Low Trust: A Leadership Derailer

In the initial blog post in this series on trust entitled, “Trust: Nature or Nurture?,” the important question of how trust originates was raised. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? While it’s admittedly a combination effect (nature + nurture), the innate view of how we see the world, others in the world, and ourselves within the world has a profound initial impact on our ability to trust.

This series of blog posts related to TRUST will begin to help you understand and uncover this topic from a leadership perspective and, likewise, identify guideposts to watch out for and actions to take to build trust where it might be lacking today.

Why does the level of trust I have in others matter as a leader?

It matters, because our leadership effectiveness lies in direct proportion to the level of innate (‘nature’) trust we have in others. You might say, “YES, BUT if you trust too much, people walk all over you, take advantage of you, not produce results, and then things go off the rails.”

I’d like to propose that the more successful approach is a “YES, AND” approach. Yes, you trust others to a high degree AND you have the right balance of structure, measurements, milestones, and follow-up to know that things are on track, which will keep you from crossing the line into ‘distrust’ activities and actions. A “YES, AND” approach enables teams to flourish and be at their best, effecting the best bottom line results!

Why is crossing the line into ‘distrust’ activities and actions so dangerous?

When a leader starts out believing that the team isn’t capable, isn’t motivated, isn’t engaged, and isn’t able to achieve established goals, then these very thoughts precipitate choices that lead to behaviors that bring about the exact results you fear. Leaders who harbor these conscious or unconscious beliefs, and then lead from that space, send strong and wrong signals to their team to become dis-engagers, de-railers, and de-motivators for the team.

What are some of these leadership behaviors that arise from these known or unknown beliefs of distrust?

  1. Measuring the wrong end of the equation. Measuring outputs exclusively instead of focusing on the health of the inputs that create success.
  2. Mis-aligning focus: Focus shifts to CYA activities and behaviors vs. those that are destined to create success. Instead of focusing on the quality of inputs, decision-making, and the processes and tools to foster success, the team is instead focused on backtracking, explaining, justifying and defending behaviors – all of which are extremely time consuming and non-value added. Worse than both of those already negative effects is the extreme de-motivation of the team.
  3. DOING vs. BEING imbalance: Low trust, by definition, is a focus on outcomes, on things (DOING) vs. people (BEING) and losing the genius that comes from superpowers that the team might possess in order to get to right solutions and better outcomes. Leaders who over-focus on ‘doing’ and forget about ‘being’ are sending a strong signal to the team that people really don’t matter and that their input doesn’t count.

Who wants to work for a leader or an organization that employs these behaviors? Organizational leaders who are questioning low levels of employee engagement might take a step back and determine whether there are mixed signals being sent.

The values statement on the wall might say, “people are our most valuable asset,” but then daily actions focus on minutiae and outcomes vs. creativity, ideation, passion, and zeal that employees willingly want to bring to the table in order to solve bigger, more important problems. This double or mixed message is a sure engagement buster for your team and organization. It won’t take long. This is why these beliefs and resultant behaviors are so dangerous for your team and for your organization.

I might be exhibiting some of these behaviors as part of my leadership style – now what?

  1. Become aware – become the observer of your actions.
  2. Accept that you have exhibited these behaviors.
  3. Examine your innate beliefs about yourself and about others that could be eliciting these behaviors. Write them down in a brain dump session over a cup of coffee in a quiet space. What beliefs exhibit trust? Which beliefs exhibit distrust? What would change if you were to give up/replace those limiting beliefs with more expanding and possibility-thinking beliefs?
  4. Ask yourself this question; “What support and assistance do I need to help me in this process of belief busting?” Leadership coaching is a great choice. Your coach, by training and innate passion, believes in your innate abilities to lead and empower your team and is able to journey with you toward that goal.
  5. Ask yourself the question; “What support does my team need to transform their thinking as a result of some of these demotivating and unhelpful behaviors and elevate them into higher levels of thinking, doing, and BEING – increasing engagement, productivity and creativity for my team and organization?” Neuroscience offers a perfect solution, as it teaches people the power of their brain and how to replace old habits with new habits of thinking, doing, and BEING!

Here’s to eliminating conscious or subconscious limiting beliefs around this topic of TRUST and exhibiting new behaviors that create new outcomes for you and your team, elevating trust, and effecting greater engagement, productivity, and bottom line results!

Namaste, until we meet again.