Trust moves people. Said another way, people don’t move until they trust you.
At the end of July, I attended a camp for 150 teenage girls as a youth leader. My job was to manage the ropes course, meaning I strapped myself to a belaying rope and supported girls as they climbed 25-foot walls, sometimes cheering them on and more often than not literally hauling them up the wall.
Time and again these girls would approach the wall, attach their harness to the rope, and start climbing without ever asking me for any credentials, expertise, or past experience. Did they know I had just learned how to belay someone 5 minutes earlier? Probably not. But they didn’t need my resume or list of accomplishments because something else existed – inherent trust.
I firmly believe that if we truly understood the power of trust we would do NOTHING during the first few weeks of the year but build trust. Literally every meeting, every class, and every interaction would be focused on trust-building.
The reality is nothing gets done without it. It’s a currency. Just like you can’t walk into Chipotle and demand a burrito, you can’t walk into a team meeting or classroom where trust doesn’t exist and demand results. You also can’t walk into Chipotle and coerce, influence, or manipulate the cashier into giving you a burrito and expect to get it. You pay money and you get the result you desire every single time.
Likewise, your class or team isn’t a group of people to be coerced, influenced, or manipulated. They want to be bought. And the price they’re asking is high. They want you to buy their effort with trust and lots of it. They want to trust that you have their best interest in mind, trust that you will develop them, trust that you will advocate for them, and trust that you won’t let them down. They want to trust that they can be who they are and that will be acceptable. They want to trust you and the team with their failures, anxieties, doubts, and fears. We all want to trust others and feel trusted in return.
The more I train and coach leaders from all backgrounds, the more I realize that leadership is all about trust. The majority of dysfunction in leadership comes from a lack of trust with the people you lead.
Awhile back I was coaching a leader who was trying too hard. He overcompensated and began to rub his colleagues wrong. He would try too hard to come across as confident and bold in team meetings and with the teachers he evaluated. The result was lost influence with his team, mistrust with the teachers he evaluated, and a loss of confidence for him. What was the foundation of his dysfunctional behavior?
As we dug in, it became clear that he behaved the way he did because he was afraid that people wouldn't see him as equal to the task, as good enough to be in the position he was in. And why was he afraid, because he didn't trust that his teammates and teachers would respect him if he was simply himself.
Did you catch it? It was a trust thing.
Why don't people speak up? Or delegate? Or engage in healthy conflict? Or work together as a team?
When your team members or students feels trust, they do this (from Lencioni, P. (2011). Team assessment report. The Table Group, Inc.):
- Acknowledge their weaknesses to one another.
- Ask for help without hesitation.
- Ask one another for input regarding their areas of responsibility.
- Acknowledge and tap into one another’s skills and expertise.
- Willingly apologize to one another.
- Are unguarded and genuine with one another.
- Can comfortably discuss their personal lives with one another.
So how do you know if your class or team has trust? Easy. Are they doing the things above? If not, you may want to back up and build trust. Here’s how:
- Be vulnerable – It seems counterintuitive, but the best way to build trust is to show you aren’t perfect. The key is to be strategic. Not all audiences need to hear all weaknesses, fears, struggles, doubts, heart-wrenching stories, or even all aspects of who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here. Choose what to share with whom, always remaining true to yourself. But push yourself to be a little vulnerable and watch the trust skyrocket. By the way, stories of success and happiness can feel equally as vulnerable as stories of failure, and they build trust as well.
- Build character – Walk the talk. Simply live with integrity. Be the same person in the dark as you are in the light, from meeting to meeting, class to class, and home to work. And genuinely care about people. The most trustworthy people aren’t in it for themselves.
- Build competence – Know what to do and how to get it done. Know enough about the technical side of your job to guide others. Learn strategies for putting your knowledge to work and share those strategies with others. And navigate the relationships in your school with adeptness.
The greatest investment you can make as a leader is to develop a tremendous amount of trust as quickly as possible. Contrary to what most people believe, trust isn't only built over time and by getting results. This certainly helps. But trust can come from showing vulnerability, truly understanding one another, and investing in human relationships.
The great Warren Buffett said, “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody notices. When it’s absent, everybody notices.” The only way over the wall is to trust.