Successful Supervisor 76 Building Trust for Life

May 13, 2018

Early in my career I learned a valuable lesson that is important for all supervisors to know. The circumstances will be different but the lesson is unmistakable.

I was sent to Japan to negotiate a deal on a large supply of high capacity floppy disks. I was nervous going over because my boss was busy preparing a law suit against many of the companies I would be negotiating with for dumping low capacity floppy disks on the US market.

On the flight, my buddy and I amused ourselves by making notes in a periodical that described the tension between our organization and the Japanese companies. We probably wrote some things that were too juicy for public consumption.

The trip went very well, and there was no acrimony with our hosts. Coming back from a long lunch on the final day, I noticed that I had left my briefcase open and the periodical was on top of the stack. I realized that someone could have read and copied some of the private information, which would have damaged our case. I was terrified that my actions could possibly turn into a major gaffe with my boss.

As soon as I got back I went to my boss immediately and told him that I did something really stupid in Japan the prior week. He said, “What did you do?” My reply was, “You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…”

He looked up at me and said, “You know you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did. The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that day on for the next 25 years until he retired, I was golden boy to him. Reason: I blew myself in (admitted my mistake) when I didn’t have to. Essentially I earned his trust for life by owning up to my indiscretion.

The lesson that I learned was that even though I did something admittedly dumb, I was able to turn it into a major step forward for my entire career. Most of us intellectually know that admitting a mistake is usually a trust-building action. There are two kinds of mistakes where this would not be the case:

1. If the mistake is a repeat of one that was made once or many times in the past

2. If the mistake was so stupid that it revealed the person to be clueless

Most mistakes are things that simply did not go the way we planned, so they are easily forgiven when we openly admit to them. This method is particularly potent for people in supervisory positions. Reason: From past experience most of us view supervisors and managers as people having a hard time admitting mistakes.

Exercise for you: Look for opportunities to admit your own vulnerability. Obviously it is a silly strategy to create mistakes so you can admit them, but we all do have lapses from time to time. When you are smart enough to blow yourself in, it usually impacts your long term prognosis favorably. Try it and see if you agree.

Human beings normally have the capacity to forgive an occasional error if it was done with good intent. By admitting an error, you will give a powerful demonstration of your own personal integrity. That is a tangible sign of being a trustworthy person.

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


Three Tricky Questions About Trust

March 27, 2011

In my leadership classes, I often like to pose three challenging questions about the nature of trust. As people grapple with the questions, it helps them sort out for themselves a deeper meaning of the words and how they might be applied in their own world. The three questions are:

What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?
• Can you trust someone you fear?
• Can you respect someone you do not trust, and can you trust someone you do not respect?

I have spent a lot of time bouncing these questions around in my head. I am not convinced that I have found the correct answers (or even that correct answers exist). I have had to clarify in my own mind the exact meanings of the words trust, vulnerability, fear, and respect.

Before you read this article further, stop here and ponder the three questions for yourself. See if you can come to some answers that might be operational for you.

Thinking about these concepts, makes them become more powerful for us. I urge you to pose the three questions (without giving your own answers) to people in your work group. Then have a quality discussion about the possible answers. You will find it is a refreshing and deep conversation to have.

Here are my answers (subject to change in the future as I grow in understanding):

1. What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?

Trust implies vulnerability. When you trust another person, there is always a chance that the person will disappoint you. Ironically, it is the extension of your trust that drives a reciprocal enhancement of the other person’s trust in you. If you are a leader and you want people in your organization to trust you more, one way to achieve that is to show more trust in them. That is a very challenging concept for many managers and leaders. They sincerely want to gain more trust, but find it hard to extend higher trust to others. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed every once in a while than to not trust and be miserable all the time.”

2. Can you trust someone you fear?

Fear and trust are nearly opposites. I believe trust cannot kindle in an organization when there is fear, so one way to gain more trust is to create an environment with less fear. In the vast majority of cases, trust and lack of fear go together. The question I posed is whether trust and fear can ever exist at the same time. I think it is possible to trust someone you fear. That thought is derived from how I define trust.

My favorite definition is that if I trust you, I believe you will always do what you believe is in my best interest – even if I don’t appreciate it at the time. Based on that logic, I can trust someone even if I am afraid of what she might do as long as I believe she is acting in my best interest.

For example, I may be afraid of my boss because I believe she is going to give me a demotion and suggest I get some training on how to get along with people better. I am afraid of her because of the action she will take, while on some level I am trusting her to do what she believes is right for me.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose your supervisor is a bully who yells at people when they do not do things to his standards. You do not appreciate the abuse and are fearful every time you interact with him. You do trust him because he has kept the company afloat during some difficult times and has never missed a payroll, but you do not like his tactics.

3. Can you respect someone you do not trust & can you trust someone you do not respect?

This one gets pretty complicated. In most situations trust and respect go hand in hand. That is easy to explain and understand. But is it possible to conjure up a situation where you can respect someone you do not yet trust? Sure, we do this all the time. We respect people for the things they have achieved or the position they have reached. We respect many people we have not even met. For example, I respect Nelson Mandela, but I have no basis yet to trust him, even though I have a predisposition to trust him based on his reputation.

Another example is a new boss. I respect her for the position and the ability to hold a job that has the power to offer me employment. I probably do not trust her immediately. I will wait to see if my respect forms the foundation on which trust grows based on her actions over time.

If someone has let me down in the past, and I have lost respect for that person, then there is no basis for trust at all. This goes to the second part of the question: Can you trust someone you do not respect?

I find it difficult to think of a single example where I can trust someone that I do not respect. That is because respect is the basis on which trust is built. If I do not respect an individual, I believe it is impossible for me to trust her. Therefore, respect becomes an enabler of trust, and trust is the higher order phenomenon. You first have to respect a person, then go to work on building trust.

People use the words trust, fear, respect, and vulnerability freely every day. It is rare that they stop and think about the relationships between the concepts. Thinking about and discussing these ideas ensures that communication has a common ground for understanding, so take some time in your work group to wrestle with these questions. I welcome dissenting opinions on my thoughts here because I am eager to learn other ways of thinking about trust.


Interview with Barbara Kimmel

July 8, 2010

This week I interviewed Barbara Kimmel from the “Trust Across America” Organization. I have been impressed with this group as a real force for helping build a higher level of understanding about trust in organizations throughout our country. We need more people like Barbara and her husband Jordan, who runs a weekly radio broadcast on the Voice America Variety Channel specifically devoted to issues of trust. Here is my interview with Barbara Kimmel with some additional comments:

Trust Ambassador: Why did you start “Trust Across America”?

Kimmel: We started Trust Across America to collaboratively find solutions to America’s trust crisis. The time has come to wrap our arms around the word “trust” and to highlight companies and thought leaders that aren’t just doing things right, but are “doing the right thing”. We will provide collaborative forums, media, and other opportunities for consultants, academics and companies to share their best practices.

Trust Ambassador: What interesting or unusual things have happened with this experience?

Kimmel: Many individuals and organizations are reluctant to use the word “trust” or “trustworthy”. It’s very risky. The word just seems too big, burdensome, and even scary for some.

Trust Ambassador: Perhaps part of the issue is that to fully trust, one must be vulnerable. That may be uncomfortable for some people, especially for some leaders.

Trust Ambassador: How fast is the organization growing?

Kimmel: Fast. Right now our focus is on building a core trust ecosystem… professionals who want to roll up their sleeves and find actionable solutions to the trust crisis.

Trust Ambassador: What are your long term objectives or goals?

Kimmel: We want to reverse the trend in the breakdown of trust in corporate America by first developing a workable definition of trustworthy behavior and then identifying and highlighting those companies who are industry leaders, so that they can become role models. Essentially, we want to lead a “Trust Revolution” in corporate America.

Trust Ambassador: Has there been any down side to this effort?

Kimmel: Other than not enough hours in the day, no. People like yourself have been very generous with their time, and supportive of our efforts.

Trust Ambassador: How can people get involved?

Kimmel: Read our monthly newsletter at http://www.trustacrossamerica.org/documents/newsletters/newsletter.pdf. It outlines many ways for people to get involved. Email me at barbara@trustacrossamerica.com with comments/suggestions.

Trust Ambassador: I want to thank Barbara for this information and for the great work she is doing with Trust Across America. I also urge you to join Jordan Kimmel for his weekly broadcast on the Voice America Variety Channel on Wednesdays at noon EDT. http://www.voiceamerica.com/voiceamerica/vshow.aspx?sid=1713