Trust Is Your Responsibility

In my many conversations with leaders working in uncertain times, I hear one word over and over again: trust. How do you trust people working from home? How do you trust people to take the initiative? How do you trust people to know when to follow the rules, and when it’s more appropriate to break them?

Trust is a critical factor in high-performance teams, especially in times of uncertainty and volatility. We need people to take initiative, act independently, and sometimes ignore the rule book. But that only works if leaders trust their people.

Trust is a leader’s responsibility.

Last year, The Workforce Institute at Kronos surveyed nearly 4,000 leaders and their teams about trust, and found most employees say trust has a big impact on their work, including their mental health (55%), career choices (58%), and sense of belonging (64%). Yet, almost two-thirds of the respondents (both leaders and their team members) said trust needs to be earned, not presumed. This is disappointing but not surprising, because most leaders just don’t know how to build trust systematically.

This is especially disappointing because it puts the responsibility for trust in the wrong place. If you’re a leader who can’t trust your people, that’s your responsibility first, not theirs.

Build trust in stages.

Building trust happens in three stages:

  1. Mastery: Through many hours of exposure through deliberate practice, you develop mastery in your skills.
  2. Judgement: With continued exposure to different contexts, you learn to exercise good judgement when applying those skills.
  3. Wisdom: With a broader perspective about what’s important, you apply your good judgement with wisdom.

You went through these three stages yourself when you first learned to drive. At first, you learned the road rules and the mechanics of driving a car, but it took a lot of practice to master those skills. Then, with driving in different situations, you learned good judgement on the road. Finally, you gained a broader perspective of the many purposes of driving (to get from A to B, to enjoy the journey, to rush in an emergency, and so on), and you became a wise driver.

For each team member, identify their current stage and consider how you can accelerate their progress to the next stage:

  1. At the first level, help them find ways to acquire and practise skills, through customised learning, coaching, mentoring, and applying those skills in their everyday work.
  2. Then work on building their judgement by giving them opportunities to understand more about the work environment.
  3. Finally, show them what really matters, so they can develop wisdom when applying their judgement.

Don’t just build better workers; develop better people. You’re not just building better followers, but better leaders as well.


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