The Trust Bank Account

Trust is absolutely essential to any successful leader-follower, manager-supervisee, or customer-provider relationship. In the classic management book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni introduces a pyramid-shaped model of necessary components to build effective working relationships called “The Five Dysfunctions Model.” At the base of the pyramid is trust; it is the condition upon which the rest of the model is built. Likewise, Lencioni names the absence of trust as “The First Dysfunction.”

Given the primacy of trust in building functional connections with others, it’s surprising to think of how often we talk about trust as a concept without parsing the ways we can intentionally build it (or unintentionally undermine it). To use a banking metaphor, trust is built in much the same way that bank accounts are built: we make deposits and draw upon the balance when needed. In order for a bank account to grow and be successful, you must deposit much more than you withdraw, i.e., you must do things that build trust more often than you do things to detract from or put it at risk.

There are seven major characteristics that act as deposits into trust bank accounts. Maintaining these seven characteristics in your interactions and relationships to the best of your ability ensures that you build trust with others, rather than deplete it.

Competence– Skills, experience, training, and education that prepare one to accurately understand the topic at hand and carry out the related duties effectively. Competence in a work setting allows others to trust us to carry out important work accurately and up to standard; it is the bare minimum that must be achieved to have any kind of functioning relationship in the workplace.

Motivation– In the context of this discussion, motivation is the shared alignment of goals and values between two people (or a person and an organization) who are building a trusting relationship. It is a common understanding of strategy, mission, values, and behaviors: “We are drinking the same flavor of Kool-Aid—we are in this together and want the same thing.”

Reliability– Honoring the commitments we have made, and consequently only making those we have the capacity, resources, and competency to honor. In this way, reliability follows competency (and motivation), in that reliability is much more attractive and trustworthy when accompanied by competence and motivation. Without competency, a motivated person can only say, “I want to, but I don’t have the skills to do that.” Said repeatedly, it effectively eliminates further opportunities to be trusted with matters of import. And without motivation, the same person says, “I could do that, but I don’t want to.”

Sincerity– Congruence between what we say and what we think, between what we say to one person and to another, and what we say between instances across time. British Particular Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.”

Sincerity doesn’t mean we can’t change what we say; it just means changes in what we say must be communicated and owned aggressively. For instance: “Bob, I know I told you last week that we were not going to pursue the ACME deal—and that was my honest understanding—but the leadership team has discussed it further and has decided to move forward with putting together a proposal. I wanted to talk to you about it as quickly as possible so that you would hear it from me.”

Integrity– This term is often thrown around in our culture. People are frequently unsure of how to define integrity, but they certainly know its absence when they see it. Integrity is acting congruently with previously accepted or agreed-upon personal, organizational, or societal standards and values. An integrity “red flag” is a person’s willingness to play games with standards and values or look for loopholes (for example, “…it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…”)

Care– Placing others’ happiness and well being on a level plane with ours. We demonstrate that we have our and others’ interests at heart when contemplating or taking action. As with motivation above, care sends the message, “We’re in this together.”

Many times when we coach executives, they want to talk about team members with whom they have difficulty, and they frequently describe the team member himself as the problem. When dissected, usually the complaint amounts to a competency issue or a motivation issue. Competency issues are easy enough to resolve by assessing the gap between where the employee is and where they need to be to do the job well, then determining if they can be brought up to speed with training or support.

Motivation issues are a little trickier, and typically require an assessment of whether the employee “likes our flavor of Kool-Aid.”

For example, a client has a problem with a team member we’ll call Andy. We typically start by asking the client, “When was the last time you took Andy to lunch and talked with him about his vision for his career, what he hopes to accomplish, how his family is doing—showed him that you care about him as a person?”

Sadly, many times the answer is it’s been a long time, or maybe even never. Our advice is always: take Andy to lunch or coffee. Ask him about his career, his passions, his vacation, his family, etc. See if that doesn’t cast Andy in something of a different light, and perhaps more importantly allow Andy to look at YOU differently.

For another perspective on the impact that caring has on trust, consider this brief exercise:
·         Think of someone you’ve known who was competent, motivated, reliable, sincere, and of integrity, but who was only concerned with their own interests and knew nothing of what mattered to you.
o    Did you trust that person?
·         Now imagine a colleague or teammate, someone you would lead, about whose self-interests you have no knowledge.
o   Would they trust you? Would they follow you?

Vulnerability– The willingness to risk moral attack or criticism; the capability of or susceptibility to being wounded or hurt. We often ask executives what the culture at large is like in their organization. Is it safe to occasionally ask for support? To admit a mistake? To not have the answer or know how to solve a problem? Then we turn those questions to the executive’s specific team—are people safe to have those vulnerabilities there, too?

To be clear, if someone is consistently making mistakes, asking for help, and not having answers endemic to their role, a reevaluation of assignment may be in order. Constant vulnerability in these areas may indicate a lack of fit for the position. However, we have seen that it’s healthy for leaders to admit to occasional mistakes and vulnerabilities; it confirms to everyone (leaders included), that “to err is human.”

For this week: Think of a person you don’t trust. Is it a blanket distrust, or can you tie the distrust to one or more of the seven trust-building attributes discussed here? We commonly hear the complaint, “I just don’t trust them.” However, in our experience, rarely is someone completely devoid of a balance in all seven areas. If you would like to trust that person who came to mind, identifying the missing attribute(s) and having a conversation about it can open the door to building trust where it is lacking. Next time, we’ll talk about how to pursue those trust-building conversations.

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