This article is a part of my ‘Decision to Trust’ blog series.

“Trust should be the basis for all our moral training.”
Robert Baden-Powell

In part one of this blog piece series, The Decision to Trust, I dared leaders to be rebels, “to start trusting people and start fostering trust.”

I understand that is a challenge for some people, especially company owners and people who have spent years in leadership positions, keeping track of your staff’s deliverables ‘to make sure things run smoothly in the organization’.

Many of us are taught at a young age not to trust people. But what are in fact some of the reasons why we don’t trust people?

I would say we often don’t trust people because we don’t know them. We normally judge them on the first impressions we get or take any prior labels that have been shared about them to form an idea of who that person is.
Why don’t we put the labels aside, rethink the first impressions and be curious enough to discover the person’s character by ourselves? Why don’t we trust people in the first place?

I will start this piece with a simple exercise.

I will ask you to do something simple: relax and sit down with a piece of paper and a pen or simply go for a walk and write down your thoughts when you return home.
Ask yourself: Who is the person I trust the most?
And then ask yourself: What is it about that person that I trust? Why is that particular person so trustworthy to me?

Stop there for a moment to really think about it, visualize whichever memories you have that remind you of moments where that trust was built and solidified.

I have done this exercise myself and realized I always find myself always going back in time. We very often choose people with whom we have a deep, long connection with such as childhood friends, family members, relatives.

And there we have it, the very first trait of trust: knowing people.

When we know people, we trust them more or we trust them less. And this is based on the experiences and interactions we had with them.

“Trust is built with consistency.”
Lincoln Chafee

When I did this exercise I instantly thought of one of my childhood friends, Cem.

I trust him because I know that, in the past, whenever I needed him, he was there.
I trust him because I know I can talk to him about anything. And I know that if I pick up the phone, no matter what time it is, whatever the timezone, I can reach out to him. That has already happened in the past, so the trust grew stronger the more I got to know him.

So for leaders in organizations, get to know your people, get to know your colleagues. It’s as simple as that.

I know many people will object with: Ok, but what if you don’t have time? And what if it’s not in the company culture to interact so closely?
I don’t mean you have to go with your employees on a two-month vacation; you start by having a simple chat.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Stephen Covey

At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was struggling to connect to each other online – or at least that’s what people said they felt was happening. At the moment, when many people are working remotely and the workforce is distributed, you don’t even really need to leave your room to connect to anyone, you can simply book a call.

Human beings, especially in an organization, keep focusing on the new and extra tasks that are on our plate. And we just easily and almost automatically forget about whichever work was done previously.

The following example portrays this situation clearly:
I was running a coaching session in an organization, and one of the leaders said it was really time-consuming to keep a connection with her staff:
Dom: “What are you doing at the moment?”
Leader: “Well, we have our daily catch-ups. And then I’m making it the point of speaking to people, and having one-on-ones.”

She had twelve people working with her and she was talking to every single one of them once a week for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
With the add-on of the hour with the entire team, there were a lot of catch-ups to do.

Our conversation continued and I kept asking her questions:
Dom: “What about your workload?”
Leader: “I’m actually not working more than I was before. I’ve just noticed that I’m spending a lot of time with my staff.”
Dom: “What about decision-making within the business and your unit?”
Leader: “That’s actually easier than ever before. We’re getting to conclusions quicker.”
Dom: “Okay, so pre-COVID, what did you use to do to keep the connection with staff?”
And there was silence.
She realized she wasn’t actually doing much about it before COVID.

So even if the catch-ups were shorter than 15 minutes with each person, you have 12 of them plus one hour with the team. That means she started spending four hours connecting with her staff every week – which she did not before – without having taken up more hours of work.

We had another chat eight months later when she called me out of the blue:
Leader: “You know Dom, I just want to get back to you about the chat we had. I had never realized that I wasn’t actually taking the time to connect with my staff. I’ve been keeping up the routine of having one-on-ones even when we went back to face-to-face work. And I’m finding now, a few months later, that the whole team environment has changed. I have a lot more trust in people and a lot less need for control.”
Dom: “What changed?”

She couldn’t pinpoint it at first. But what she realized is that prior to working remotely, she didn’t really have a connection with her staff. She was only part of the recruitment process at the last end of it. So when people started, she had only half an hour with the new member of staff, and then the onboarding was left to someone else. She would not take the time to connect with them in the first place. And building a connection is one of those important steps that actually make a difference when it comes to trust.

When I say trust here, I mean the decision-making process around trust: do I trust you to make a decision or not?

Am I confident enough to let you decide on processes, on situations that require using the organization’s resources, on communications with important clients that could be crucial to the success of the business?

There are many factors to consider in any of these situations but the truth is that if you assign a task to someone you should trust that person to do their very best without minimum or no supervision, and without reporting to you on their every move. Why would you have someone perform tasks in your organization that you wouldn’t trust to do a good job?

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.”
Frank Crane

If you know me and have read Decision to Trust (Part One), you know that I always start by fully trusting people. It’s my prerogative, and though I’ve gone wrong a few times throughout my life, I still prefer that to not giving people the benefit of doubt in the first place.

I don’t consider myself to be naive, very much the contrary. With all these years of consulting and learning about human behavior, I would like to think I have learned the basics of understanding behavioral clues.
I have been observing, testing, and iterating on how to bring out the best in people in both my personal and professional life. And this way, I’ve noticed there are a few actions steps one can take that make a difference in building trust, be it in corporations or even in social environments such as sports teams or classrooms.

One of the fundamental aspects of trust is the power distance between people – this automatically creates an ‘us and them’.

There’s usually little trust from leadership to staff and vice-versa. People tend to feel they are not in the same boat or level.
So what can you do to solve this?
The answer is quite simple and straightforward: flatten the lines of hierarchy between you and get on the same boat:

  • How do you expect a subordinate to feel comfortable enough to share their own thoughts and feelings with a superior?
  • How can they not fear saying something wrong and being judged? Would they feel their position is at risk because they may make a mistake and sound incompetent or challenge the superior’s decisions and point of view?
  • What if the superior disapproves of their initiatives?
    In many workplaces, one of the fundamental reasons why people stand back is fear. And you fear someone when you are not comfortable around them and don’t know them well enough to be yourself.

It’s very easy to trust someone that one can relate to, and the truth is, if we look deep enough, we can all relate to different people in different aspects.
Perhaps that’s why it’s very easy for children to trust people. They don’t look at people as superior or inferior to them, do they? They simply wish to connect to share moments of fun.

Whenever we reduce the social power distance between us and the other person we take a huge step forward into connecting to each other, and consequently, building trust.

Having said that, I will leave you today with one more exercise:

  • Recall the first time you met the last person that entered your company.
  • How did you introduce yourself? How did you interact with that employee? How much time did you invest in getting to know that person on more than a merely superficial level?
  • And lastly, do you know what truly motivates that person to show up every single day at work and invest energy into the company?

If you can do that with every member of your team, you are to be congratulated. If not, it might be worth thinking about if maybe there is a bit of work ahead of you to bridge that gap. The good news is that it will be worth it!

Let me know how you go, I would love to hear about your experience.

(To be continued…)