Trust Me

How important is trust on a team? Do you trust your people to make the right decisions to drive improved performance? Do you have confidence that when you ask for something to get done that it will get done right? 

Trust is a belief based on shared values. When I extend trust I am expressing the belief that someone will act in a manner he or she believes is my best interest as defined my values. Trust speaks to an individual’s intent to adhere to values. The challenge with that of course is that if we have not clarified our values we rely on the other person interpreting what would be in our best interest. In order to share intent, leaders need to make sure there is a common understanding of values.  

When someone breaks trust it means they have operated in conflict with established values. Development of trust requires a leader to be clear and consistent on values. How often as a leadership team do you discuss the five to seven values you will consistently exhibit and hold each other accountable for? Do you cover examples of how these values might be applied? Is closing the sale more important than taking the time to ensure the customer gets what they need? On the third shift Friday nighthow important is getting the order out versus getting the quality right? Do we espouse safety and then text on our way to work?  

Confidence is like trust, only it applies to hard skills. Confidence is a belief based on demonstrated capability, not values. For example, I delegate some work to a junior team member. Later I find he or she encountered a situation technically more complex than they were prepared for. They gave it their best while operating within the values of the organization but did not have the experience to resolve the situation. Did that person break my trust? Of course not, they did the best they could. There is something else at work that we sometimes describe as trust. That something is confidence. 

Confidence results from a demonstration of skills and experience necessary to perform within a certain set of circumstances. Confidence speaks to ability, not to intent. In our example above we may have to reconsider how much confidence we can place in our junior member but if they operated in what they believed was the team’s best interest they should not be considered as having broken trust.  We as leaders asked them to do something they did not have capability to do. 

So why do we even worry about this? There are situations where the two concepts get confused. I hear people ask, “Can we trust them to get this done?” when we are really expressing doubts about ability, not their commitment to our valuesSignaling a lack of trust in someone can have a damaging effect on the team’s willingness to engage a team member operating under this shadow. 

Confidence can be built with training, experience, coaching, and mentoring. The development of confidence is an act of leadership. In the same way extending confidence as measured by the scope of work that is delegated is an act of leadership as well. As leaders we can provide deputies with experiences by way of assignments or other work that causes them to stretch and grow. We can provide them coaches, mentor them, train them and provide educational opportunities that can hasten their development of expanded capabilities. This in turn can expand the confidence we have in them. 

Trust can be built be establishing and practicing a set of values. As people come to understand the values they can develop trust. The norming stage of the forming-storming-norming-performing cycle involves arriving at a shared set of values, even when those values are tacit. I am suggesting that across the organization the values should not be tacit. Do not make people guess or intuit values. Articulate them and earn their trust by living them. 

Joe Thompson

© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC