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Leadership And Trust

Trust. It’s a problem every person faces – in the workplace, in their social life, in their family. Why can’t people see what a good person you are? Where’s the “benefit of the doubt”?

Trust is a fundamental problem of human relations; front and center on a list of leadership virtues. Nobody likes a fibber or a chiseler. If you say you’re going to do something, you better do it. Period. Most boys live in an unforgiving realm. Pre-adolescent life is super-competitive. In the world of boys, performance – like getting good grades, doing good deeds, becoming competent in life skills – may earn you a punch in the nose. In the playground world, bullies rule. By the time a boy reaches the pre-teen age, he is surrounded by brutality. “Cool” rules. TV and media culture rule. Parents watch with alarm as their free-spirited, sunny child begins to cloud over with anxiety. Here’s how a kid’s trust erodes, worrying about things like:

•“If I speak my mind, will kids make fun of me?”
•“If I wear this shirt, will kids laugh?”
•“If I join in tormenting that kid over there, will I be spared the same treatment?”

In a very short span of time – from about age 7 to 10 – kids left to their own devices watch much of their trust in other people drain away. To a frightening degree, they are on their own in a bitter land.
Trust, grown up

So—trust for boys is relatively simple. It means not fibbing, not stealing, and keeping our promises. But the definition of trust broadens and deepens in adulthood. More than maintaining an attitude of trustworthiness – which even a good sociopath can do – it requires that we develop a whole set of proactive skills and attitudes. As you read this list, you will realize they are the key tasks of leadership – all falling under the rubric of trust.

• Trust means setting clear, consistent goals. If people don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to achieve, they will feel set up to fail. To protect your people from failing, your communication needs to be crystal clear.

• Trust means being open, fair, and willing to listen. This requires more than putting on a thoughtful, considerate face. It means actively listening to the words other people are saying.

• Trust means being decisive. Hemming and hawing makes people wonder what you really stand for. It’s a challenging thing to say, but sometimes it’s better to make any decision – good, bad, or indifferent – than it is to make no decision at all.

• Trust means supporting one another. No favoritism. No taking your team out to the wilderness and abandoning them, to see “how well they do on their own.” No sadism of any sort. Your team belongs to you, and you belong to them.

• Trust means sharing credit with team members. You are there for them, not vice versa. If you are a glory hog, you are stealing from the team.

• Trust means being sensitive to team members’ needs. You should know what legitimate secondary agendas they may have, and be willing to help them achieve their personal goals.

• Trust means respecting the opinions of others. The worst thing a leader can do is denigrate or dismiss or ignore team members. If they’re no good, move them off the team. But even then you owe them your respect.

• Trust means empowering team members to act. It means trusting that they are up to the challenges that you trained them for. You’re their leader, not their grandma. Let them see what they can do!

• Finally, and ultimately, trust means being willing to suffer. It means working harder than anyone else on the team. The ordinary leader exposes his people to all the risk. The trusted leader assumes risk himself.

The opposite of trust

One reason why trustworthiness has fallen out of fashion is that we – rational independent-minded modern people that we are—really are taken with what appears to be its opposite, skepticism. Bad leaders embody this brand of skepticism. They pride themselves on being able to pick apart an argument even as it is being made. They often have what they describe as “a bullshit detector.” It is like a sixth sense that they use to defeat other people’s arguments. They are known to cut people off in mid-sentence, showing why what they are saying isn’t true, or contains logical flaws.

They are really good. They know phrases like “argumentum ad hominem” and “begging the question” – labels that logicians use to club one another over the head and win arguments. They might even mount a hatchet on the wall behind their desk, with a line of red fingernail polish on the blade-edge to signify blood, and to remind visitors of their ability to chop and dice the best ideas to mush.

What these kinds of leaders don’t realize is that their team despises this show-offy talent for cutting off argument. It is disrespectful. It is deadly to the idea-gathering process. And it is arrogant beyond belief. But some bad leaders think it is cool, rational, and a little bit “rock and roll” to hold up every incoming idea for ridicule.

So what is a real leader to do? Outlaw critical thinking? Not at all. But a wise leader knows that a productive team needs a special kind of environment. One in which people are free to offer dissenting opinions, and are invited to do so – but in which a continuous stream of negativity is identified as such and shut down.

What are the ways negativity kills trust? Every new idea is subjected to the “What are they trying to pull over on us now?” routine. Every proposal is examined for its potential for evil. Every moment is the occasion for a joke. “The goal” is gradually reduced to second priority, behind “the process.”

So this isn’t just about the leader’s behavior and attitudes. It’s about the attitudes and behavior of every person on the team.

Is it terrible for a teammate to have an edge? No. Being the “class clown” or “jailhouse lawyer” on a team can be a valuable and even lovable role, in small doses. When it becomes constant, however, it undermines the ability of everyone to get behind the goal at hand.

Trust Evolved

You can see how the work world has evolved in the past couple of decades. A generation ago, we boasted a work relationship that spanned an entire career, with cradle-to-grave employment, defined benefit pensions, and no-deductible healthcare plans. It was a lot like family.

A generation later, we have something more closely resembling an insane game of musical chairs – a system that makes no commitment to anyone, that tears up pension promises at will, and in shows great ingenuity in thinking up new ways to improve efficiency, to downsize, to outsource, whatever it takes to get rid of you. Some family.

People who fail to find a chair when the music stops are shown the door instead. And the people occupying the remaining seats have to absorb the extra work of those who have left.

We grown-ups live in a world nearly devoid of trust. If we are lucky we experience it with our families, and maybe one or two friends.

Which is a very dangerous sign for our society, because team performance requires trust as a precondition for doing just about anything. I visit organizations every day, assessing teams, and the thing that leaps out at me almost everywhere I go is that teams in trouble don’t trust one another.

After numerous betrayals, downsizings, and reorganizations, workers really don’t trust the organization – which, with all the mergers and acquisitions, may not even be the organization that hired them in the first place.

They don’t trust their team leaders, because they sometimes say one thing and do something else. They don’t trust the vision these leaders seek to impose, because they don’t trust the leaders. They don’t trust other teams within the organization, who may be competing for the same resources. They don’t trust one another, because they don’t want to give up their chair when the music stops.

Group events, which on trusting teams are meetings of the mind in which people share freely and democratically, become more like a Texas Hold ’Em tournament, with every member hiding his cards from his neighbor.

We are talking about a jungle. Simply put, there is nothing for teams living in this Dilbertian jungle to build on. If trust is a foursquare, concrete foundation, these teams are built on a root-crossed forest floor.

Worthy of Trust

To be worthy of trust says that you are not really in charge of your own trustworthiness. Other people make that judgment, based on the way you behave.

So if you’re a dynamic leader who has goofed up a few times, abandon plans right now to win people back to your And traumatic stress is one of the hardest things for a psychologist, working one on one with a patient, to resolve. What are the chances that a team leader will succeed?

Trust is like air in a tire – it has very little physical reality, in terms of taste, touch, weight, etc. But it is indispensable for minimizing the effects of gravity, reducing friction, and allowing the car or bike or train to make progess.

And yes, there is such a thing as an over inflated tire – when a leader enjoys more trust than he has earned with deeds. Charisma and media inflation sometimes explain this over inflation.

Trust is also like toothpaste. Every time you mislead people even a little bit, some gets out of the tube. Once it’s out of the tube, it is really tough to get it back in. Once you have wounded people, they don’t look at you the same way. Your past words have made your future words suspect.

Can you make it up to people when you deceive them? Can you coax the toothpaste back into the tube?

Yes, but it is not easy. First, you must own up to what you have done. Second you must own up to the harm that it caused. Third, you have to apologize to the person you deceived. And finally, you have to keep your word even more fiercely from that moment on.

That’s hard stuff. And it is possible to do all these things and people will still be wary around you. Nothing is harder to repair than a bad reputation.

There is one possibility that can rescue you from your own treacherous behavior, but it is a factor that is beyond your control: forgiveness. Your team can decide in its own that, on balance, you are better than you are bad, and that they want to continue working with you.

Not every team member may come to this conclusion, but enough that you can limp into the future.

Forgiveness is a miracle, itself an example of the team’s ability to be trustworthy. If you are fortunate enough to be forgiven like this, count it as a red-letter day, and work like the devil to be sure you never need another one, ever.

Submitted by:

Harvey Robbins

A world class speaker, author, and educator, Dr. Robbins focuses on transformational leadership by providing leadership skill training, team building / team leadership training, management development training, and executive coaching. See more on http://www.harveyrobbins.com.




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