Trust is the bandwidth of communication –Karl-Erik Sveiby
(veteran in knowledge management and intangible assets)
How can you build more trust with your investors, clients, teams or colleagues while you have to deal with designing and implementing new solutions, address tough business challenges and implement organizational change in complex and layered ecosystems?
How do you build trust when you are a new leader who inherited an environment and team with a history of incompetence or poor performance, or uncommunicative team members?
During new technology development, proof of concept projects or an organizational change implementation a lot of effort is put into creating well-scripted and thoughtful messages using best practice methods to communicate important ideas, such as the vision for large scale transformation or the benefits of a new exciting technology revolution.
If the human trust “bandwidth” is low, it does not matter how well branded your messages are, how inspiring the words, what social media you use, the careful story telling techniques or expertise you employ… A low trust bandwidth means people will just not believe you, will maybe hear messages that are not here, make up their own stories about what is going on and probably continue with current habits that contribute to the very climate you want to change.
High trust contributes not only to more effective and sustainable investor confidence, customer service or team productivity – it is critical for effective change, as well as individual, team and organizational success, engagement and happiness at work. Steven Covey placed trust in the centre of his Four Leadership Imperatives.
How does lack of trust between people deplete innovation, work performance, productivity and work wellbeing?
A study at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found that employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition,
Being in an environment of low trust feels like a sense of never feeling “solidity underneath you, as if the parts continue to move all the time and you never know where it will be the next day or where you stand with someone. It uses a lot of energy in your need for constant alertness and creates a sense of anxiety about when the next unexpected event will occur.
The purpose of uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety, is to help you pay attention to potential risks and threats in your environment and move you into finding solutions and opportunities to address it. But being in a state of constant “alertness” depletes valuable cognitive and physical resources. As vitality diminishes, physical health and strength diminishes, which ultimately results in loss in confidence in your physical ability to deal with the constant changes. Lack of confidence is a big reason why people don’t try out new things, lack creative options or just become apathetic or avoid change altogether.
This is a particular challenge in the current technology revolution of continuous innovation, of constantly starting and stopping (agility) or always being in motion or increasing the speed of decision making and activities due to aggressive competitiveness in the market.
It is also present in teams and organizations where leaders are not inclusive, or try and be the “lone hero” who will solve everything on their own, or the worst – playing team members off against each other in a way to keep them “on their toes” to push for increasing productivity and high performance.
In low trust environments you will notice a lot of sarcasm, a lot of blaming and avoidance of talking about glaring issues. People will hardly ever be in open conflict with each other – a sure sign that there is no trust because people who trust each other are able to have really important conversations in a timely way.
If I don’t trust you as a leader, I will simply not tell you important things because, well – I don’t think you will do anything with it or just take my ideas and build your career without acknowledging my contribution to your success. Why should I then give you more than the effort that my job description requires? If I am an investor, I will simply walk away to find another project to support.
How do you build trust?
Trust takes a long time to build, yet it can be destroyed in a minute if you discover that a person has not been truthful and have not operated from their best selves but instead from an self-centered place.
A concept that people often associate with trust is valuing Consistency or what we could also call Integrity. A good example of how I see integrity is the following analogy. If I travel with my car across a bridge, I trust in the integrity of the structure. Structure is not to be confused with bureaucracy, but could instead be simple “rules of the game”, guiding principles that are applied consistently. This allows for some sense of “predictability” in often uncertain and continuous change. Integrity creates that sense of a solid basis and provides for a source of inner strength that is crucial for times of continuous change.
Without connection it is almost impossible to trust someone. Connection is about caring. The old saying still holds: Friendly face-to-face interaction is still the best. I know two leaders who walk “the rounds” once a month and personally interact with each person who work in their hospital. This takes them a whole day, as they not only hand out snacks to everyone, but also ask each person one simple question, personally write down each answer and then publish it for everyone to see. The questions they ask are simple and focused on cultivating positive interactions, such as “what makes you proud of your work?” or “what acts of kindness have you seen the past few days”?
Character has particular qualities that differentiates itself from ‘strengths” or skills or charisma or other leadership qualities. Leading from character strengths, per Chris Peterson, does not generate envy in others but inspires them, and makes people feel energized and motivated. Expressing and generating value from character strengths creates credibility and ethical leadership. Terry Bacon states that “Being recognized as a person of character enhances your capacity to lead and influence others because they trust your intentions, are more confident in your leadership, and see you as a person worth emulating.”
Competence is often under-estimated in a world where leadership is described as being “visionary” or “leading to purpose and passion” and so on. But competency is also about knowing what you are talking about, emotional leadership and creating opportunities to experience personal satisfaction and making a positive impact derived from work. No-one of us will embark on a dangerous climb up a mountain without a competent guide. Why should people trust you with risky projects if you are not competent?
Investors, employees and customers or business partners do not just listen to what you say. They see how you act around them including your behavior towards your team and clients and competitors. They determine your competence based on the outputs and the impact you make through your actions and your non-actions. The way you role model (or not). Telling people to change their habits but you yourself don’t change your own in a very visible way means they will think you are not serious about it. As a leader you need to demonstrate competence not by words and jargon or quoting best practices but in your embodiment of what and how you want the new patterns of behaviour to be.
The final component to remember is that you have to cultivate all of this as a consistent habit. Doing things on a whim diminishes trust if you only demonstrate positive qualities and take positive action on an ad hoc basis. The consistency will be what contributes to building trust, so you need to work hard at creating new habits that are visible and that people can see – frequently and over a period of time. The worst thing you can do is, for example, declare that you are now starting a more inclusive and open environment, and then fall straight back into command and control when people start behaving chaotically around you. The advantage of consistently trying to build trust is that people will be a lot more forgiving when you do make mistakes (and you will).
Trust bandwidth is increased through intentional effort.
How can you and your team and community lead in a way that increases your bandwidth of trust?