“I want to tell you something but can I really trust you?”

I was surprised by Mr X’s question because I had been coaching him and his team for the past 7 months. I thought I had proven that I am trustworthy.  After getting over a brief moment of indignation, I realised that it was a fair and valid question.

Trust simply means confidence. When we trust someone we have trust in their integrity and in their abilities. When you distrust a person, you are suspicious of their integrity, agenda or abilities.

In this manager’s particular case, I understood why trust was so important to him. The organisation (that was ultimately my client) had gone through a number of changes in leadership, promises had been made and broken, and trust was at an all time low. The new MD had fortunately recognised this but she had her work cut out for her because there were a number of behaviours that demonstrated that trust had been broken. These included:

  • Redundancy when it came to layers of management and overlapping structures all designed to ensure control.
  • Office politics such as withholding information, infighting, operating with hidden agendas, interdepartmental rivalry, and meetings after meetings.
  • Disengagement where team members were putting in what effort they must to get their paycheck and not get fired, but they’re not giving their talent, creativity, energy or passion anymore.

Unfortunately, due to leaders thinking that trust is just one of those soft ‘fluffy’ topics, very little time is spent on gauging what the trust levels are in an organisation. As illustrated in Stephen M.R. Covey’s, The Speed of Trust, trust is not a soft fluffy topic but directly effects speed and cost within an organisation.

Think about when you have had to work on a project with a colleague in another department that you trust. Communication flow is easier, limited time is spent in meetings monitoring and controlling the project and there are less turf wars. All of these aspects have a direct impact on the cost and speed of delivery. Now think of a project where there was mistrust between the team members.

Obviously the ideal is not to break trust in the first place. In some cases the leader may even be paying the cost of previous leaders’ low trust behaviour – Covey refers to this as inherited trust taxes.

The good news is that, in most cases, trust can be restored if the leader makes a conscious decision and effort to do so. If you do recognise any of the low trust behaviours in your team, here are a few areas where you can personally start building and restoring trust.

Your focus should be on the 4 core areas of trust:

  1. Integrity – start walking your talk. Be brave enough to act in accordance with your values and beliefs.
  2. Intent – what are your motives? Trust grows when we are open about our motives and when the people we lead know that we don’t only care for ourselves.
  3. Capabilities – these are skills and abilities we use to produce results. Keep developing and growing your capabilities so that you remain relevant and skilled.
  4. Results – this is all about performance. It is also an area you cannot hide – you either deliver or you don’t. Develop a track record of getting things done and focusing on results instead of an endless list of activities.

I would like to say that if you are consistent in focusing on these areas, trust can be restored in all cases. Unfortunately, this is not always the case because the wounds are just too deep and the damage too severe. However, what I can say, and you can trust me on this: If you do decide to focus on these core areas, you will not only restore certain workplace relationships; you will build lasting and meaningful relationships in all areas of your life.

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