As we lead people and teams longer trust is becoming more human. More of a relationship to value and appreciate than a line to be above or below. Trust is a precious friend that I honour, esteem, and protect. Trust is important enough to hold dear and laments loss and delight in its presence.
And at the same time, trust is vulnerable, can be broken, and is sometimes hard to repair. Keeping trust human means keeping trust in perspective. Not one person will pass all-star all the time in the trust stakes. So what do we do to keep trust thriving on the realities of life and leadership? How do we keep trust human? How can we see trust honest, authentic, growing and maturing? Just like what we expect from one another.
Believe in the intent of people.
Most people are good and come from a good place.
In his book “The Advantage” Patrick Lencioni borrows from his earlier work on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni says that the absence of trust is the fundamental reason teams fail to win. He defines trust this way “In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.”
The takeaway? Trust means believing in the intent of the person not the behaviour of the person.
People are not their behaviours. Behaviours can be challenged and changed. People can be forgiven and restored. Teams can adjust activities and culture.
In our home, we have a values-based approach to parenting and work really hard to define the world our children live in, in terms of what is possible and permissible rather than what they can’t do. Don’t get me wrong, when my son runs around in a carpark and into potential danger I exercise swift directive leadership 🙂 In general, we prefer to shape their thinking around what’s good, possible and actionable at that specific time. Our definition of an accident is “When something bad happens and your heart is still good.”
Trust can be broken when something bad happens. The critical leadership path is to mine the intent of the person and respond to that. Where were they coming from that led them to make this choice? What else is concerning them right now? Have they observed this before? Are they taking advice from unhelpful places? What is really going on here?
When you get to the bottom of the issues, you get to fight for the relationship and resolve the issue. Too often we get those two things confused.
Practice leadership mindfulness.
Great leadership starts with personal responsibility and resourceful self-awareness.
My highest personal value is responsibility. It runs deep in me and in my leadership and my expectations of people. I believe in owning your stuff. Blaming is a fast-track to failure and guarantees you will miss THE vital moment for reflection, growth and change. To keep trust human starts with you.
Four of the best questions I know to consider in this mindfulness/self-awareness space are:
- What happened? (The event)
- What did I make the event mean? (The assigned meaning)
- Is the meaning I have given it resourceful or unresourceful? (The behaviour)
- Based on my answers for those three questions; what is the most resourceful next step I must take right now?
If you have chosen an unresourceful behaviour then you have the opportunity to stop, think, decide, and then change the way you act. “You can change, you’re not a tree” (Attribution: Jim Rohn).
Being mindful of how you are experiencing and processing the immediate situation is a gift when it comes to taking responsibility for how you want things to be.
Be proactive in connecting when trust is broken.
Going first and moving toward the person demonstrates empathy, humility and courage.
Getting offended is easy today. With an army of keyboard warriors waiting to disagree from behind the safety of their laptop, it’s both easy and understandable that when trust is broken you have every right to either step back or walk away altogether. Keeping trust human means taking enough time to deal with your own stuff around the issue. Find the gift and be the one who goes first. Call first, text first, email first, write that note first.
Lead with an apology. If any forgiveness is required, go first and do it at the start. It sets the tone for the conversation and provides the best possible platform for restoration and reengagement. Remember my colleague? As soon as practicable after I discovered what I’d done, I made contact. When we met all I did at first was to say how sorry I was for this. No escapes. No reasons. Just how disappointed in myself I was that I contributed to their pain. Not one of my better days.
Ancient wisdom says “as far as it depends on you live in peace with other people.” So, go first, do your best and if it’s rejected or there is a less than desirable response, your only role is to learn and grow from the mistake. The other party may choose not to restore trust, the relationship or both. That’s not your call. Your responsibility is to go first and make it right to the best of your ability. The rest it over to them.
Give the gift of deep listening.
Listening with your ears is much easier than listening with your heart.
A fellow thought leader, Oscar Trimboli, is an expert in deep listening and well worth diving into in the context of listening deeply and intently. Oscar IS this message, he doesn’t just teach it.
Listen to what’s really going on at that moment. Listen for any dreams, aspirations, disappointments, resentments. Seek to understand before being understood (Attribution: Stephen Covey.) Keeping trust human prioritises focusing on the other person as well as trying to understand where they are coming from. Having the insight and courage to ask questions that come from a deeper, more values-based place will give you the opportunity to hear the heart of the person. It will give you a glimpse of what really really matters to them.
At home when I need to connect to my children to make sure the deeper part of my message gets through I say “Are you listening with your ears?” “Yes, Dad.” “Are you listening with your heart?” “Yes, Dad.” When you listen to the heart, you are given the privilege of raw, honest, deep truths that could well serve the dynamic of your leadership culture.
Focus on what you can change.
Leverage your circle of influence more than your circle of concern.
I can’t change you. Only you can change you. Stephen Covey taught the “Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence” to best explain what we care about and what we can do about it. The circle of concern matters to me. The circle of influence is everything I can do something about. Generally, I care about many more things that I can influence.
- I can change my mindset towards my team. I can’t change my team.
- I can change my attitude. I can’t change what people think my attitude is.
- I can change my behaviour. I can’t change what others think about my behaviour.
- I can get all the help I can find to become a better leader. I can’t make others follow.
- I can change me. I can’t change you.
When trust is broken, focus on what you can change to make it good. When trust needs strengthening focus on what you can change to make it stronger. When trust is good, focus on what you can change to leverage it deeply. You lead with great energy, empowerment and focus when you focus on what you can do to make progress.
When we keep trust human we see its imperfections and lead anyway. Life is better that way.
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.