More than ever, the business climate today requires that we form collaborative relationships with our internal and external business partners. Whether these are cross-functional teams within your organization, or external stakeholders such as communities, or special interest groups, the need to quickly establish “trust” is paramount if these relationships are to succeed. So why is it that in many of these
situations, trust is becoming more and more elusive?
Like me, you have undoubtedly experienced cyclical swings in business and observed for yourself the impact these swings can have on the levels of trust in the workplace. When financial results are positive and tracking to budgeted levels, higher levels of trust and associated positive actions seem to grow exponentially. Conversely, when the business results are not on track, we often see an erosion of trust and the toxic behaviours associated with the lack of it.
As always there are exceptions. Take for example the organization that when “the chips are down”, rally as a team to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, exceed their financial expectations and in the process create extremely high levels of lasting trust both internally and externally. What makes the difference?
“Leadership” is what makes the difference! True “Leaders” set the tone for what levels of trust exists inside an organization. These individuals believe that building trust in an organization is more about managing their own behaviours than managing that of others. In short, they model the behaviours they expect to see in others.
In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey describes “trust” as balance between “Character” and “Competence”. I have always admired the simplicity of this definition. We have all likely had experiences with leaders who demonstrated a high degree of “character” but lacked the offsetting business acumen to get the job done. Conversely, you have also likely observed “competent”; leaders who know the technical aspects of their business but fail to demonstrate the “Emotional Intelligence” required for them to be successful, long term. Either trait on their own usually produce immediate results, but all too often these leaders quickly lose their luster due to a lack of sustainability and balance. It is only with a balance of both character and competence that exceptional Leaders are able to deliver on the multiple stakeholder demands they face in today’s business environment. In the process, they succeed at building credibility and lasting relationships with high levels of trust being formed as the foundation.
Throughout my career I have enjoyed the opportunity of working closely with numerous cultures and corporations around the world. Through these relationships I quickly learned the value of trust, which often took years to build, yet once in place, formed a lasting bond that was critical and more often than not, led to seamless future business transactions. Unfortunately, I have also observed organizations and individuals who became careless or complacent and ignored the “character and competence” balance. In these situations trust that took years to build was lost in an instant, never to be recovered. What I learned through these wonderful and life changing offshore associations I believe applies equally here in our own backyard. People the world over have a fundamental need to be understood. When we take the time to listen, and truly understand we set in motion the building blocks that form the foundation of trust. Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”, embodies this philosophy and to be an effective leader, listening is a critical step in the journey.
It is often the little things that count the most and when it comes to building trust in business and life. Remind yourself to attend to the little things, like saying “thank you”, following up on a commitment, or simply sharing a smile and a warm greeting? While seemingly second nature for most, these “little things” can get forgotten in the hectic pace of the day to day challenges and become blockers instead of enhancers in your efforts to build trust.
A former mentor and colleague of mine had a favourite saying, “What gets measured gets done”. He understood the concepts Character and Competence long before Covey gave us his definition and was able to create amazingly high levels of trust with those he interacted with. Part of the reason I believe he accomplished this was his ability to set very clear expectations. In your environment, do you really know what’s expected of you? Do others know what you expect from them? Ensure that both are clear and if not, seek greater clarity. Above all deliver on your agreed commitments, and hold others accountable for theirs; trust will be the by product of your diligence.
Finally, one of the most crucial aspects of trust is “integrity”. How you exercise your integrity on a daily basis will solidify or destroy your character and ultimately determine your overall success. Sounds harsh, I realize, but as successful leaders are acutely aware, they are constantly “under the microscope” and inconsistency when it comes to integrity is the weed that quickly matures then chokes the life out of any trust you have managed to nurture and grow.
Leadership comes at a cost, and the rewards go to those who make the effort to grow their technical skills and abilities and at the same time enhance their awareness of themselves and the people they surround themselves with. In today’s business climate character and competence are simply the price of admission. What you do as a leader to model both will determine yours and your organizations level of trust and ultimately its level of success.