“Trust begins within”
It’s only fitting that the “Leaders Are…” blog series starts here. Trust. It’s a short, but impactful word. Sometimes it’s a feeling in our gut, sometimes it’s earned over time through positive experiences with an individual or team. It is critical that our team trusts us to be successful as a leader. Leaders that I coach often cite trust as the primary challenge to effective communication, teamwork, and delegation. It’s so foundational.
Trust is a continuum. We all start somewhere different on the trust scale. Leaders often tell me that they start from a place of trust with others, and based on experiences over time, the person moves up or down on their trust scale. The tricky thing about trust is that with one not so good experience, it can disappear completely. It can take years to build, and only seconds to crumble.
So, how do leaders demonstrate trust?
“I’ve been thinking a lot about leaders who lead with trust, rather than fear. Leading with trust means you are empowering others to thrive without you. Leading with fear means you are micromanaging and are not communicating,” Maggie Anderson, Executive Direction at Integrating Woman’s Leadership Foundation shared. She continued, “Keeping people out of the loop and having side conversations won’t get you far.”
It all starts with ourselves. First, reflect on our personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Then, once we have taken a look in that self-reflective mirror, we conquer our fears, and demonstrate vulnerability. Others follow our lead, and trust reciprocates. As leaders, it’s up to us to take the trust plunge, modeling some key behaviors, and others will follow us.
Reflect on our personal SWOT
The first step is to trust ourselves. Trust begins within. Spend some time reflecting on your own personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Start with the positives – what do you do well? What do people compliment you on most? What do you enjoy doing? Then, flip it to areas that are not strengths – what do you do not as well? What do people give you negative feedback on? What do want to improve on? Opportunities are fun areas to explore – where do you want to be in 3-5 years? What are you passionate about? What is the next step in pursuing your purpose? Threats are watch out areas like – what are some challenges in pursuing your purpose? What hinders your ability to lead with trust? What is preventing you from achieving success? Let’s not spend too much time on the threats or weaknesses, but acknowledging them is pivotal. Many times they prevent us from trusting ourselves or others. Flip them to positives or brainstorm ways to improve them or mitigate them if they have a large impact. Make a 2×2 matrix with a few in each box, and reflect on what you want. I found in deep reflection of my SWOT, being a coach was so clear. It aligned with my strengths, and best leveraged my opportunities, while steering me away from my weaknesses and mitigating my threats. It helped me trust myself more, which helped extend that trust to others.
Conquer our fears
If you have not already subscribed to this podcast, Invisibilia is a must listen. In one episode, the team explores fears, from those that cannot feel fear, to those that allow fear to control their lives. Fears often are much more vivid in our minds. If we choose to let fear run amuck and connect to emotions, we run the risk of it hijacking our genuine selves. Fears prevent us from trusting others. Fears prevent us from accomplishing what we want to accomplish.
Using your SWOT, further ponder fears. Ask yourself, what is it that I do not want others to know about me? What am I afraid of? What is holding me back? Chances are, at the core of those answers there is something raw. Everyone has fears. We’re human after all. The difference is that we live in a world now without natural predators. Fear is not nearly as helpful as it once was when we were up against saber toothed tigers. While being aware of our fears is important, letting go of them is much more important.
To let go of the fear, try sharing your fears with someone you care about. Someone you already trust. See how they react. Chances are we have built up this fear to be way bigger in our mind than it is in reality. Take a chance, it feels good to get it out there. Continue sharing with others, extending your trust circle further and further. Challenge yourself until you exhaust your trusted connections, or have let it go. Another technique is to journal over time and reflect on how you feel about your fears. For me, I was afraid of starting my own coaching business because of the uncertainty. I imagined going broke, not being able to support my family, and people laughing at me. I had images in my mind that were far worse than reality. I let go of them through trusting others, and I have had a very successful first four months on my own. I have never been happier. Dip your toes gently in the fear-filled waters more and more over time. Letting go of fear helps us be vulnerable.
As with any tool, this is personal. How you choose to demonstrate vulnerability is completely up to you. With any leadership decision, we have many choices. Here are a few examples leaders have shared with me:
- Honoring commitments
- Admitting mistakes
- Having my back
- Following through
- Delegating important tasks
- Simply saying, “I trust you”
- Giving honest feedback
The list continues. Think of someone you respect. They are also likely trustworthy and vulnerable with you. Reflect on this, what else does a leader do to demonstrate vulnerability?
For more on vulnerability, Brené Brown is an excellent resource. She has done a lot of research on vulnerability, and has a set of whole-hearted values that align with happiness. Check out her Ted Talk here.
Another classic is The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. His research suggests that trust is the basis of any high performing team, and without it, teams often are dysfunctional. Vulnerability is the key strategy to building trust with the team.
As leaders, we must first model vulnerability for trust to build. When we conquer our fears, demonstrate vulnerability, others follow us. As other individuals mimic the behaviors, the culture shifts to one based on trust. And the team delivers better business results.
How will you lead with trust?
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Next time, we will explore curiosity. The series will continue with “Leaders Are…” coaches, self-aware, challengers, influential, celebrators, developers, accountable, and visionaries. Share your ideas and stories with Julie@firstname.lastname@example.org.