Of course I trust you!

I have worked with the odd organisation where trust (or lack of it) has clearly been an issue, but an issue that the leadership can find it really difficult to grasp.  Not because they don’t know what it is – they aren’t stupid – but because it is another one of those intangibles that we can find it so difficult to put our finger on and it can be so utterly frustrating when someone points to something that we can’t actually see.  It’s also of course a trait that none of us want to believe that we don’t have.  ‘Of course I trust my people’.

For sure there has been much ado made of the crisis in trust of our leaders and the financial sector has been particularly badly hit.  However, what about when it is the other way, when leaders don’t trust their people?

We all find it easier to grasp a thing that we can see or that is known, so when the conversation about trust comes up and leaders race to say that they are trusting, they almost certainly genuinely believe that they are, but what could be coming to mind automatically is trust with the tangible stuff – I trust that you won’t steal from me; I trust that you will keep what I told you confidential; I trust that you are actually productive when you are working from home (I think?!).  

But what about the less obvious, when perception becomes the measure of whether trust exists or not (perception, of course, being reality).  Just because you believe that there is trust doesn’t mean that your team will buy it.  A CIPD research report Where has all the trust gone? found that those sitting at the top of an organisation typically perceive trust to be higher than those lower down.  Additionally, that leadership teams were potentially unaware of the perceptions of their staff.

So how do you know whether you are unintentionally giving off an air of mistrust?  Well, ultimately it’s down to how you operate so do yourself a favour -  reflect honestly on these five trust ‘banana skins’ and, if you’re ‘guilty as charged’ think about what you can change straight away to avoid slipping up.

1. You ask your direct reports to copy you in on emails, especially if it is addressed to your own boss.  There’s just no need to do this if you have a good relationship with your team members, including regular catch ups.

2. You don’t let team members try new ideas out.  I know you may think it won’t work, but doesn’t their opinion count?  Think about it from a risk perspective, what’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t work out?  You might both learn something.

3. You find yourself re-writing their papers or other work. Honestly, from a grammatical perspective, does it really matter that much if it isn’t quite written in the way that you would like?  If there is a more fundamental gap, provide the feedback so that the person can learn and improve.

4. You call someone working from home at 9am, just to make sure they are actually working.  What’s more important – that a team member is at their desk between certain hours or that they deliver what is required of them – however long (or short) it took.  Agree the outcomes required and focus on those.

5. You frequently get down and dirty in the detail of team performance metrics and question them to the Nth degree.  Of course you need to understand performance data, but first ensure you are asking for the right data – is it really telling you what you need to know about performance and how it is driven?  And then, focus any questions on ensuring that you understand what it is telling you rather than going into the minutiae.

Remember, it takes all sorts to make a world and there is always more than one perspective.