4 Behaviors Leaders Must Model to Build a Culture of Trust
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Trust is a concept most companies tout as one of their core values. The word "trust" sounds good at the annual employee retreat, it looks great on a plaque, and it seems like a no-brainer when you read it on the back of a brochure. But in reality, it’s often just a buzzword. Oh sure, leaders nod in professional approval when they hear it, but then they go right out and behave in a manner that makes everybody mistrust the manager.
Business owners will often say, “trust is established with behavioral consistency.” In other words, if you behaved appropriately yesterday and today, then I’ll trust you to behave appropriately tomorrow. The truth is consistency of behaviors only works for creating a culture filled with trust when it’s a behavior you desire, and even then, some consistent behaviors still won’t get you there.
For example, someone may be consistently charismatic yet unreliable -- hence not leading to trust. Even worse, what if two of your team members behaved obnoxiously or inappropriately yesterday and today? In fact, what if they were downright jerks yesterday and today? Then I only trust they’ll be jerks tomorrow too, which means I don’t actually trust them. Predictive behavior is not how you establish trust across your company’s culture.
Trust requires four specific behaviors. These behaviors, not surprisingly, are related to emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication, and they’re all about vulnerability. Establishing vulnerability-based trust requires:
1. Asking for and accepting help.
Asking for help isn’t always easy, especially for go-getters who possess talent in multiple arenas. But the world is vast, information is coming at us rapidly, and you can’t be brilliant at everything. Stop trying to be a know-it-all, and instead, become highly skilled in a few domain areas that light you up. Maintaining domain expertise is a valued commodity, and when you combine your smarts with others’ areas of expertise, you collectively generate stellar outcomes that most often cannot be achieved alone. Being able to contribute in an appreciated and valued manner builds trust fast. And asking isn’t the whole equation -- but nice try. Once the person you asked for help agrees to lend you their support, you must accept their offer. Nothing like being dismissed or uninvited to hinder trust.
Question hack: How safe is it for people to ask for help in your organization? And how might it get safer?
2. Offering help and expertise without judgment.
Larry from marketing just stepped into your office. He needs help planning for his department’s quarterly budget. You sigh. For such a brilliant guy, why can’t he understand numbers? You pull out your pen, channel your best condescending tone and begin to walk him through it again. “As I said last quarter ...” Wow! Oh-so-not-helpful. Now Larry is embarrassed, and he hates your guts. Remember that everyone has a role to play, everyone is hired to solve different problems. When we respect one another’s diverse talents, we build trust.
Question hack: What are the strengths or areas of domain expertise for each person on your team?
3. Apologizing for missteps.
It sucks to be wrong. It’s painful when we screw up. And yet, we still do it. So own it, sincerely apologize for it and then move forward. This goes for your coworkers' mistakes too. Stop with the grudge holding. Stop with the false assumptions. Pete made a mistake and said he was sorry. You don’t need to plan your revenge. Sarah was a little too blunt in the meeting yesterday. She apologized. Stop imagining her demise. We’re human. We screw up. And if you haven’t apologized, go do it. If you haven’t received an apology, go ask for it. And if this area of emotional intelligence makes you very uncomfortable, then start simple. Here's an apology to model: “Hey, Laura, it’s been several weeks, but it’s still bothering me, and it’s really important to me. I want to apologize for what I said in our last sales meeting. I don’t think you’re an idiot. I was frustrated by our lack of results, and I reacted. I was out-of-line. Not cool. I hope you’ll understand that I’m working on this. I know I need to get better. And I’m truly sorry.”
Find your words, and make sure you mean it!
Question hack: What misstep did you take recently, and who needs to hear you own it?
Related: How Transparent Is Too Transparent?
4. Relating to others’ experiences.
We live in a diverse world. Thank goodness. Embrace diversity, and you will create opportunity. We also have a great deal in common -- our humanity. When we recognize shared feelings, fears and experiences that make us laugh and snort, or grip our heart in panic, or cause our palms to sweat, we know we are not alone. It’s not about venting together, it’s about honoring our indistinguishable humanness even when our circumstances are not identical. Finding common ground in our collective journey helps people bond, reach out and develop trust.
Question hack: What drives you?
Successful entrepreneurs know that meeting and exceeding audacious, wildly awesome goals is going to require a trust-infused culture -- a culture filled with teams who perceive vulnerability as the cornerstone of what they will build.