Close your eyes and think of someone you really, truly trust. I bet it’s neither your boss, nor a colleague, right? It may be your spouse, your parent, your best friend, or your child. If you’re spiritual, it could be your God. However, you will most often hear this sentence from your boss or colleague. Let’s figure out why.
Why Trust Is Such A Big Thing
There is no collaboration without trust. If you don’t trust your boss or colleague, you cannot ever take what they say for granted, or believe in their promises. You will constantly doubt their words and deliveries. Your colleague says they are finished with gathering the revenue numbers? Well, better check for yourself, because, well, better be safe than sorry, right? Your boss promises that you will continue your salary negotiations end of the quarter, but you just feel that it won’t happen. Your employee wants to work from home one day a week because they can concentrate on their tasks better when they are at home – and you deny the request, because how could you ever check whether they are working at all?
We have all been in situations where we didn’t trust our counterpart. The lack of trust will influence the decisions we take and our reactions to offers and requests during the conversation – although it might not always be clear to us that the underlying reason why we react in a certain way actually is due to said lack of trust. That is why it is crucial for anyone – but for team leaders especially – to actively reflect on the level of trust with a counterpart, within their team, or with their employees.
The Leap Of Faith
What someone really means if they ask you to trust them is: I think – or know – that you don’t trust me (yet), but I ask you to take the leap of faith and come with me and my decision. Trust has to be earned. It is something that will grow over time, if you see that someone is doing what they say they would do, if they act with integrity, if you have the gut feeling that you can trust them.
Trust is one of the processes that will never be accelerated by explicitly asking for it. On the contrary – imagine someone is constantly asking you to trust them. Would this make you feel more or less comfortable to do so? That’s exactly the point. By asking that question, they imply that there is a reason not to trust them. In a relationship that is based on trust – no matter whether at work or in your private life – there is no need to ask for the leap of faith. You simply take it, because deep down you know that you can trust this person.
The Mistake Many Team Leaders Make
This brings me to the one mistake many, many team leaders make when it comes to trustful relationships. If we reflect on our relationship with an employee, colleague or even our boss, and we have the feeling that there is a lack of trust – what can we do about it? It would be great to openly address the topic in a one-on-one meeting, but here’s the crucial point: You cannot formulate it as a criticism directed at your counterpart. Instead of saying: I think you don’t trust me enough, you should work on this, better ask: I think you don’t trust me, is this correct? If so, what can I do about it? Yes, you read that right! It’s about what you can do to help your counterpart to trust you. The concept of trust is not a one-way road that somebody needs to walk down. Trust is created by being trustworthy.
I have good and bad news for you. Let’s start with the bad news: You have to put a lot of effort into your self-development in order to achieve trustworthiness – and you will never be finished. Yes, it’s an achievement – and it requires constant reflection and optimization. The good news: It’s worth it. It will bring so many benefits that you will forget that it can be exhausting (and it will stop being exhausting once it’s a habit!).
How To Be Trustworthy
As a team leader, your team, colleagues and bosses will hear what you say and observe your actions. It will kill any trustworthiness if what you say is not what you do or how you behave. It really is that simple: As long as you are true and honest, and as long as you keep your promises and plans, you will automatically add to your trustworthiness. If you promise something that you cannot keep, or you agree to projects or plans and afterwards change directions again, it will reduce your trustworthiness. Of course, it does not mean that you can’t ever change directions or make mistakes again! You sure can, and it’s about how you deal with these unpleasant situations that will decide whether it damages your trustworthiness. Are you open about your mistakes? Do you explain why you have to change directions? Or do you simply do it and hope that nobody will notice? Even worse – do you try to convince everyone that you never said what you said earlier, or that they misunderstood you when you did? Honesty and consistency in your actions and words are the key to being trustworthy. If you want to be trustworthy, you have to know who you are and what you stand for as a leader. And you really have to stand behind your words! Being trustworthy requires constant reflection upon your situation. The great thing is: It’s really all in your own hands. You have everything you need. The bad thing is: You cannot ever blame anybody else for not trusting you. If there’s someone to blame, it’s you.
Trustworthiness Only Starts With Receiving Feedback
The first step for enhancing your trustworthiness is to reflect on yourself and your role. Identify well-working relationships, and ask yourself why you can trust those colleagues – and maybe why they can trust you. Identify difficult relationships, and proceed in the same way. Which reasons do you find that may have had a negative influence on your trustworthiness? The best thing here is to be open about your doubts and simply ask this question: What would help you to trust me more?. It usually is highly appreciated if someone – especially if it’s your boss – approaches you actively with the request for open and honest feedback. Depending on your relationship with your counterpart, it may not work the first time (open feedback needs time – and, ironically, a bit of trust), but if you make it a habit to ask that question, your counterpart will maybe take that leap of faith and tell you why they do not trust you. If they do so, keep in mind that now really is the time where you can show your trustworthiness: You have to deal with this feedback in a professional manner. There’s nothing more devastating for anyone than taking the leap of faith and opening up, and then being dismissed. So even if what your counterpart tells you is surprising, or seems small or even ridiculous to you – remember that they opened up which maybe took them a lot of braveness. Now it’s up to you to show that you treat any kind of feedback with respect and the required seriousness. Only if you succeed with this will your trustworthiness grow. The more often you succeed, the stronger it gets. In one sentence: Trustworthiness does not suddenly appear in a day – it grows over time, with every action you take.
Read Or Watch Further
If you’re interested in the concept of trust, I can recommend the famous leadership fable The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team by Patrick Lencioni, or, if you’re more the online course type, the micro masters series Digital Leadership and especially the course Leading In The Digital Age. These courses by Boston University start regularly and you can enroll free of charge, or pursue a micro masters degree. As always, I don’t get any money if you click on these links – it’s just resources I appreciated on my journey, and I hope you will, too.