I was coaching Ben and Ted* on the same day, two different business leaders in the same industry. Both men were considering leaving executive positions in large companies where they had invested many years in order to start their own businesses. As with all things entrepreneurial, the visioneering process elicited both fears and excitement. But for all the similarities between these two men, there was one fundamental difference. Trust.
Ben has been unhappy in his role for a couple years. It's not terrible, but neither is it satisfying. He carries large responsibilities and many direct reports; he gets to do many good things in the company. Yet for all that, he does not feel trusted by his boss. Instead, he feels micromanaged, critiqued, and disempowered in the very areas of his greatest strengths--a reality that leaves him drained and disillusioned. Exploring options for an exit strategy, he knows it would be pretty risky to admit this to his boss until he's ready to pull the trigger.
Ted's situation couldn't be more different. Ted has a highly transparent relationship with his boss, born out of years of trusting disclosure. From one situation to the next, he has learned that his boss has his back and values his welfare alongside the welfare of the company. Ben went to his boss and shared plans for starting his own business in a way that would complement, not compete. The boss supported him and helped him map out a transition strategy for the coming year. It is a thing of beauty...and extremely rare.
As leaders in our own spheres of influence--whether corporate, community, or family--we can create a culture of trust in ways both simple and profound. Here's how...
- Model personal transparency. Those who look to you for leadership will usually be real to the extent you are real. Instead of a mask of bravado, grant folks entrance into the honest challenges and uncertainties you face. This builds trust.
- Communicate early and often. When information flows easily and freely within a workgroup, people feel respected. Valued. Capable of handling and participating in the news, good or bad. This builds trust as well.
- Protect your people. When people feel disposable, trust is sacrificed. But when your people know you'll go to bat or take a bullet for them, they will follow you into hell itself. It's that simple, and it's that difficult. It requires character.
Bottom line? People will obey a boss they fear but will only support a boss they trust. Customers will buy from a business that's cheap or convenient but will only stick by a business they trust. Which company would you rather work in--Ben's or Ted's? Let's build cultures that thrive using the currency of trust.
(*not their real names)