In the past few weeks there have been lot of high-level executive transitions in the news. Many companies are appointing new CEOs or filling other C-level roles. Whenever I see these stories, I immediately think about what lead up to this event. Whenever there is an open role like those above, competition breaks out amongst those that deem themselves qualified for the role. Competition is great, but quite often, it ceases to be a healthy competition and becomes bitter and ugly. I’ve seen this at plenty of stops in my career, and while the unhealthy competition is bad enough, the resulting lack of trust poisons these teams for years to come.
The fact is, when we talk leadership, we usually go big on things like humility, empathy, and communication. The key leadership tenant that doesn’t get nearly enough love is trust. Without trust, teams simply can’t perform at the levels necessary to succeed.
The most toxic leadership team I was ever a part of had no trust. Not surprisingly, the company was in a constant state of crisis. To that end, most organizations have trust issues. They have no idea how much they’re being held back as a result. Who wants what job, who has self-serving interests, who is whispering to CEO during a meeting behind everyone’s back to sabotage them.
All of this erodes trust in teams and not only does it distract from the mission at hand, it keeps people from fully giving themselves to that mission. It’s basic self-preservation. Without trust you can’t be fully invested. Trust allows you to be fully open and openness is needed to fix and grow companies. Aside from that, without trust you’re always looking over your shoulder, and frankly, it takes a lot of energy to always be scanning for those threats – energy that could be channeled into accomplishing the goal at hand.
Trust, then, is one of the ultimate motivators. Trust is how teams are built. And that’s why as leaders, we must be hyper-vigilant to establish trust within our teams. You certainly can’t trust some people, but you must make sure they trust you. Leadership is trustworthy. If you can’t be trusted, you can’t lead.
So, how can we establish trust within our teams?
This is a big one. We talk about empathy a lot and for good reason. If you want to establish a culture of trust within your team, it starts with knowing how people think. This is why we talk about leadership styles being fluid. It’s so dependent on the individual being lead. You must operate in a way that defers to their style. Once you’ve cracked that code, you can operate in a way that shows them, in their own language, how they’re valued. That creates trust.
Be Direct, but Fair
People know when you’re sugar coating something. Let’s be clear about this: that means you’re lying. It’s natural to not want to hurt people’s feelings, but that should never be a license to lie. You’re doing both parties a disservice when you do that (and wasting time).
The individuals on your team will know when you’re being fair, even if it’s unpleasant to hear the truth. They will respect that. If they don’t, they’re likely not the right fit for your team anyway. Because of that, the direct path is always the right path
As leaders, we view ourselves as responsible for our team’s well-being. It’s our job to put them in the best position to succeed. It’s one thing to act when your team asks for something, but another to anticipate their needs.
Being one step ahead shows that you’re in tune with your team and that you’ll protect them. That is a huge step in building trust.
As always, communication is a key, but in this case, it’s so vital because it keeps people from letting their imaginations run wild. By over-communicating, your team members always know where they stand, where a project stands, and where you are in relation to your goals. There’s no chance for them to think anything other than what is true. Often, we’re our own worst enemies, and we end up fighting battles in our mind that never needed to be fought in the first place. Our minds tend to go down rabbit holes. Make sure that you’re so clear with your team that this is never an option. In doing so, you’ll create an open and honest culture that is ripe with trust.
Trust really is massively important, and too often competitive team dynamics erode the trust that is so vital for teams to succeed. You have to be on constant lookout for the threats to trust within your team, because once it’s gone, it’s likely never coming back.