Although many of us have had to deal at some point with a senior manager who seemed to lack morals, empathy or sincerity, the majority of organizational leaders are not compulsive liars and cheats, out to pull one over on the rest of us. Most leaders are healthy, well-adjusted adults who have invested greatly for the opportunity to contribute to their chosen profession and industry. They are often highly educated, competent and want to do the right thing. They are you. Why, then, does a lack of trust plague so many professional relationships, teams, departments and organizations?
As we work at leadership level, we might notice that we still have these kinds of thoughts:
But what we are really saying is that the person or people involved have not fulfilled some necessary level of trust:
Trust isn’t important—it is everything. With trust, business moves quickly and can be done with a handshake. Trust allows us to feel safe, like we know the rules of the game, and if we follow them, we can be successful. We thrive when our world feels logical, reliable and knowable. With this kind of safety, we can direct our attention to innovation and execution without fear that we are putting ourselves or others at risk. When we know there are things and people we can count on, we can turn our attention to other matters. Trust frees us up.
Without trust, everything slows, or never actually reaches completion. If I cannot trust you, I am distracted by a need to mitigate my own risk. I will spend time keeping a paper trail or thinking about how I can most effectively work around you.
We often think of trust as binary: Either I trust you or I don’t. However, trust is complex. I can trust your intention to do great work but perhaps not your competence. Or, I might trust your skills and ability but not your reliability to come through for me when you said you would. (“He is the very best, but he takes forever to get things done.”) Or maybe I trust your skills and follow-through, but I fear you only care about yourself. (“I doubt she will tell the board this was my idea.”)
Thus, we might think of trust in terms of the following:
We can each behave in ways that build trust and in ways that break it. Our everyday actions as well as our general attitude and behaviors teach others how trustworthy we are.
Trust can so easily be built that it is actually a shame we let these fundamentals slip. We build trust when we:
Trust really can be established quickly and, of course, it grows over time. Unfortunately, breaking trust is even easier. We have all seen how one careless act can destroy decades of trust. We break trust daily without any awareness that we are doing so. If you hold a powerful position, few will be brave enough to let you know when this happens, but don’t deceive yourself: The people around you see everything and are constantly assessing you. If you engage in any of the following behaviors, however subtly, it is hurting you and your ability to be successful. We break trust when we:
When we act in political, petty or childish ways, it breaks trust with our colleagues and employees and hurts our ability to truly succeed. In order to lead well, we must become the kind of leader we ourselves seek: We must care about others’ personal well-being and professional success as much as we care about our own. We must become the best version of ourselves, the kind of person others know can be trusted in all ways—our intentions, our competence and our reliability. Luckily, this is all easy to do.
Susanne Biro is a coach to C-suite and executive level leaders. She is the founder of The Inner Life Leadership Academy, a year-long program for executive level business leaders who want to reach an unprecedented level of personal understanding and corresponding leadership mastery. Susanne is an author, program designer, facilitator, Forbes & CEO Magazine contributing writer, TEDx and keynote speaker.
For two decades, Susanne has worked internationally with senior-level leaders in some of the world’s best companies. Whether coaching one-on-one or authoring, designing, and delivering leadership programs, her passion is the same: to help leaders reach their next level of personal, professional, and leadership mastery.
Susanne can be reached at 604.864.5408 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our world has changed, rapidly and in unexpected ways. As the crisis hit, I offered and held pro bono sessions with leaders from around the world. And I want to continue to do what I can to help. As a result, I now offer hourly sessions to ensure leaders everywhere can quickly get the perspective, clarity and focus they need to lead themselves, and therefore others, well during these challenging and uncertain times.