Don’t let the trust rust away

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Last week we discussed the need for leaders to go on GEMBA walks; thus getting to meet their team at the coal face where work is being done.

Sam Hlabati

We noted that executing the GEMBA walk in an unstructured yet earnest way would help leaders build trust with their team.

There will be times when as a leader all that one can offer their team is just one’s word, for all one would have to do is to promise what the future will hopefully hold.

We are familiar with the broken promises that are made by individuals running for public offices.

They will promise all the things that the electorate would want to hear so that they will get endorsement into power.

I am talking about politicians of all kind and creed around the globe; whose promises become mere rhetoric to the ear of a perceptive listener.

As we have always discussed in this column, let no serious leader do grand-standing of some envisaged future; which they know is never going to be achieved; yet they mislead everyone to believe the contrary just to get everyone’s hopes revved up.

This rule should be observed by everyone who finds themselves in charge of any organization of any kind.

Trust is the foundation upon which relationships are made. You the reader of this column, in your personal capacity you know when you have had trust; you also know when you did not have trust. The question is can one build trust when it does not exist? How does one maintain and build upon the trust one may currently have in their workplace?

These are important questions for the modern day’s rapidly changing world.

Trust forms the foundation for effective communication, employee retention, and employee motivation and contribution of discretionary energy, the extra effort that people voluntarily invest in work.

Leaders have to communicate with their teams about both pleasant and unpleasant issues.

The acceptability of all the communication that leaders give to their team is wholly dependent on the levels of trust that are within the organisation. When trust exists in an organisation, almost everything else is easier and more comfortable to achieve.

We can take trust as being made up of the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence, and the perception of intentions. It is the very interaction and existence of these three components that makes trust easier to understand.

The capacity for trusting is premised on one’s total life experiences that have developed one’s current capacity and willingness to risk trusting others.

The level of trust that one’s team will have in them as a leader is based on the team members’ previous personal experiences. This extensive scope of experience is made up of the situations in one’s life where promises were kept or broken; where expectations where met or not met.

It is important to note as a leader that amongst a leader’s team members there will be those “easily trusting” team members and the sceptical lot. Leaders should just remember people do not join organizations with minds that are vacuums, their history haunts them.

It is the role of the leader to give all team members no reason to lose trust in their leaders.

Then there is the perception of competence which is made up of one’s team’s perception of their ability and the ability of the leader to perform competently at whatever is needed in the prevailing situation.

I look at my little daughter and I notice that she has trust that her dad will move mountains for her. As an experienced adult, I do not necessarily doubt that promises made by others will not be kept.

It is just that when one has experienced performances from others that fell short of the promised delivery, one then has to be certain about the possibility of the promised performance before fully accepting that the promise will be kept.

The foregoing comes to the root of building trust within an organization.

Peter Drucker, one of the great thought leaders on leadership issues was quoted as having said “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.” The underlying principle is for leaders to let the team that is under them know the reality about the future of the organization.

Bad news is not the best of news to deliver; therefore few leaders would want to be bearer of bad news.

Robin Sharma, in his book “The Greatness Guide” had this to say to leaders;

“People want to know that you are real. That you are decent, kind and trustworthy. They want to feel you and sense you and look into your eyes to see what you are made of. They want to know your passion for whatever it is you stand for. And when they sense that you are the real deal, they will open up to you. When they see that you have their best interests in mind, they will trust you — and keep your best interests in mind. Once they get that you are good, they’ll be good to you. And your career (along with your life) will get to a place called world class based on those trust connections.”

The issue of whose interests one is driving as a leader is the reason why followers are looking into whether the leader has their best interests at heart.

The team’s perception of the leader’s intentions is their perception that the actions, words, direction, mission, or decisions of the leader are motivated by mutually-serving rather than self-serving motives.

Sharma in his book “The Saint, The Surfer and The CEO”, singles a number of characters that leaders should possess in order to build trust in their team. He mentions the need not to “swallow our truth”; that is leaders should not say things to please others and to look good in front of the team.

Rather, they should consistently say the truth. Remember this does not give anyone a license to say things that are hurtful to people. Speaking truth is simply about being clear, being honest and being authentic.

Authentic leaders have rich moral fibre; their strength is their true power which can be felt by their team from a mile away.

It is imperative for a leader who wishes to be authentic to work on their character; walk their talk which is aligned with their core values. These leaders are courageous; for they need a lot of courage to go against the crowd; be a visionary. It takes a lot of inner strength for a leader to do what they deem is right even though it may not be easy.

John Maxwell says that when a leader have broken the trust of their teams in them, the leader should not let the relationships rust; rather they should take action immediately to repair and restore it.

It is inevitable that a leader who is out in front casting vision and giving direction has to be vocal and visible; saying words that will ultimately affect the team, either positively or negatively.

This means that the leader could say or do something that violates team members’ trust in them. It will happen that the leader could give criticism that could be seen as inappropriate for some reason. It will happen that promises could not be kept and the team loses trust.

Mistrust is like a cancer that will eat away at the core of the leader’s relationship with the team. When something happens that destroys trust, as a leader it would be foolish to push matters aside saying “it’s not a big deal after all, the matter was small”;

rather own up and offer corrective action and an apology. It is important to stop blaming the people who feel betrayed but attributing their behaviour to being emotional or being immature.

A leader should admit when they do wrong , it may be painful to do for the moment, but it strengthens the relationship with their team in the long run. In my tribute to Nelson Mandela, a day before his burial, I wrote in this column;

….. another lesson that we learn from Mandela is from one of his greatest characteristics: humility. Having power as a leader gives one the wherewithal to determine the future of others, while the leader gains more power of self-determination. When the power that leaders wield gets into their minds, the ability to abuse it becomes easy, ultimately creating a tyrant.

As much as Madiba had the power to commandeer the way for his views and desires, he mostly worked with humility. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, Mandela held a joint press conference with the then United States president George Bush; castigating the al-Qaeda and its then leader Osama Bin Laden.

The Moslem community criticised Madiba for not displaying the statesmanship and even-handedness that ordinarily characterised his politics, through his supposed lack of displaying commitment to the rule of law, which demands a trial before conviction.

Mandela made efforts to control the damage caused by his initial statements; a stance he took after meetings with family, friends and advisers who informed him of the anger his initial statements had provoked. When he realised his mistake of angering a constituency that had always been important to the ruling ANC, Mandela displayed humility by apologising to the Moslems.

He publicly acknowledged that his initial statements had been “one-sided and overstated”. He also apologised for giving the impression of being “insensitive and uncaring about the suffering inflicted on the Afghan people and country” in the course of the war against terrorism.

Always remember: “You build trust with others each time you choose integrity over image, truth over convenience, or honour over personal gain.” — John Maxwell

Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). E-mail samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati

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