By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute

In all the material world, there is nothing quite like trust.

  • It is the grease that lubricates relationships and makes effective human interaction possible.
  • It is the glue that holds organizations of all sizes and purposes together.

Generally speaking, the more trust there is among members of an organization — be it as small as a marriage or as large as a global enterprise — the more smoothly every process will work.

And when things go wrong for whatever reason, as inevitably they will, the more quickly and better they will be fixed.

It's true that some people are more trusting than others. But it's not true that organizations have to passively rely on Providence or serendipity to achieve high trust environments.

Trust can and should be built. And leaders concerned about effective performance throughout their organizations should concern themselves with building trust into their organizational DNA. Stephen Robbins suggests several ways that can be done:

  1. Demonstrate that you're working for others' interests as well as your own. In other words, lead as Jesus led. Be an S3 Leader — servant, steward and shepherd. If you are perceived as a self-serving leader, followers will become self-serving too in order to protect themselves. Then nobody is looking after the organization's mission.
  2. Be a team player. Support your followers with both your words and deeds — and most especially your deeds. Look after their safety, emotionally as well as physically, recognizing that different people have different prime fears. Protect them and defend them even as you direct, develop and inspire them.
  3. Practice openness. Mistrust comes as much from what people don't know as from what they do know. Some people have a very low tolerance for ambiguity. Whenever they don't know something, they develop assumptions to fill in the blanks. And some people tend to assume the worst. Openness indicates that you are trusting — and people tend to trust those who trust them. Being open is a critical way to model trust and nurture it in others.
  4. Be fair. Before you act, consider how others will perceive your action. You can drive yourself crazy imagining all the options, and you can't lead guided only by your perceptions of how well your decisions will be accepted. However, if you pay it no mind, you can foster mistrust. Give credit where it is due by always expressing your gratitude for good work and looking for opportunities to praise publicly. Be sure that rewards are based on performance, not likeability or compliance.
  5. Speak your feelings. If your communications deal only with numbers and other hard data, you will quickly be considered a "cold fish" who is probably not trustworthy when it comes to feelings of any kind — even the passion to excel. On the other hand, if you communicate your feelings, people will see you as human and genuine and will be more likely to be open with you about their feelings. However, speaking your feelings is not the same as screaming your feelings, losing your temper or losing control of your behavior. If the building is on fire, by all means scream "Fire." But then calmly point people to the nearest exit. Short of a real fire, never scream or shout. And never panic. Scary and scared people do not inspire trust.
  6. Show consistency in adhering to your mission and values in decision-making. Leadership begins on the inside. When people don't know what to expect, they can't trust. Take time to think about your mission, your vision for the future, your values and your principles — as well as those of your organization. Then make sure they inform and guide your decisions. When you know your purpose and you are true to it, you'll show the kind of consistency in your behavior and decision-making that inspires trust.
  7. Maintain confidences. People trust other people in whom they can confide. If your behavior indicates that you don't respect confidences, they won't trust you with theirs. Many people think being a font of gossip is a good way to build trusting alliances. It isn't. People may be eager, even willing, to share others' secrets with you. But they won't be willing to share their own unless they know you are worthy of their confidence. Don't give them reasons to wonder about you.
  8. Demonstrate competence. People with real expertise inspire trust and exercise influence whether they want to or not. Learn your craft. Master your craft. Then be willing to share what you know without "Lording over others." Becoming a master is not about showing off or feeding your ego; it's about serving your mission. If that's your inspiration, people will gravitate to you and trust you to help them excel too. When they give you those opportunities, proceed with a servant's heart.

Adapted from Essentials of Organizational Behavior, 5th edition, 1984, Simon & Schuster, NY

Copyright © 2011 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site:

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