High Trust Leadership

When a person takes a position of leadership, the thing that people look for in them is trust. You may often hear people saying "Can we trust you?" or "How do I know what your actions match your words?", these are all common traits that we as human beings have. In order to build up credibility with your team, you need to build trust so that they believe in you.

Napoleon Bonaparte has a famous quote on leadership, which I quite like and goes like this:

Leaders are dealers in hope

In essence, what it is saying is that leaders don't always know exactly what the future looks like, but if you follow them everything will be okay. People will only do this when we fully trust them and believe the leader to be authentic. A nice analogy is to think of trust as a bank account, any withdrawal will erode and decrease the trust and doing what you say will top it up. When the "trust account" starts depleting, people have less and less faith in you until they don't trust you at all.

For example, a while ago I was assigned to a client which I wasn't keen on going to as I had been to them before and knew the politics there. I was promised that I would be taking more of a team lead role and would be mentored and so I took it as it would be a good learning opportunity. As you may guess, none of that ever materialized, and I was also let down a few other times by the individual. As such the "trust account" was emptied and now I don't believe or trust anything that they say.

Different Types of Trust

  • Functional Trust - You do what you said you would do
    A simple example is when a colleague asked if I could bring them a programming book I had and they wanted to read, which I did so the following day. The colleague felt no need for to remind me, as they trusted I would bring it. The example I mentioned above, regarding the promise of being a team lead, is an example of where functional trust was broken.

  • Relational Trust - I can share my personal information with you
    An example of this would be when one of your team members comes to you and explains that their performance may not be up to scratch as they are having some personal issues. They trust you to understand and they know it wont be used against them at a later stage. This trust typically builds up over time and, like myself, you may be mistaken to think that this type of trust only manifests itself at home. When people say that the people they work with are like a family, they are usually talking about relational trust.

  • Capability Trust - You are competent in doing a task
    Recently, the architect on the team had to attend a meeting and couldn't run our sprint retrospective, so he asked me to handle it. This would be an example of capability trust and is something that you want to foster in teams. In these teams, you will find people to have mutual respect for each other and you often hear the team lead say things like "I'm surrounded by great people!". If there are some people on your team that aren't on that level, then you need to bring out the greatness within them, by delegating tasks which slightly stretch them.

Mistrust

Some people have may have trust from previous experiences that left them burnt. Mistrust then comes into play, as the world has not been reliable to them and they start to generalize the experiences, especially the negative ones.
For example, in one of my previous projects, our product owner had a few bad experiences with a particular department as they were unreliable. He lost trust in the them, however this mistrust started to encroach into other departments that were trustworthy, as they were affiliated with the unreliable one. In the end, this hampered our relationship with the other teams causing all sorts of politics, including a "us vs. them" mentality. There is a quote from Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which relates to this.

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are - or, as we are conditioned to see it.

Essentially, the product owner had become so accustomed to the one department letting him down the whole time, that this mistrust become the de-facto way of viewing the other departments. He had become conditioned to view everyone in the same light.

After some exposure to mistrust, you will see that the following characteristics start to surface:

  • Isolation - You find that people become more secluded
    For example, you may have seen people who use to always go to the voluntary company functions, now no longer go or someone who use to be very outgoing becomes quiet. They isolate themselves as it gives them the feeling of protection, but in the end it affects them progressing in their career. It is important to be aware of these behaviours in your team and try to correct them before the person leaves.
  • Paranoia - Extreme fear
    You may find that you are intimidated by someone at the office or meetings, but this belief is often false in the sense that it is more than likely your mind making the fear real. After all the do say that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. Often you will find that past experiences dictate this irrational fear.
  • Violence - Best form of defence is attack
    Typically, paranoia will lead to violence and this comes out when people are in "attack" mode by always screaming and shouting. This is their form of a defence mechanism as they think "Let me get you, before you can get me". If you look back in your life, you will often see that it is because trust has been broken and eroded and you find that violence protects you and keeps people away.

As a leader you should try to eliminate the levels of mistrust. No doubt that it can be difficult to do, as changing peoples beliefs is not always easy, but the rewards in the end will be worth it.

So that wraps it up for this post. As usual any comments or suggestions are more than welcome. In the next post we will go over some of the reason why trust breaks down.

So until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa