At a Q&A following an executive coaching session, a senior executive asked me, “How do I know if I can trust my boss and if he even trusts his bosses?” I had heard this question for years. I had researched the answer and written about it constantly: When to trust, how to trust, should you trust, learning to trust, why trust is so hard . . . I started to respond, but I could tell the woman asking the question was not feeling my response. I realized at that moment that the problem wasn’t with what I was saying but how she perceived my answers, and it changed my approach to trust forever.
Trust in the workplace is like apologies to people you care about: Both must be felt not just stated to have any influence. Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m sorry” and all it sounded like was: You think I did something wrong, so everyone thinks I did something wrong, so the world thinks I did something wrong, so I’m sorry. That’s all about how you feel and dismisses any awareness or accountability of how others feel. It has nothing to do with understanding how what you did affected others. That’s the difference between saying what your think needs to be said and actually understanding what others need. It’s the difference between words that have influence and words that are just words.
So, do you trust yourself as a leader and feel trusted by and trust in your leadership? Or is trust just a word that is not backed by awareness and action?
Unfortunately, the answer is “just a word.” Lack of transparency, internal politics, siloed departments, scarcity mentalities and hidden agendas make it difficult for anyone to trust themselves let alone others. Yet in an age when the only thing often certain is uncertainty and chaos is the new normal, feeling trust and trusted is more essential than ever. It is sometimes all you have to keep you doing more to see and seize new opportunities and expect the unexpected as things change course constantly.
If you are not feeling trust or trusted, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I feel safe speaking up or judged when I do?
My organization’s research has shown that the vast majority of leaders (85%) feel that transparency or feeling valued and respected are most important to creating an environment in which trust thrives. Only 12% of leaders said what the employees said mattered the most: a safe environment where no one is judged. When your leaders embrace an open dialogue, you feel safe to speak-up knowing that there are no hidden agendas.
Do my leaders provide and accept unconditional feedback?
Corporate cultures that promote honest and direct feedback have leaders who empower people to break down silos and build bridges to strengthen communication, clarity and understanding top to bottom. They don’t leverage titles to limit others voices but use them to give others voices without thinking it makes them feel weak.
Do my leaders have their own identities and empower me to have my own?
Too many leaders have been conditioned only to see and be accountable for what others want them to see and be, rather than what they seek. Too many employees feel this and thus just do what they are told, not passionately pursuing who they are in support of their leaders and the organization. These leaders and their people are losing their identities as never maximize their potential because they don’t trust the organization to value taking that risk to do more than what they are told.
Does my boss invest in relationships?
As the needs of the marketplace rapidly evolve, relationships in the workplace built on collaboration and trust are the foundation upon which organizations weather the storms of change and evolve. The success of a leader requires strong followership that is earned over time. As such, employees have more power than they think they do over their leaders. Without employees that trust them, leaders have short-term, artificial influence, at best. As such, leaders must work to earn the trust of their employees by investing in those relationships – just as much as employees must work to earn the trust of their leaders.
If you answered no or I don’t know to any of these questions turn the spotlight of accountability on yourself first and ask if you have the courage to commit to changing those answers. Are you ready to believe in yourself and your people and make them feel your trust? Then the possibilities are truly endless.