Have you ever worked for someone you didn’t trust?
Maybe it was hard to put your finger on why, so you just chalked it up to mismatch of personalities. Or maybe you’re leading a team that doesn’t seem to trust you! What’s behind that? A forthcoming book by Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta can help you diagnose the reasons behind not trusting – or not being trusted – and give you advice for moving forward.
According to the authors, legitimacy and competency are the foundation or “table stakes” of trust.
Legitimacy is about how or why you were chosen for the position. Was there a thorough search process that found you to be the most qualified person for the role? Or were you brought in from the outside because the person who is now your boss knew you and trusted you? If it was the latter, that doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified, but it does mean that a fundamental component of trust will be in question when your team sizes you up. You’ll likely have some trust-building to do.
If you aren’t competent at your job already, you need to get there – fast. Taking steps to understand areas of the role that you haven’t previously mastered, admitting your blind spots, and having a growth mindset will not only increase your competency, but make explicit to your team that competency matters to you.
But those are just the foundation for being a trusted leader. If you want to achieve the productivity that come to teams with high levels of trust, you need to check the ethical or moral domain of trust: your motives, your means and your impact.
Motives: Motives are the “why” behind what you do. Every leader has to make trade-offs that will serve the interests of some stakeholders over the interests of others. Be aware of the tradeoffs you make, and be explicit with your team on why you’re making those tradeoffs. Talking through your decisions – such as why you are coming down on the side of employees over the needs of customers – not only help your team understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, but also help them learn how you expect them to make decisions going forward. If one of your explanations sounds self-serving, then it probably is. Your team will likely notice that whether you say it aloud or not – and their trust may be the price you pay.
Means. What rules exist for your organization and your team? How do you get things done? For instance, how do vacation or shift schedules get determined? Do the department favorites pick their spots first and others get what’s leftover? How are outcomes — such as sales — achieved? In any manner possible? Or only through an honest, collaborative sales process? The “how” of how things get done and how rules get made is a key driver of trust.
Impact. What impact do you and your decisions have on those around you? Whether your impact is intended or not, you need to acknowledge and take responsibility for that impact in order to earn the full trust of those who work for you.
Next time you feel trust is lacking, run down this list of components – and then put your effort in to rebuilding and regaining the trust of your team.
*Ideas for this blog taken from: Sucher, S. J. and Gupta, S. “Leading with Trust,” Harvard Business Review online, July 17, 2019. Their book The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, and Regain It is out July 6, 2021.