Trust makes everything easier. If you have trust, things go faster and work easier. If you don’t have trust, things are slow and ineffectual. Brilliant managers are able to build trust and unlock the great ideas within others. We all know this, and yet we often don’t make the effort to build and maintain trust with those we most need to trust, and be trusted by like our coworkers, employees, spouse, and children.
Once I was asked to help coach my son’s competitive league basketball team. The head coach, and basketball-smart guy, struggled gaining the trust of our players. He often either canceled practices last-minute, or just didn’t show. When he was there, he shouted a lot, demeaned players when they made mistakes, and in general turned what the boys had thought was a fun game into a chore during which they kept their eyes on the clock, wishing the minutes would tick by faster.
At first the team tried to respond to his directions but they soon decided to try and do their own thing during games, regardless of what he told them to do. The starting players saw that no matter what they did, he’d leave them on the floor, and the backup players were amazed to see that they were ignored and left on the bench, even when the starters completely ignored the coach.
As the season progressed, the coach over compensated for the general lack of trust on his team by yelling louder and more often, so much that the players no longer even heard what he was yelling. During the last game of the season, with seconds to go and down by one point, the coach was yelling “foul, foul!” as the other team dribbled the ball down the court to force foul shots, but the boys – conditioned to ignore him – didn’t realize what they needed to do and their season ended in a flurry of expletives from their coach and a painful loss. Not one boy shook his hand or thanked him for the season. Why is that? There was no trust between him and his players.
Leadership and Trust
Great leaders understand that they should not be concerned about power. Instead, great leaders understand that their ability to influence others is directly connected to the level of trust they have with their teams. In her Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Linda Hill said that “trust is the foundation of all ability to influence others” (Linda Hill, 2015).
Another example of how important trust is can be found in the story behind “The Farewell Symphony” composed by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn in the late 1700s and explained by Charles Hazelwood. For most of his career Haydn was the court composer and symphony conductor for a wealthy family, who also housed all of his musicians. At one point the royal family decided that they no longer wanted to keep all of the musicians’ families, and was about to expel them. Haydn composed and performed “The Farewell Symphony” in an attempt to convince the royal family of what a breach of trust that was, and how it would, in effect, end their music. He wanted to make the point that where there is no trust, the music dies and where there is trust, the music flourishes. During the final movement of the symphony, each musician slowly blew out their candle and walked off the stage, until only two violinists remained. You can see a great performance of this movement conducted in 2010 by Igor Gruppman.
How Do We Build Trust?
Creating a safe environment is key to building trust with others. In his TED talk in March of 2014, Simon Sinek explained that we tend to be more creative, explore more, and create greater innovations if we trust those around us, especially our leaders. He explained that to build trust, leaders must express and demonstrate empathy and risk themselves before asking the same of others (Hazlewood, Sinek, Papandreou, Botsman, & Perel, 2015).
Additionally, leaders “build trust by taking the opportunity to demonstrate their ability as they do their daily work, by asking knowledgeable questions and offering insightful suggestions” (Linda Hill, 2015). It’s impossible for employees to trust a manager who cannot even ask questions that further their work. A few years after graduating from college I was in my boss’s office, discussing some ideas with her that I’d like to try with our training department. I was going over goals and initiatives, and while she wasn’t classically trained in learning and development, she asked poignant questions, driving me and my team to experiment and improve the way we did things. We started producing training videos and conducting training virtually in an environment that had been traditionally face-to-face training for years. It increased our span of influence immensely, just by asking the right questions.
Unfortunately, nowadays many of us expect our heroes to be superheroes. But in another HBR article, the author explains that leaders win trust when they show humility by getting emotional, being whimsical, and expressing doubt. Leaders should can’t be superheroes – no one can live up to that moniker and will lose credibility if they try (Leberecht, 2015).
The Speed of Trust
Trust is often found where leaders already have a strong positive reputation – one’s reputation is like currency. According to S. M. Covey, trust hinges on four core things, each of which can be cultured and improved: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results (Covey, 2006).
While integrity is usually synonymous with honesty, there’s more to it. It’s practicing what you preach, acting in the way you tell people they should act.
Our motives, agenda, and resulting behavior. Trust grows when we care not only for ourselves, but also for the people we interact and work with, lead, or serve. I’m never going to be the kind of manager that goes out to the bar, drinking and having fun with my team. I’ll never be the one who takes his team on a booze cruise or on wine tasting tours. I will however, as much as in my power, look out for the welfare of my team, give credit, coach and cajole for better work, push, probe … and try my hardest to make sure their professional work doesn’t take more than 40 hours a week so that they can do all of that fun stuff with people who matter most – family and friends (NOT coworkers).
Talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style. They are what we use to produce results. Example – an ID who talks about how to produce great training, but has no personal examples to share.
This is our track record, our performance, what we get done and done right. If we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, we lose credibility. However, accomplishing what we’re expected to do, what we’ve promised, establishes a reputation for being a positive producer – getting results.
So, with work and focus on building trust through enhancing our integrity, intent, capabilities, and results, we can build and even repair trust with ourselves, families, and work teams. And by improving that trust, we can get more done more efficiently and with higher quality.
Covey, S. M. (2006). The Speed of Trust. New York: Free Press.
Gruppman, I. (2010, August 19). Haydn “Farewell” (pt 4 of 4) Igor Gruppman. Retrieved from youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0ligH6PCW0
Hazlewood, C., Sinek, S., Papandreou, G., Botsman, R., & Perel, E. (2015, May 15). Trust and Consequences. (G. Raz, Interviewer)
Leberecht, T. (2015, April 1). Leaders Win Trust When they Show a Bit of Humility. Retrieved from HBR.org: https://hbr.org/2015/04/leaders-win-trust-when-they-show-a-bit-of-humanity
Linda Hill, K. L. (2015, September 24). 3 Things Managers Should be Doing Everyday. Retrieved from HBR.org: https://hbr.org/2015/09/3-things-managers-should-be-doing-every-day