Why are some companies successful in implementing change while others struggle? Why can some leaders inspire people to work together effectively, while others cannot?
These questions puzzled a friend of ours, Cynthia Olmstead, who worked for many years as a business consultant. Even though her methodology and practices didn’t change, outcomes from one organization to another varied widely. What was the key factor that allowed one leader to succeed where others failed?
One day on one of her many flights from the West Coast to the East Coast, our friend had a revelation: This key factor was trust. When initiatives failed and relationships were strained, it was usually because people weren’t confident in the leader’s ability or intentions. If an initiative was taking place in a high-trust environment, it had a good chance of success. If an initiative was being implemented in a low-trust culture, its chances of success were remote.
Four aspects of trust
Satisfied that trust was the key to effective leadership, Cynthia soon found that the concept was hard to define. What was trust? How could she describe it? Did trust mean the same thing to her as it did to others? And if people didn’t have a common definition of trust, how could they ever talk about it—let alone create trust where it didn’t exist?
After countless discussions with clients, colleagues, and friends—and the creation of endless flip charts—Cynthia identified four key attributes of trust and wrote about them in a new book, Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships, co-authored by Ken Blanchard and Martha Lawrence. The four attributes are:
Believable—Act with Integrity
Connected—Care about Others
For example, leaders who are Able earn trust by solving problems, getting results, and using their skills to help others achieve established goals.
Leaders who are Believable earn trust by being honest and sincere, showing respect for others, keeping confidences, not talking behind people’s backs, and admitting their own mistakes.
Leaders who are Connected earn trust by showing interest in others, asking for input, listening, showing empathy, praising others’ efforts, and sharing about themselves.
Leaders who are Dependable are organized, timely, accountable, and responsive to requests; they do what they say they’ll do and consistently follow up.
The ability to build trust is a defining competency for leaders. For this reason, it’s a good idea to assess yourself in all four of these areas to discover if you might be contributing to low-trust relationships through behaviors that are seen as less than Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. (You can take a self-assessment online at www.trustworksbook.com.)
The next step is to ask your colleagues and direct reports to evaluate you as well. What you learn about yourself can be eye-opening. Many of us are unaware when our behavior is eroding the trust of others around us. What seems like acceptable behavior to us may be causing a friend, spouse, boss, employee, or significant other to feel downright wary.
A case in point
For example, when Ken asked his staff to rate him using the assessment in the Trust Works! book, one of the areas he scored low on was Dependable.
Ken knew he had trouble saying "no" to requests, had never heard a bad idea, and liked to please others as much as possible. But he didn’t realize it was a problem until he learned that, because he said "yes" to so many things and overcommitted himself, he was sometimes regarded as undependable. This behavior had been going on for years but nobody had ever mentioned it. It was a sensitive issue.
The ABCD Trust Model used in the Trust Works! book created a way to address Ken’s "trust buster" trait. Together the team was finally able to talk about this issue openly, discuss the implications, and develop solutions. As a result, today—in addition to being careful about overcommitting himself—when Ken goes on trips he doesn’t take his own business cards. Instead, he gives out the cards of his executive assistant, who can make sure Ken has the time and resources to follow through before he makes commitments.
Repairing damaged trust
What do you do when relationships have been strained or damaged by misunderstandings or less-than-perfect behavior?
For leaders, the first step is to check your attitude. Make sure you treat your people as your business partners. Too often, leaders think in hierarchal terms—"I’m the manager and you report to me." Instead, start from the position that you are partners who need each other. The next step is to open up a trust conversation. A five-step process of Acknowledge, Admit, Apologize, Assess, and Agree outlined in the Trust Works! book can help you get started. The key, though, is a willingness to address trust issues openly.
The many benefits of trust
Increasingly, smart organizations are taking proactive steps to build high-trust cultures as a way to ignite individual and organizational performance. Wise leaders in these organizations understand the amazing things that happen in an atmosphere of trust. When trust prevails, people feel free to move faster, risk a little bit more, and give their all. They don't feel the need to protect themselves or hold back the way they might in a less trusting environment. Creativity flourishes, productivity rises, barriers are overcome, and relationships deepen.
Without trust, people give up on relationships and leave organizations; cynicism reigns, progress grinds to a halt, and self-interest trumps the common good. Don’t let that happen in your organization. Use the ABCD Trust Model to openly discuss the trust issues that create an invisible drag on so many organizations. You’ll be surprised at what people can accomplish when they work in a trusting environment.
[Image: Flickr user Nick Harris]