Do You Trust Me?
I recently received some significant feedback at my work. While there are a number of positive aspects of my latest 360-degree assessment, there are also some concerns. I have concerns too, and I want to do better.
One of the comments that stuck with me indicated that it can be difficult to trust me.
Here’s the thing: I get that. I can be difficult to trust because in some situations I hold people at arm’s length. It turns out, vulnerability, at the right time, can help build trust rather than diminish it. But, I tend to lead with expertise and tasks, not with vulnerability or relationships. I pretend to be a recovering perfectionist, someone who emphasizes excellence, but most of the time I believe that mistakes are unacceptable; things must go according to plan. I craft my interactions so that I will feel confident and composed – bringing my “A-game” – and I become very emotional when challenged or criticized. I am invulnerable. Or, I want to come across as all of that.
So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Trust. And I realized that I couldn’t define it, like from the dictionary. Then, I Googled it – and dictionary.com says:
Here’s the thing – the first part of that definition – that’s how I’ve understood trust. I have integrity – I do what I say. I demonstrate strength and ability and surety in my expertise, my skill, my achievement, my drive.
The second part strikes me differently. “Confident expectation of something; hope.” The realization that trust is about something in another person’s mind, some hope they have in their interaction with you. Hope is not a task word. Hope is a relationship word. And when I think about trust and what it means to me beyond the dictionary definition – it is a relationship word. While I want it to be a task word, so that I am more comfortable in what I need to deliver, it’s also about building relationships.
In reality, trust is not one or the other. We all have people in our lives that we love with all of our hearts but we wouldn’t count on them to pick us up from the airport let alone to help us take on huge project at work. We also know people that are really good at checking items off their to-do list, but we might not choose to go to them first for advice when we’re facing difficult challenges. Trust is a multi-faceted word that means something different to every single person – and that’s because we all have different personalities, values, and lived experiences that help us to understand what it means to trust and be trustworthy. Which is why my understanding of trust is completely valid – I am trustworthy for all of those reasons. But, my colleague’s feedback to me is also valid and important for me to recognize.
Trust smooths the way to deep relationships and enables things to get done – whether personal things or professional things – and allows us to show up as who we are, so we can also become the best versions of ourselves. Leadership is like that too. Leadership is not only about delivering on some outcome. It is also about the way in which we deliver on our promises. I love the Relationships, Process, and Results model as a way to define success in any of our endeavors. It suggests that the best success is a blend of a strong goal or desired result(s), how people relate to each other and connect, and the structures, policies, procedures and strategies people use to accomplish the desired result. It’s very hard to do all these things well! It’s easy for us to focus on one or two at the expense of the others.
Trust is what helps bring these together. Reina, Reina and Hudnut (2017) note, “When trust is present, people step forward and do their best work, together, efficiently. They align around a common purpose, take risks, think out of the box, have each other’s backs, and communicate openly and honestly. When trust is absent, people jockey for position, hoard information, play it safe, and talk about—rather than to—one another.” Great leaders and great teams set a direction, understand their vision and desired outcomes. They bring together or develop the individuals and teams who can or must achieve that future together, and then create, utilize, work around, or improve the processes needed to accomplish the goal.
I love being on teams like this. I love it because I get to contribute to something BIG while demonstrating my strengths, knowing my weaknesses are not liabilities, and having fun while doing it. Have you been on a team like that? They seem rare. Trust makes all of that easier but trust is not easy to develop. As leaders we need to find ways to uncover each person’s “confident expectation” and create environments where those can be fulfilled. As a result of this feedback, I’m applying all my diligence and integrity to working on two things:
- Slowing down – Taking time to ask the personal questions and engage authentically in the relationship building even when I feel I have an urgent request.
- Being vulnerable – Admitting mistakes or concerns. Finding ways to be a little less polished and put together. Acknowledging when I don’t know what we should do next.
I don’t know if it will work. But I hope it will.
* Leadership Lesson*
You can help foster trust in your organizations with a few simple exercises and discussions that address trust from multiple lenses:
Hopes and Fears – in this activity group members are encouraged to share their hopes and fears for their team or organization
- Prepare two posters – one titled ‘Hopes’ and one titled ‘Fears’
- Pass out pens and two different colored post it notes to each group member
- Have participants write a hope(s) that they have on one colored post it note and then write a fear(s) that they have on the other colored post it
- Their hopes and fears should be related to the current situation, the group, their role, or a project.
- Have participants place all of their hope post its on the ‘Hopes’ poster and all their fear post its on the ‘Fears’ poster
- Read all of the hopes and fears out loud to the group
- Allow them to discuss similarities, differences, what these hopes and fears mean and depending on time, what are some ideas to help make the hopes happen and alleviate the fears. This check in can be a good way to transition into setting goals and groundrules.
Wants and Needs – this activity focuses on the difference between the things our team mates want and need to be successful or fulfilled
- Have group members prepare two lists:
- Wants: What are the things that you want in order to be successful/fulfilled in this organization?
- Needs: What are the things that you need to be successful/fulfilled in this organization?
- As a group define ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. What’s the difference?
- After agreeing on those definitions, have group members revisit their lists to make any changes or to add anything
- Ask group members to individually evaluate a few items on their lists
- Are your needs being met? Why or why not? In what ways? Be specific.
- Which of your wants are the most important to you? How do they affect you positively or negatively in our group?
- Next, have group members pair up to share some of their responses. Create a safe space for people to share only what they feel comfortable sharing.
- Discuss as a group?
- Were your wants/needs similar or different?
- Why might that be?
- How does that affect the way that we work together?
- What can we agree on as a group that will help us work better together now that we know this information?
Use these exercises to start a dialogue in your organization about trust. For next steps, consider agreeing on goals and groundrules that will help everyone to get on the same page and create a solid foundation for trust between members and across the organization. Then, integrate those goals and groundrules into your meetings, projects, and evaluations to help build a climate of trust.
*Meet the Author*
Kenna’s life work is about helping people work better together – and she’s starting to realize that this is not just professional work but personal too! Kenna fills her time with meaningful relationships with her husband of 11 years, 2 year old daughter, incredible family & friends and significant work at City of Hope, Alliant International University and Leadership Inspirations while carving time for herself.