I had just come back from the beach when the phone rang in my room.
I’m not even sure how he found me, hidden away at my favourite resort in Punta Cana with my wife. I guess I might have told him I was going. I couldn’t remember.
It was one my band mates back in Canada.
He told me that one of my musical mentors (John Wyre) was putting together a concert in Germany for Expo 2000. The concert was in a few days and one of the acts couldn’t make it last minute and there was an opening for our group. The fees weren’t quite worked out yet but it would all be taken care of.
He said, “ Can you do the gig?” I said, “Absolutely.”
A day later I flew from the Dominican Republic to Toronto, had a quick airport meal with my wife, and boarded an overnight flight to Frankfurt. I was picked up at the airport, whisked to Hannover, and showed up for the second last rehearsal before the show with my bags in tow.
Looking back now, it was pretty crazy. I dropped everything and flew over an ocean on a moment’s notice.
Why would I do such a thing?
Because of trust.
We need to think more about trust.
You might not realize it, but trustworthiness is something that all of us are constantly assessing and being assessed for. And every action we take with someone either builds on that trust, maintains trust or takes away from it.
When we deal with other people, especially in situations where we will see them or interact with them regularly, there will always be some degree of trust.
Of course these degrees of trust vary depending on our relationships. Consider how much you trust a neighbour, co-worker, a family member, a parent on your kid’s sports team, your spouse.
If you think about it, the degree of trust you have with someone is directly proportional to the amount you’ve revealed to that person about yourself, and what he or she has revealed to you.
The thing is, most of us don’t think about it very much. We go about our day-to-day being who we are, and through one or more interactions some people will come to trust us and maybe some won’t. We don’t say, “Let’s go build some trust.”
If you’re a leader or a manager and you want to build a culture of trust with the people in your charge, here’s the attitude you should take:
You need to say to yourself, “What can I do to build trust?”
What can I do so people trust me and trust each other?
Because, as you know, you hold back certain things based on how much you trust someone, and so do your co-workers with you.
You have to have people fall in trust with you and each other.
Think of how you felt when you experienced a new leader being introduced at your organization.
It probably went something like this.
“Bob joins our organization with several years’ experience in key management positions at (name a company). He comes to us with a strong background in (pick your area). He has had resounding success at (insert what represents success in your field).” And it goes on.
After you hear or read this introduction, you’re probably impressed at Bob’s accomplishments. It justifies why he was hired, certainly, but it doesn’t tell you and your colleagues the two things you really want to know:
I wonder what he’s like. I wonder if I can trust him.
People expect you to be good at what you do. What they want to know is whether you are likable and whether you are trustable.
This is what it’s like for you when you’re the new leader on the team. This is what everyone is thinking
The good new is that you can take steps to make people trust you. Yes, it takes time but if you make the effort, it will happen. And if you work in an organization where trust is valued, then you have to make that effort.
Humility and Generosity
Getting back to my quick trip to Hannover, the main reason I flew across an ocean for that concert was because I trusted John.
We weren’t buddies, (John was 20+ years my senior), but through various projects and interactions over the years, I had gotten to know him.
First I knew him as someone who was great at what he did. I had seen him perform on stage many times.
I also knew that when he tried to set something up, it usually worked. I knew that he was always thinking big and if he was involved, it was likely to be an incredible experience.
There were many occasions when I met him after concerts and we talked. What I liked about him was his humility.
Despite having a career that most people like myself dream of, he often talked about how fortunate he was to have had the opportunities he did. He would often talk about mistakes he had made or choices that he wished he had made differently.
He was humble, kind and generous, and helpful to me (and my colleagues) whenever he could be.
I remember one time when we were both attending a percussion conference and trade show. I came across a beautiful hand crafted hand purple heart drum with an intricate wood inlay. Trouble was, I was out of money. (This was pre-ATM).
John happened to be at the booth when I walked by. When I explained my situation he said, “Don’t worry about it”. He vouched for me with the drum maker so I could take the drum and send him the money later. I still cherish that drum and I love the story that surrounds it.
Because of these things, John had my trust. When he asked me to do something, I didn’t hesitate.
Sadly the world lost him about 10 years ago.
What you can do to build trust.
1) Show them you are a leader. Go first.
Someone always has to go first to build trust. If you’re a leader or a manager, that falls to you. To have a culture of trust in your organization, you need to let the people see your human side. Tell them stories, them things about yourself, not in a bragging sort of way but in a humble one, warts and all. This is done over time and bit by bit.
Once you’ve put yourself out there a bit and have told people something about yourself, then it’s your job to listen. They will likely share as well or connect with what you said.
3) Let people know you’re approachable.
Depending on the previous experiences someone may have had, this could be something new to them. Maybe their last boss or manager was very dictatorial. Maybe they were raised to fear and revere authority. Watch their body language when you speak to them. Are they short with you? Not much eye contact? That could be why.
4) Create a culture where people can safely address the elephant in the room.
Every organization has its troubles but many times these go un-discussed because people are afraid to talk about them. Let people know that they can talk about their problems and concerns with you and each other.
5) Turn mistakes into learning experiences.
Nobody wants to make mistakes but they happen. I know from years of being on stage with some really talented people that they happen to the best! But if people are worried that their mistakes will be followed by some type of tirade or punitive consequence, they’ll live in fear and won’t put all of themselves into their work.
6) Demonstrate trust.
You do this by not micro managing. Let your people do what they are good at doing, what they were hired to do. Let them build their confidence after you’ve shared the vision of where you want to go. Let them be a part of creating this vision. By stepping in only when necessary, you show them that you trust them. You show them that you are all in it together.
You don’t have to go over the top with this. As a matter of fact, if you do it too much then it loses its power. But when we are in positions of authority, we tend to look at the things that aren’t going right. It’s our job to point these things out, certainly, but without some praise for what’s going right, you can see how things can get out of balance. See something great happening? Don’t be afraid to tell someone.
You have a choice.
At a recent program I delivered centered on building trust, someone asked me, “How can we bypass not wanting to trust?”
The answer is, it’s a choice we have to make.
When we were very small children, we trusted everyone and everything around. Gradually as we became older, we were told that we should be more careful where we placed our trust. It’s good advice, certainly, for a young person learning to deal with a big world.
But as adults who need to collaborate with others, not wanting to trust or being stingy with our trust can impede our success and the success of our organization. It’s like living peeking out over our pillows everyday.
I say, trust. It’s a more positive way to live. Yes, you could get burned – oh, well – that’s life. Better to feel like you’re putting your all into something, I say.
As always, I welcome what you have to say. Please share some of your experiences about trust in the comments.