – You always have my back.
  2. Consistency – You always do what you say.
  3. Reliance – You do what you believe is in my best interest.
  4. Dependency – You do things to keep me well and happy.
  5. Values – We share common core values and trust each other to abide by them.
  6. Fearless – It is safe to voice an opinion without fear of retribution by you.
  7. Vulnerability – You are willing to listen and admit mistakes
  8. Safety – You will protect me from harm.

These are just eight of the obvious categories of trust, and they only include the trust between individuals. There are several other major categories and many subcategories of the ones I have listed. Trust also is evident in every aspect of our lives. It is there in the people we know, the services we obtain, our institutions, and the products we use. Trust is ubiquitous.

Trust is all around us 

We cannot get out of bed in the morning and go to work without experiencing trust several hundred times. We are rarely conscious of the interplay unless something does not work. We walk into the bathroom and turn on the light switch trusting that the lights will go on. We turn the spigot in the shower trusting the water to come out.

As long as things go as expected, then we are not conscious of the possibility for something else to happen.

Most conscious trust

We pay most attention to the level of trust between ourselves and other people. This is the most common form of conscious trust. What we experience is a kind of one-way trust.

We often fail to recognize that trust is always bilateral. The other person trusts us at some level just as we trust her at some level. The levels are rarely the same at any point in time.

Dynamic trust

Trust is far more dynamic than we realize. Our trust in a peer at work may shift slightly several times in one day. It depends on the moment-by-moment interplay of dialog and activities.  These shifts are usually small, but if they are all in the same direction, a great deal of trust can be either gained or lost in a single day.

Trust between people is cumulative rather than zero-based.  We start each interface with roughly the level of trust we had at our last interface. Each person has an “account” of trust with the other person. The balance of trust is the sum of all deposits and withdrawals in the account up to that point. I made a demonstration of how trust works between people using a bunch of metal and plastic scraps. I made a short video about it: Trust Barometer.

The point of this article is that trust is far more complex than most people realize. It is everywhere in our lives.  The cumulative impact of all the trust in your life creates your equilibrium with things and people.  

Expand to cover an organization 

Imagine taking several hundred people and putting them together in a kind of pressure cooker called an organization. You have a rather complex situation. The cumulative level of trust between people in the entire organization is what gives the entity its power to operate. 

The role of leaders 

Leaders provide the environment where this fragile commodity called trust will flourish or be extinguished. I believe it is the behaviors of the leaders that determine the level of trust in any 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. Here is a two-minute video explaining this point.

If an organization is struggling with performance issues, the root cause is normally one thing. It is the inability of the leaders to create an environment where trust grows.  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 and actually do better.  The hurdle is getting leaders to recognize that the outcome is created by their behaviors.

Conclusion 

My mission in life is to educate as many leaders as possible about these ideas. By doing that, I can make a tiny difference in our world. Come and join me by passing this article on to a leader you know.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Building Higher Trust 102 What Trust Isn’t

December 8, 2022

The idea for this article came suddenly; It is all about what trust isn’t. There are countless definitions and examples of what trust is. You could spend a lifetime reading books and articles that try to define the concept.  I thought it would be fun to attempt to define the opposite of trust.

The opposite of faith and confidence 

Trust is linked to our feelings for another person where we feel high confidence. We believe the other person will always act in our best interest. What is the opposite of that?  We could say low confidence, but that is really a state of confusion.  I am inclined to say that the opposite of trust in this definition is indifference. We simply do not care if the other person acts in our best interest.

Definition by Charles Feltman in The Thin Book of Trust 

Feltman said that Trust is “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” The opposite of that is to guard what you value and not let it be vulnerable. It has the connotation of hoarding what you care about because it is not safe to be vulnerable. If you hide what you consider valuable so you won’t risk the loss of it, that shows the opposite of trust. That is only one aspect of trust, but it’s a good example to use.

Linking trust to safety 

A leader’s responsibility is to create psychological safety within the organization. That is a feeling you have that you can speak the truth without fear of reprisal. The opposite of safety is fear.  People are fearful of speaking up because they believe they may be ridiculed or even fired. If people clam up and do not share what they are thinking it may cause dangerous ethical problems.  Leaders need to be informed when something they are advocating is borderline in terms of ethics.

Having a culture where people feel free to share their opinions also leads to more creativity and analytical thinking.

Trust is never absolute 

We may feel like we totally trust something to happen, but in real life, trust is never absolute. Trust is never totally present or totally absent in our interfaces.

The trust fall

You can imagine how the famous trust fall experiment would work if trust was absent.  In a trust fall, you have one person who is elevated lean backward until he falls over. The experiment works because the victim trusts that another person is there to catch him. The opposite of a trust fall is to refuse to lean backward at all.

Another result could be that the person falling back just falls to the floor and breaks his neck. In this case, the person falling expected to be caught by the other person, but his trust was violated.

The trust fall is a metaphor that has parallels in real life. Many times we are taking a risk with what we say or do. We expect the other person will be there to catch us before we hit the floor. 

Trust in financial transactions 

There are many situations with money where we show trust that another person is not going to abscond with the cash. The opposite of this aspect is to never let the cash out of your possession.  That action would make commerce very difficult. You would always need exact change to make any purchase.

There are financial transactions that end up being shared on social networks. You trusted that the information would be kept confidential, but that trust was violated.  

Another example

Stephen M.R. Covey described 13 Trust behaviors in his book The Speed of Trust. For each behavior, he identified the opposite and what he called the counterfeit behavior. For example, behavior 13 was “Extend Trust.”  He identified the opposite as withholding trust. The counterfeit was extending fake trust. It is acting like you trust someone but “snoopervising” or hovering over them.

Many managers today practice the counterfeit of extending trust, and that has led to the practice of quiet quitting.

Conclusion

I end with the thought that it is much easier to define what trust is than to identify what it is not. We experience trust numerous times every day and often do not even realize it.  Think about that next time you step on the brake pedal in your car.  You just have faith that the car will react properly and stop. You do not need to think about it. You trust the brakes. If you didn’t trust the brakes, your car would be in the shop.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 

 

 


Building Higher Trust 86 Ten Aspects of High Trust Groups

August 19, 2022

Ten aspects of a high trust group are easy to witness. I have seen groups accomplish a doubling of productivity in less than 12 months.

Shift from a command-and-control environment to one of high trust. Your organization will achieve remarkable gains in productivity.

I have a little exercise that I use to engage groups in my seminars and leadership classes. I lay out ten dimensions and ask small groups of participants to analyze each dimension. I have them contrast what it is like for high trust groups versus low trust groups.

Ten aspects of trust and a brief observation on each one

  1. Solving problems – High trust groups solve problems quickly and easily. They also come up with more creative solutions because members are more open.
  2. Group focus – Groups with high trust focus on the vision and what is important now. Low trust groups are more myopic and focus on each other most of the time. There is often a lot of acrimony.
  3. Communication – In high trust groups communication is efficient and believable. When operating in a low trust environment, there is a lot of skepticism.
  4. Customer Retention – Customers interfacing with high trust groups see the esprit décor between people. Those customers will return for more.
  5. Environment – The environment of a high trust group is real. In low trust situations, people play games with each other.
  6. Saving Time – Less time is wasted in a high trust group because there is less bickering. Productivity is normally at least twice as high as low trust groups.
  7. Perfection Not Required – Leaders do not need to be perfect in high trust groups. In low trust environments, people are ready to spring on any potential misstep.
  8. Growth – High trust groups spend more time developing their people to be their best.
  9. Reinforcement – When leaders reinforce a high trust group people are grateful. In low trust situations, reinforcement is met with skepticism that there is an ulterior motive.
  10. Positive Atmosphere – Going to work in a high trust organization is fun. Working in a low trust situation is a constant battle.

Conclusion

These are just ten aspects for why high trust groups always outpace their lower trust counterparts. You can probably think of several other categories.  The conclusion should be obvious. If you have achieved the status of a high trust organization, your success much more likely.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 


Building Higher Trust 85 Trust is Not a Singular Concept

August 12, 2022

Trust is not a singular concept in nature. I have studied trust for several decades, teach it in several settings, and written four books on it. Trust is such a common word that we use it numerous times a day without thinking. Just listen to the advertisements on TV and you will hear the word trust in the majority of them.

Trust is much broader than we think

Many people have a misconception about the concept of trust. They think of trust as a singular concept when using the word in daily conversation. They picture it as a kind of bond between them and another person.  It takes on a singular connotation. Either they trust another person or do not trust him or her at some level right now.

Trying to define the word

The way I get groups to think about trust more deeply is by asking what the word means. There is always a pause and awkward silence for a few seconds as people try to define it.  Then, someone will offer that trust is the confidence that another person will perform in a certain way.  Someone else will chime in that trust is taking a risk that they could be disappointed.  A third person will add that trust is about having shared values. Then someone will add that trust is having their back or sticking up for them. Once the ball gets rolling, a group can come up with a couple dozen definitions of trust quickly. 

Trust is ubiquitous

Now the group is ready to entertain the idea that trust is a multi-faceted concept. It exists not only between people, but with organizations, products, services, and all kinds of systems.  People get the idea that trust is ubiquitous and is all around them in every moment of their day.  They recognize that before they get to work in the morning, they have experienced trust several hundred times. 

We trust systems to work

They walk into the bathroom and turn on the lights. They trust the whole system to provide light. They don’t think about where the electricity is coming from unless there is some kind of rare failure. 

They turn on the water and just expect potable water to come out without any problem. If it is the left faucet, they trust that the water will become warm, then hot with time.  By the time they reach the breakfast table, trust is experienced dozens of times; then things get really complicated. 

Medications require trust

At breakfast, they are confident that the vitamin pill they are taking is safe. They have no idea who made the pill and what ingredients went into it.  They just swallow the pill and expect it to help. 

In the car

They get into their car and turn the ignition key.  Now, inside the engine, there are thousands of explosions each minute that allow the car to move. They peacefully enjoy the classical music on their favorite station and crank up the air conditioning. 

They have no worry when they press down on the brakes that the car will stop.  They drive over numerous bridges and overpasses without blinking an eye. They do not think of the consequences if the structure would become unsafe. 

Just a few examples to illustrate

On it goes all day every day that they simply take for granted things will work as designed. They recognize on occasion things might fail for some obscure reason. The failures are so remote that they put them out of their mind unless something unusual is going on. Now let’s focus on how trust between people is built and lost for all of us.

In general, we all focus our conscious energy on trust in the relationships we have with other people. Often we forget about the transactional nature of trust. It is impacted by everything (seen and unseen) that happens between people. 

Trust is always bilateral

Trust is bilateral. I trust you and you trust me at some level, and the levels are not the same.  Something happens, and I may trust you more while you trust me less.  The whole thing is dynamic and constant. Most of the trust interactions are going on in our subconscious minds. We have a kind of score card in our mind that is like the balance in a bank account.

A bank account

Many authors, including me, have likened trust to a bank account. We have a balance, and we make deposits and withdrawals. The size of the deposit or withdrawal will vary depending on what is happening. The transaction may be totally subconscious. We can make a huge withdrawal of trust with another person and be totally oblivious to it. 

A few years ago I built a model that helps people visualize this trust account and how it works. I call it my “Trust Barometer” and show it at all my programs. People really get the message about how trust works very easily. Here is a link to a Trust Barometer Video (6 minutes) about how trust is built and lost. Take a peek at this fun description and see if it helps you picture the nature of trust in your life.

Conclusion

Trust is more complex and ubiquitous in our lives than we realize.  Try to be more aware of this aspect of trust. You can see it working for you more consciously on a daily basis. It is fun, and it certainly is an eye-opener.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 


Building Higher Trust 83 Trust and Ethics

August 5, 2022

It is pretty obvious that trust and ethics are related. You may not have thought about the relationship in a conscious way. This article shines a light on that. It offers an example of how a community can change ethical conditions for the better.

Ethical problems reduce trust 

I cannot think of a single ethical scandal that did not result in a loss of trust in some area. When there is an ethical dilemma, there are a variety of solutions to consider. In choosing between them, one major factor is how each solution would impact trust. Ethical issues always reduce trust.

The reverse is not true

There can be situations that result in lower trust that do not involve ethics at all. Trust is defined by minute transactions like the wording of an email or rolling of eyes in a meeting.

We all are aware that when trust is damaged, it takes a lot of effort to repair it. I have described a process to regain lost trust in another article. Building Higher Trust 68 Restoring Lost Trust. The good news is that with care, it is usually possible to repair trust to a higher state. We must understand that not all ethical problems are the same.

Situational ethics 

The challenge with ethics is that the existence of an ethical problem is situational. The severity will vary depending on the people involved. For example, we would all agree that stealing is unethical. I can come up with a scenario where taking the property of another person might be perfectly ethical. 

Example with books 

Suppose you are a trash collector. In a recycle bin there are some books that you might like to read. The books do not belong to you, but they were discarded. You feel it is appropriate to salvage the books for your reading pleasure. I suspect most readers would agree that it is ethical to take the books.

Killing another person 

Killing another person is not an ethical thing to do. We would all agree there are circumstances where killing another person is the correct thing. In a time of war, killing the enemy is often the objective of a mission. If a thief tries to kill you, you have a right to kill the robber to save yourself.

In extreme cases, it is easy to see how some things are unethical. For example, what Bernie Madoff did to his investors was clearly unethical. Like many ethical scandals, the pathway to egregious actions may have started out as legal actions. He then got deeper and deeper into illegal and unethical actions.

Hard to recognize the slippery slope

Sometimes people find a slippery slope because if they can do X today, then doing X+1 tomorrow seems reasonable. It does not take long before they are doing things that are clearly not appropriate. They may not even be aware of the erosion of ethical standards that is going on. If someone has the courage to speak up about it, the problem can be stopped before doing more damage.

Having the ability to point out apparent lapses in ethics requires low fear from a culture of high trust. We call this low fear, psychological safety.

The value of psychological safety

Few organizations have been able to achieve true psychological safety. Those that have achieved it have a significant advantage. It is where leaders do not punish people when they point out an issue. If they say something about a pending action that does not seem right, it will trigger praise, not punishment.

That is why true trust is such an important way to prevent unethical actions. When there is high trust, there is usually low fear about telling the truth to superiors. People know that by raising a potential ethical dilemma, they are really doing the organization and leader a favor. 

What would it look like if a whole community were to espouse greater trust and ethics?

In Rochester, New York, there is an organization called Elevate Rochester. The organization has been in existence for 20 years. I am in my fifth year of serving on the Board of Directors. Our vision is to have Rochester be the “Gold Standard” in terms of promoting ethical business cultures.

Each year we have an award ceremony (modeled after the Academy Awards complete with a red carpet). We create greater community emphasis on ethical corporate behaviors by celebrating those groups that are doing it right.

During the year, we encourage local organizations to submit an application for the award. The judging process is quite rigorous. It includes interviews and site visits, along with a written application. An Elevate Rochester committee names recipients of the award each year.

The ETHIE Award

The year culminates with a ceremony in November when a few companies receive the “ETHIE” Award. Each company has a professionally-made video of its operation and receives a trophy. It is a very big deal here in Rochester. Dozens of organizations have received the award and have become part of our Honor Roll.

In addition, we run several programs each year. We help educate the business and government communities on how to focus more energy on ethical behaviors. I have spoken at several events as part of the group. We have a list of people who speak on ethics. Speakers also come from other parts of the country. It is a community effort that benefits all organizations in our region.

Conclusion

It is possible to enhance the level of ethical behavior in an entire community.  Of course, perfection will never be achieved. By celebrating the organizations that are doing well with ethics, we enhance the overall performance of our region.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 


Reducing Conflict 23 Extend More Trust

January 10, 2022

If you are a leader and you want to see more trust within your group, your first order of business is to find ways to extend more trust. 

Many leaders fail to recognize this basic law of trust, and they picture their employees as being not trustworthy.  The reality is that the vast majority of people will act in a trustworthy manner if they are well led.

Leaders who fail to extend trust because their people are “not trustworthy” need to take a long hard look in the mirror to view the source of their problem.

I have witnessed numerous managers who beat on their people and have little faith in their capabilities. The employees habitually respond by lowering their performance to match their leader’s expectations.

Trust is reciprocal, so if you want to experience more trust within your group, you need to find ways to show more trust in them. 

Some Examples

If you cannot yet trust a professional colleague to handle a large and critical negotiation with another organization, perhaps you can trust her to assemble and present the relevant documentation for more experienced lawyers to use in the negotiation.

If you cannot trust your teenage son to drive the car to a late-night party, perhaps you can trust him to check in with you if he needs help and to complete his homework before he leaves.

If you cannot yet trust a newly-hired mechanic to rebuild a complex transmission, perhaps you can trust him to assist in the disassembly and cleaning of the parts.

Show the tendency to trust more

By showing an inclination to trust other people to the edge of their capability you will encourage them to trust you back and be motivated to gain more skills for the future. They will almost always rise to meet your expectations.

Do not extend blind trust way beyond the current capability of the individual. That approach would be setting him up for failure. If there is a failure along the way, don’t persecute the individual, instead consider it a learning opportunity for the person.

We all learned to walk and talk by trial and error. We fell on our backside enough times to figure out how to balance our huge mass on two tiny feet.  When you think about the skill of walking upright, it really is a miracle we can do it, yet we just take it for granted in most cases.

Give people the blessing of learning by trial and error.  In the case of walking, coach them gently on how to obtain better balance.  Don’t yell at them for falling down. Praise them for getting back up and trying again. 

Free Video

Here is a 3-minute video that contains more information on how to extend more trust.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cIw_lY58QM

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, 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 1000 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.

 


Building Higher Trust 51 Who Can I Trust

December 24, 2021

The question of who can I trust does not come up every day, but when it does, it can be an interesting puzzle.

Have you ever had a situation where you are with a bunch of people who are new to you and you are wondering how much you should trust a particular individual?

You do not have enough data to make a firm assessment, so what can you go on? You might say to yourself, “Well, since I don’t know any of these people yet, I’ll start off trusting everybody.” That would be a kind of “blind trust” that would backfire in some cases.

I think a better approach is to use your gut feelings about an individual based on just a few seconds of observation.  If a person seems self-absorbed and is looking around the room for who is there, I would be a bit cautious, at least at first. 

On the other hand, if an individual steps up and introduces herself to you with a friendly demeanor, then you might have a small bond already. Add in some small talk with good eye contact, and you have found a person that you can relate to and likely trust at least to some extent.

If you are not sure how to read a person, try extending a greeting and see how he or she reacts.  Obviously, if there is no reciprocal greeting, then the caution flag should go up immediately.  Something is wrong, and you need to reserve judgment until you can gather more data. 

Reading people quickly is a challenge because some people are naturally more shy than others.  Beware of the extreme case where a person is totally reticent to interact or the other extreme where a person appears overly friendly.

An example of the latter might be a person who uses a two-handed handshake when first meeting you.  That is far too presumptuous for a first handshake, almost like putting their hand on your shoulder as they shake your hand.  Hang on to your wallet!

Thankfully, the kind of situation I am talking about in this article is not very common.  Usually, you have a lot more data to go on as you decide how much trust to extend to another person.  Keep track of your emotions when meeting new people and debrief the situation with yourself to ask why you reacted the way you did.

A variant of the face-to-face situation is when the other parties are virtual. Body language is significantly more difficult to read in these cases.  For example, in a virtual discussion real eye contact is impossible to achieve.  If you look directly into the camera, then you cannot see the eyes of the other person. If you look at the screen, then you are not looking directly at the other person from their perspective. Keep in mind that the position on the screen is different for different people.

You can also have phone conversations where voice inflection is an important ingredient as well.  You need to take into account the communication limitations of whatever medium you are using.

Since the virtual arrangement, or at least a hybrid situation, is common these days, you need to go more slowly when trying to assess how much to trust another person.  Pay attention to the feelings you have as the other person addresses you and try to send consistent signals yourself.  Give it time and try to extend trust as soon as you can.

Recognize that fully mature trust does take time because it requires verification of perspectives based on the early clues. In a virtual world, it does take longer to develop full trust.  

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website www.leadergrow.com   BLOG www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Building Higher Trust 47 The Meaning of Trust

November 26, 2021

In your opinion, what is the meaning of trust? Most of us use the word trust several times a day. It is actually one of the more common words in our lexicon, yet when I ask people in my seminars to define what it means, I often get an awkward silence, then a few definitions come out, like “confidence,” or “integrity,” or “walk the talk.”

Eventually, most groups come up with a dozen or more definitions, and they begin to realize that what they pictured as one single phenomenon is actually a myriad of concepts that mean vastly different things in different circumstances.  

I have been working in the area of trust for nearly 30 years. The topic is infinitely fascinating to me, and I am always gaining new understanding thanks to the many other authors and people who network with me. I have found several concepts to be central to the idea of building and maintaining trust, and as I thought about some of these words, they started to form an acronym for the word TRUST.

Acronyms are strange mutations of the language that I find curious. Sometimes an acronym will seem rather strained or far-fetched as an attempt to be cute or simply a trick to help people remember concepts.

The acronym below is neither of these; instead, it is a way for me to highlight five central issues about trust that I continue to emphasize.

Trusting others. I have coined what I call “The First Law of Building Trust.” It is that when leaders are not satisfied with the level of trust they see within their organization, the first question to ask is how they can show more trust in others.

Trust is a reciprocal relationship, and numerous authors have identified the best way to have people trust you more is to increase your visible trust in them.

I once observed a male Vice President who really struggled with trust. I asked him if he could find ways to demonstrate more trust in his people. His reaction was, “You are asking the impossible; these people show me by their actions every day that they cannot be trusted to do what is right.” 

As I dug into the situation, I found that his workers had been so abused by this leader, they had no reason to even try to do things right. It was a toxic environment, where the VP would literally yell at the people and say things like, “You are so stupid I cannot rely on you for anything. I have to watch you like a hawk or you will just goof off and not even try to do your job right.” 

This is a classic case of a Theory X management style described by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s, and the VP was truly unaware that he was the real cause of his problem.  

I grant that in any workforce, there are some bad apples who can never be trusted, but if you have any of these people on your team and tolerate them, shame on you. Get rid of them.

The vast majority of workers, I believe over 95%, will respond positively and do good work if they are well led. When trust is low, The First Law of Building Trust puts the onus on the leader to do three things:

  1. Recognize his/her own contribution to the problem,
  2. Modify his/her behavior to be more trustworthy, and
  3. Start showing more trust in his/her workers.

Unfortunately, the first step is the most difficult. I have observed numerous leaders who are simply blind to the fact that they are causing their own problems. It is so much easier to blame the workers than to take a hard look in the mirror and ask some tough questions.

There are numerous other actions required to build and maintain trust, but the three steps above are the precursors that must be in place, or nothing will change.

Also, recognize that the process to rebuild lost trust is arduous. Wounded workers will observe improved behaviors for a long time before believing they are genuine.

Reinforcing candor. After a couple decades studying trust, I believe the most central enabler of it is reinforcing candor. This is the leader’s ability to refrain from punishing people when they speak their truth. Most leaders cannot do this.

When workers state that a leader is doing things inconsistent with the vision, they take a risk because most leaders punish that kind of candor. Brilliant leaders recognize that if they can establish a pattern of making people glad when they bring up difficult issues, it enables trust more than any other single factor. The concept is called enabling psychological safety.

I put reinforcing candor in the center of my Leadergrow Trust Model because it is the one skill that most leaders find difficult to do, yet once they understand its power, they have a much easier time creating and maintaining trust.

Universal goals. I have found when trust is absent in an organization, usually, individuals and groups have conflicting goals. They often do not realize they are pulling in different directions.

When you have an organization that is truly focused on one consistent set of goals, then you have alignment. Many organizations struggle with poor alignment such that only a small fraction of the workforce is actually pulling in the direction of the stated vision. Organizations with high trust achieve the reverse of that condition and have almost all people in the organization pulling in the direction of the vision.

It is easy to see if goals are not universal when you observe silo thinking, conflict, low trust, lack of respect, fear, management abuse, and any number of other organizational ills.

The starting points for establishing an environment of high trust are 1) complete agreement on where the organization is trying to go, and 2) enrolling all members of the organization to engage their full effort toward that vision.

Sincerity. This is the human dimension that shows leaders care about everyone in the organization. It is never the case that all people in an organization are exactly equal, yet the role played by each individual is of critical importance to the organization’s success. When managers and leaders are duplicitous, people quickly get the idea, because they see a lack of sincerity and care for individuals.

The antidote for low sincerity is very simple. The Golden Rule is the most important concept to show others that we care about them. If you treat other people the way you would like to be treated, you will find they respond in a positive way because they know you care.

It is quite simple, but unfortunately, many leaders have their priorities mixed and put short-term financial performance above the notion of caring for the people in the organization.

The best approach is to treat people the right way, which means being alert to the needs of each person as a unique individual and treating him or her as a person who will happily perform well if treated properly.

Transparency. The final T in my trust acronym is transparency. Organizations that share information widely about what is happening, what the goals are, where we are going, what the strategies are, what behaviors are needed, and how we have been performing recently, get the best that people have to offer.

Transparency is an interesting concept because it is not always good, or even legal, to be totally transparent. You must combine common sense, kindness, ethical behavior, and care into the equation when deciding how much information to reveal. Unfortunately, most organizations err on the side of too little transparency rather than too much.

The irony is that transparency is becoming less of a choice for senior executives due to social networking and the ability for people to get information more quickly and easily than ever before.

Leaders who try to hide information from workers are becoming increasingly frustrated because the information leaks out anyway, often in the form of rumors. A better approach is to aim for maximum transparency and a very fast response time when incorrect information gets out in the social networks.

These five concepts: Trusting others, Reinforcing candor, Universal goals, Sincerity, and Transparency form the acronym TRUST. While there are many other concepts and issues around trust and being trustworthy, I believe these five concepts are really at the core of creating an environment of higher trust.

Researchers have established through numerous studies that organizations with higher trust out-perform those that have low trust. A high trust group enjoys two to five times the productivity of a low trust group. No organization can survive for very long if they have an environment of low trust. Focus efforts on these five concepts, and you will improve your ability to achieve and maintain high trust in any organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website www.leadergrow.com   BLOG www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Leadership Barometer 113 Building Trust When Your Manager Doesn’t

October 6, 2021

Sometimes building trust within your organization is difficult because your manager is not good at fostering trust in the larger organization.

 In my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, the most persistent complaint I hear is a mid-level manager who says, “Your material is excellent. I know this can make a huge difference in our organization, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment is habitually trashed from above?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help.

First  ̶̶   Recognize You Are Not Alone.

Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, and restructuring or other unpopular actions are common. There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. They do lasting damage rather than build trust during the struggle.

Second – You Have Limited Ability to Control Your Manager

My favorite quote on this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting that your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire. Most managers with low emotional intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they are causing the problem.

One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to some training, or bring in a leadership trust seminar and request the manager come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the manager can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books. It helps if the manager gets to nominate the first couple books for review.

The idea is to get the clueless manager to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process. If the manager is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key flavor here is to not target the manager as the person who needs to be “fixed.” Rather, view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

Third – Avoid Whining About the Culture Above You

Griping about the situation does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can. 

Fourth – Create a Culture of Trust in the Environment That You Influence

That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies. This habit can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high.

You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like. One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes. The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks? Would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear? My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.”

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by your manager, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the manager intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them:

1) Can I trust you?

2) Are you committed to excellence?  

3) Do you care about me? 

Fifth – Lead by Example.

Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done. You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the manager how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with that person.

Sixth – Be Patient and Keep Smiling 

A positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically worn-down and morose. Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to gain the motivation of everyone in your group.

Great Additional Resource 

For additional information on this topic, call up the article “Leading From Below” by my friend Gregg Vanourek.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.

 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 105 Invest in Your Culture

August 11, 2021

Culture is critical to the performance of any organization. When I advise CEOs how to improve the performance of their organization, I first analyze the situation, then report back to the top officer with some advice. Quite often my advice will sound something like this:

“There is low trust in this organization, and that is causing a lot of conflict. You and your top leaders are running yourselves into the ground trying to solve problems all day. It is like you are playing Whack-a-mole, and the problems keep coming faster each day, so you cannot catch up.

Many of these problems are of your own making. What you need to do is carve out some time to work with your entire organization on improving your culture, because that is the only way to get out of the Whack-a-mole Game.”

They often look at me in utter astonishment. They know what I am saying but just cannot imagine that it is possible to actually take time away from solving problems to invest in the culture. 

Some of these leaders blow up at me and throw me out of their office with words like, “You must be insane. You have no idea the issues we are resolving every day. If we took time off, we would be buried almost instantly. Get out of here and stop bothering me.”  I head for the door, and on my way out I say, “Well, then, I hope you enjoy your Whack-a-mole game.”

What they fail to see is that four hours of time invested in the culture will save them more than 8 hours of solving problems and conflicts later. The reason is three-fold:

  1. Taking time to improve the culture instantly reduces the most time-consuming problem any leader has. That is the inability for people in the organization to get along with each other. Most managers spend from 30-50% of their time dealing with interpersonal issues. If the culture were improved, much of that time would be reclaimed.
  1. When people work on the culture, they are also helping to chart the way forward for the organization. This means that the leader has many willing and eager hands to resolve technical issues. He or she does not have to solve every problem. Many issues can be delegated to other people in the organization who would be delighted, even thrilled, to help out. People in the organization will have higher buy-in, so they put more effort into their tasks. Presto-another 15-20% of time is reclaimed.
  1. The ability to get away from the constant mind-numbing pressure of the daily grind and think about how we can work better together is therapeutic. Working on the culture affords the opportunity to relax, recharge the batteries, and build a stronger team. That pays off in increased energy to resolve the few problems that remain.

Consider the return on investment of taking time regularly to improve your culture.  You will find the quality of your life to be significantly enhanced, and your organization will function more smoothly. The other benefit is that when you take a sick culture and turn it into one of high trust, productivity goes up by a factor of two or more. Leadership becomes a blast rather than a grind.

If you are an exhausted leader who is not happy with performance, try my prescription.  You will feel a whole lot better, and your organization will prosper.  

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.  

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.