When we are born, we have absolute trust. We know no fear, we have not experienced being let down, disappointed or failure. Look at how a baby will put a spoon in its mouth. It doesn’t fear the sour taste of the content of the spoon because it hasn’t experienced the risk of what may be on the spoon, it just knows the sugary reward.
In a young child we call it innocence, in an adult we call it naivety.
Over time we experience the risk as well as the rewards. We are let down by things, we start to understand that things don’t always work out how we want them to. These lessons in life are important but sometimes they start to cloud our judgement and make us jaundice, suspicious and unable to see the optimistic, hopeful side. They turn us into cynical, suspicious sceptics.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a pragmatist, a realist, particularly in business but I also have faith in people.
So why is it that so many people lack trust in others?
So many businesses create a blame culture where they look for the person who made the error as opposed to identifying the factors that caused the error to be made. They forget to learn from mistake as they are so keen to shoot the culprit before they can learn. The corporate blame game causes conservatism, resentment and builds a rotten culture.
So, do managers really believe that someone deliberately made a mistake?
Does a golfer deliberately miss a putt, or a penalty taker deliberately hit the shot over the goal? No, they try their best but sometimes they fail. The key is they analyse what went wrong, they address the issues, retrain and retry.
So how do we build a culture of trust?
First, it has to come from the top, there has to be trickle down trust. Leadership need to trust people to do the right thing, trust them to not make mistakes on purpose and most importantly trusty them to learn from mistakes.
If we don’t do this, if we don’t create an environment of trust where people can experiment, take risks (OK not all work places can take risks so if you work in a hospital or a nuclear power plant maybe dial back on the risk taking) people won’t learn and develop. Innovation won’t happen and eventually your business will stall and fail.
People need to be empowered to learn, they need managers who coach and not micromanage. Be careful not to confuse trust with absentee management. We still need to manage people, but manage them within agreed boundaries, manage them with the aim to grow them, to develop them to help them excel. Empower them, trust them. Remember if you can’t trust your people it’s a recruitment issue not a management problem.
Going back to my point about trickle down trust, how do leaders build trust. Frances Frei, a Professor at the Harvard Business School breaks trust down into three component parts.
This is about being yourself. Don’t try to be what you think others want you to be. Be true to your beliefs, your values and yourself. Any façade, any pretence will be seen through in minutes and trust will be gone.
Professor Frei explains that there are two elements to logic. The quality of your logic and how well you communicate it. Your strategic thinking could be insightful, well informed and visionary, but if you cannot communicate it with clarity and simplicity, it will be lost on people and you will lose their trust as the doubt your thinking.
Empathy is the most important component and the most easily lost. As the pressure of a job mounts, time becomes scarce and the temptation of checking an email during a conversation with a staff member grows….so does the risk in you losing empathy. This then becomes a vicious circle where you lose peoples trust, without their trust your job becomes harder, you have less time to empathise with your people and around the circle you go.
So my advice for you is if as a leader you can create an environment of trust, your business can thrive and your people, for most of us the most important part of your business, will surpass your expectations.
So go on, find that reset button and rediscover trust in your people.