Trust the Vision. Trust the Plan. Trust the people. Trust the process. Trust the system. Or fix it.
In building a high-functioning organization, there is no in-between when it comes to trust. You’re either focused on doing your job, trusting others will do theirs, moving forward in lock-step on a clear path towards a shared vision, or you’re not. Organizations that lack trust have an innate level of dysfunction at their core. This dysfunction acts as an anchor dragging on the power, speed and agility of the organization. So growth slows, talent leaves for more fertile ground, competitors begin to catch up or pass by. And if the rising tide of a growing market begins to ebb, the organization begins to collapse.
Trust is the glue and the grease. It’s what creates the bonds between individuals and teams and can often last a career. And trust is the grease that moves information through the organization. It enables that lock-step action, concentrating the full energy of the organization behind the tip of the spear while remaining agile enough to learn and adapt.
The Warning Signs
When trust is lost, our instinct is to centralize control. This is a clear sign of broken processes, systems or relationships. This clamping down constricts the flow of information, either by design or as a byproduct of natural bottlenecks.
Information empowers individuals to decide, act and collaborate. When the flow of information is slowed- or altogether stopped, individuals become disempowered and unable to influence or make decisions. Or, at best, they will lack clarity, often leading to poor decisions and further degrading trust.
To avoid being disempowered, or as an immediate fix to a failing process, system or relationship, our instinct is to grab some control ourselves. While sometimes well-intentioned, this triggers the cycle to repeat, creating silos and fiefdoms of control.
How Trust Is Cultivated & Lost
As Steven Covey described it, building trust is like putting deposits in an emotional bank account. It grows slowly over time, action by action. However, withdrawals happen quickly, with a single act able to undo months or years of deposits.
Because trust is built slowly and lost so quickly, it’s critical for leaders to create fertile ground for trust to grow and reduce the emotional volatility that leads to large withdrawals. When leaders sow seeds of distrust or ignore clear signs of its presence, the rate and size of withdrawals increase exponentially as it spreads to the entire team. This is why the saying “a fish rots from the head down” still rings true hundreds of years after its inception.
When “the fish” is alive, the head initiates all action throughout the body. Likewise, leaders must be hypervigilant in cultivating and monitoring the level of trust in the organization. Again, back to Covey, in his research studying leaders that build trust, he identified thirteen key behaviors:
- Talk Straight
2. Demonstrate Respect
3. Create Transparency
4. Right Wrongs
5. Show Loyalty
6. Deliver Results
7. Get Better
8. Confront Reality
9. Clarify Expectation
10. Practice Accountability
11. Listen First
12. Keep Commitments
13. Extend Trust
It’s important to note that it’s the combination of these thirteen behaviors that builds trust. For example, talk straight, but do so with respect and after you have taken the time to listen (#11).
The Process of Building Trust
There is no quick path to building or restoring trust. It is a way of being, a practice. As Covey defined it, “Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence.” What is the process for developing character or any aspect of ourselves? That is a topic for another day. However, the first step is always the same, START!
Identify trust as a problem. Make it our focus. Become a student: Read about it. Observe it. Measure it. But most of all, let’s act to correct it. We can’t let distrust sit and fester as we work on our character. If there is a process that is creating a lack of trust, let’s make it a priority to fix it. If a leader is cultivating a lack of trust, let’s bring them into our process or remove them. If a system is causing issues, leading to a lack of trust among the team or with the customer, let’s fix it.