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Build Trust by Making Strong Leadership a Thing of the Past ... and Future

March 18, 2014
Build trust by being a strong leader

Life is fraught with uncertainty. Yet everyday we choose to trust/believe that certain things will occur. Consider the following scenarios. How many of them do you automatically expect to happen, without a shadow of a doubt?

  • The alarm clock will go off in the morning.
  • When you turn the hot-water knob, there will be no surprises.
  • The floor on which you’re standing will hold your weight.
  • The air you breath is safe.
  • Your wardrobe will not malfunction.
  • The brakes will stop your car when needed – and they’ll do the same for the speeding truck behind you.
  • The gas pump will not explode while you refuel your car.
  • The green traffic light means it’s 100 percent safe to proceed.
  • The elevator will not fall.
  • Last night’s dinner at your friend’s house was prepared in a sanitary manner.
  • The prescription you just filled is the one your doctor prescribed.
  • The police officer who just stopped you is a police officer.
  • The package in the mailbox will not explode upon opening.
  • Your neighbor is not a psychopath watching you 24/7, and neither is anyone else.
  • One safe takeoff equals one safe landing.
  • That handshake will not transfer a really bad disease.
  • You will return home safely from running errands.
  • Your bank will have your hard-earned cash when you wish to withdraw it.
  • The earth will continue to rotate today and the sun will continue to shine brightly tomorrow.
  • When you hand a $20 bill to the cashier, it will be accepted as having a financial value of $20.

I’m sure you could name a thousand more examples of situations in which we believe that we’re certain of the outcome. Call it trust, conditioning, blind faith or something else. As leaders, though, we need to learn how we can leverage this phenomenon – in other words, we need to learn how to build real, lasting trust among our team members.  

Relying on Past Performance

In my view, one of the main reasons we choose to trust uncertainties such as the ones listed above is because we rely on past performance to help us predict future outcomes. It’s human nature. Once an occurrence becomes reliable (i.e., has a high degree of predictability in our minds), we tend to form positive assumptions about the probability of this trend continuing. That is to say, I’m sure you expect to be alive in the next couple of seconds or so to read the next sentence. After all, you’ve been alive all of this time. And … it just happened.

In the same light, you probably believe that the alarm clock will go off at the pre-set time, hot water will flow from the left faucet when opened, your favorite TV show will air as scheduled and you will return home from work safely. Not only do we expect these events to occur, but also we also wholeheartedly trust that they’ll happen. Even though the aforementioned occurrences aren’t statistically certain, we view them as statistically inexorable.

In the context of an organization, it’s a bit trickier to establish trust. Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • How do you know your team trusts you? To answer this question, ask yourself another one: How would your team members react if you asked them to give up the next five weekends, unpaid, to work on a project that’s important to you?
  • How do you build that measuring stick to determine your organization’s trust factor? For starters, say what you do, do what you say. Hold yourself accountable for team failures. Fix processes, not things. Be fair. Be honest. Be ethical. Be genuine. Be adventurously predictable. Follow to lead. And curiously challenge toward collaborative greatness.
  • Do you naturally trust people too much? I think you'll find that if you experience a history of positive and consistent outcomes in any situation, your trust is forged accordingly. We subconsciously allow this to happen every day.

So what do alarm clocks, restaurant food, gas pumps or any of these other things have to do with establishing trust and building formidable, unstoppable organizational teams? Just everything!

It’s no secret that trust is the special salsa in superior-performing teams. For trust to be a "given," a forgone conclusion, in any organization, it must have experienced a leadership history (your history) that leads the team to the realization that the eventuality of its occurrence is a statistical certainty – one that will be there when needed, wanted, desired and counted on. This is how leaders use this sauce, this phenomenon to lead ordinary toward extraordinary.

So, when you return back to the future, contemplate evaluating your previous behaviors and actions as a leader. If you find some opportunities, consider forging a new past – starting right now – from a rock-solid foundation of positive, energizing and predictable performance. Then enjoy success as your “A” team performs on a platform founded by the forgone conclusions of tomorrow.

Dare to think differently.

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