What I’m Listening to: Boris Brejcha – Frequently as of late, and literally right now as I type this
What I’m Reading: How to Live by Derek Sivers
What I’m Watching: The Vegas Golden Knights
Have you ever truly been in sync with somebody? Even if it only lasts a moment, it’s a rush of ecstasy when you knock down the punchline that they setup or complete the perfect pass that they then bury in the back of the net.
What makes those moments feel so good is in part the success they bring and the interpersonal connection you feel, but the payoff feels even better because they are usually built on a foundation of long-developed trust.
Trust is Dying
Trust is a fashionable word that represents an increasingly unfashionable idea. Americans’ trust for “the media” is staggeringly low, and while trust for local government outpaces trust for other levels of government we still are untrusted by a third of our communities. This distrust of institutions is correlated with people that trust others less, made up largely of young people – this doesn’t look like it’s about to self-correct.
Distrust isn’t just ‘out there’ it’s growing in individuals, ourselves included, and in workplaces, like local governments. We even disguise it through positive characteristics. “I want to look that over, because I’m detail oriented” masquerades diminished trust just like, “I just have to have a hand in everything because I’m ‘Type A.’” While we’re here I want to include the phrase that got my gears going on the topic, “Trust, but verify.”
Ironically, what we’ve trusted most are these phrases that we hear, use, and often abuse. “Trust, but verify” is used to make constant verification sound healthy and it can be said more beautifully in its original rhyming Russian, “doveryai, no proveryai.” So how did this phrase penetrate the American lexicon? Because it was used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s when negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev over nuclear disarmament. The phrase ‘Type A Personality’ was coined to describe personality traits that were linked to higher rates of heart disease.
We excuse our underwhelming trust in others by essentially saying, “I trust you… like one world power trusts another during the greatest standoff the world has ever seen.” or, “Don’t mind me, I’m just leaning into my tendencies that are as unhealthy as they are intense.” (Side note: The ‘type A’ study of the 1950s has been seriously questioned. So please don’t overstress about your heart health, it would be counterproductive anyhow.)
Do We Need Trust?
Yes, we do, trust me.
I was so tempted to leave it at that, but more needs to be said here. Having a trustful workplace brings so many benefits to your team and your mission. Below are just a few of the many benefits you will find.
- Harness creativity – When people feel trusted, they aren’t afraid to innovate.
- Perform stronger – Being trusted feels good, and when we feel good about ourselves, we perform at a higher level.
- Collaborate – If you aren’t trusting you aren’t collaborating. If you aren’t collaborating, you are leaving the diverse talents and ideas of your team on the sideline.
- Be efficient – Constant verification and duplication of efforts are byproducts of distrust and they slow down every process they touch, whether the process is formalized or not. Verification and backup are sometimes needed, but with trust the default setting can be efficiency.
- Grow – When you are doing the jobs of those that you lead, or your colleagues, that is time spent away from your responsibilities. Even worse you create a dependency and limit professional growth opportunities for others. Trust builds space for everybody to operate, and in that space they can grow.
Stop Excusing, Start Trusting.
How do we get from ‘But verify’ to the benefits of fuller trust? You have to model trustfulness and trustworthiness like you want to see it reflected in your organization. This means modeling it 360 degrees around yourself to your supervisor, your colleagues, your reports, and everyone else you interact with. You can do this with some process and a lot of mindset, use the process to ingrain the mindset.
- Set clear expectations – This is a bit of a cheat code because clear expectations are a sort of pre-verification. At the same time, it provides a trustworthy certainty.
- Be available – This one’s tough, because those around you have to know your door and mind really are open. Giving undivided attention, withholding judgement, and providing constructive feedback are going to create the right atmosphere here.
- Cultivate growth – After you have an opportunity to lead others don’t simply leave them alone but use your time together to do things other than micromanage their work. Maybe spend time talking about professional development, or maybe even visit about weekend plans for a moment. This helps build a relationship, communicates that you are truly available (see step 2), and can help you both grow professionally benefiting the future of the organization.
- Close loops as often as you check-in – In a perfect world, managers and employees don’t need multiple check-ins on every task or project. It is a sign of building trust when something is assigned, and the next communication between the manager and employee is the simple “closing of the loop.”
- Allow others to fail (and more often succeed) – I want to shoutout Nick Kittle for challenging the idea of psychological safety, because creating an atmosphere free of defeat does not build trust. Acknowledge risks with those around you and find opportunities to empower them to take those risks wisely. Ultimately, you are going to sometimes fail together. Failure is part of the learning and trust building processes, and as it should it is going to hurt. However, with the lessons you learn and the trust you find you will more often come together and succeed.
- Think long-term – If you are a rockstar it may be the case that every project could benefit from your perspective. But having you in on everything, especially when you are the expert, creates a dependency and stymies the growth of people around you. Even worse, it creates a cultural cycle. Those that are trusted today will trust others in the future. For the benefit of your city, let them cook!
- Communicate honestly and openly – When others see you being candid they’ll trust you and in turn will feel free to being open and honest with you.
- Commit to the process – While trust doesn’t start at zero (unless your organization has serious problems in hiring and management practices) building substantial trust does take time and cooperation. Let the process of building trust mature in time. Above I talked about “closing loops” without a check-in at all, but you aren’t going to be there the first time you work with somebody.
In my experience, with time relationships can grow from getting back drafts with heavy edits, to emails that say nothing more than “Looks good!”, and eventually even to “Once you get that together go ahead and send it.”
Trust is a pillar that too often is halfheartedly embraced, and that is killing it across our society. It is on us as leaders to be intentional about extending trust to others and being a model of trustworthiness as well. An organization built on trust is more efficient, collaborative, innovative, and resilient. We must remember that trust we extend is devalued by every caveat and excuse attached. For the love of local government, trust.