When In Doubt, Give Trust
Think back to the last time you actually stopped someone and asked them for directions. Not so long ago, this was a pretty common occurrence, and we placed our full trust in a random stranger on the side of the road. Now, with instant access to numerous digital maps, many of us prefer to double check our route on our smartphone instead of risking a stranger sending us in the wrong direction. Similarly, the concept of trust inside our organizations has changed dramatically, and, because of this, leaders must adapt how they navigate trust within their teams. Failure to build and instill trust on your team can lead your entire organization down a dangerous road.
Leaders own the responsibility for teaching, building, and nurturing trust within their organizations. You cannot outsource this to a consulting firm, a coach, or any other external organization that promises to deliver on these outcomes. Admittedly, there is always a challenge of managing your bandwidth as a leader, but I encourage leaders to focus only on the things that you can do, and to encourage peers and junior leaders to focus only on what they can do as well. Simply put, I am implying that trust belongs to you—the leader!
Any organization with a distrustful environment is relinquishing people’s time to feelings of distrust; that is, it takes mental and emotional time to harbor distrust towards someone or an organization writ large. Conversely, a trustful environment protects the time and energy of our teammates, giving it back to them to focus on what truly matters—advancing the organization. When someone asks, “do you trust me?”, what they are really asking is, “do you believe in me?” Leaders, do you believe in your people? If so, what are you doing to nurture and build it with others? Below are just a few ways you can ensure your team members feel trusted and find truth in your actions.
When someone fails, pick them up and give them another chance.
Regardless of where someone is in their lives and work, there will always be opportunities to fail. With that, it is paramount to offer support through those failures so they can develop the confidence to bounce back and try again. As a leader, it is important to support your employees; maybe even give second and third chances to fail without catastrophic consequences. Your junior leaders won’t necessarily indulge in riskier behavior because they think they have multiple chances to fail. Instead, they will spend less energy worrying why their leader doesn’t trust them and spend more time developing confidence in themselves to achieve positive outcomes for the organization. We believe in always assuming positive intent.
Say the three golden words: “I trust you.”
In addition to showing your team you trust them, leaders must echo an equally strong sentiment through their words. It is common for your teammates to wrestle with self-doubt at times, as this is a part of life, especially when we are attempting something for the first time. It is reinforcing when a leader validates their trust in the people they lead with the simple statement of, “I trust you.” There are many things or feelings that can be left to interpretation on a daily basis. However, making it clear that you trust others should not be one of those things.
Moreover, this phrase should not become inflated or haphazardly used. Instead, when you actually trust someone, you should use language to reinforce that trust because those words will constantly resonate and have an impact on how they choose to show up every day.
Before responding to a failure or mistake, ask them if they are okay.
It can be challenging to cultivate trust when a leader places a task before their people. At times, leaders are so task oriented that they fail to address the needs of their people. In this case, you cannot fake that you care. You either care or you don’t. So, I challenge you, next time you are confronted with the opportunity to choose between a task and a person—consider prioritizing the person and see the outcome. For those leaders who find themselves choosing the task first, it may erode trust with that person and possibly authorize that very same behavior among junior leaders within their organization over time. Think about what will matter most 5 hours, 5 days, and even 5 years from now.
When someone appears to be right, say “you were right.” When you appear to be wrong, say “I was wrong.”
Our people trust us when we are right. Paradoxically, they also trust us when we admit we are wrong. When those we lead get to witness us concede to being wrong, they become more trusting of their environment and leaders. They also become more willing to engage and model similar behaviors with those they interact with and the rest of the organization. In conjunction with giving others credit when it’s due, leaders have an opportunity to foster a culture of ownership, which also influences an individual’s ability to give and receive trust.
Give your junior leader more than they think they can handle. When they are successful, reinforce their capabilities.
It is one thing to talk about trust in the organization. It’s another to exercise the actual giving of trust. That is, we should give our people high stake tasks or consequential, meaningful objectives. When we trust our people to operate in these spaces, with leadership engagement and support, they tend to operate in the name of the organization by becoming ambassadors of shared trust. Furthermore, they become protectors of the trust they have earned and continually seek ways to build on this foundation. It is important for leaders to capitalize on the successes gained from these outcomes. Leaders who find ways and opportunities to give positive feedback when a teammate completes a high-stake task, create a culture where they are more likely to feel accomplished and take on similar tasks; they become authorized to enact the trust bestowed upon them.
Fostering a culture of trust is of great importance for any organization to meet its potential. The process of creating this culture requires deliberate focus and habits that feed the day-to-day interactions between leaders and other members to anchor trust. Trust is a fluid reality in most organizations, which is why leaders must move beyond the installation and building of trust; we must also seek ways to nurture trust at every opportunity. I encourage all leaders to be intentional in accessing and managing the levels of trust in their organizations. The health of your people relies on it.