Trust, It’s Needed Now More than Ever Before

In the blink of an eye, leaders were thrust into a new world . . . a world where they instructed their team members to pack up their office tools and go home . . .  frequently hauling computer monitors, papers, electronic files, and more to do their work thing away from the workplace. And, of course, this takes a certain – I would say, minimal – level of trust. “Start with Trust” (Harvard Business Review, May-June, 2020) has much higher aims for leaders and for the trust they can build among their team. Although “Start with Trust” was not written with a remote working environment in mind, the article has fantastic insights about leading and building trust within a remote workforce.

I highly recommend reading it from start to finish. But in case you want the quickie version, please read on.

Trust, it turns out, is the special ingredient that allows individuals to do more than just survive (onsite or offsite). Business consultants and authors of the “Start with Trust” article, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, believe that leaders need to create “conditions for [employees] to fully realize their own capacity and power. To do this, [leaders] have to develop stores of trust” (my emphasis).

The 3 Trust Ingredients

The authors claim that there are three areas that drive trust: authenticity (such that people experience the real leader, not a fake), empathy (meaning that people believe the leader cares about them and their success), and logic (in order for people to believe in their leader, they need to believe in their leader’s reasoning.) Let’s consider how each of these areas can be underscored and magnified by leaders during this unprecedented time.

  1. Authenticity: Leaders need to share their own struggles and concerns about COVID-19. Sharing about personal concerns for the health of at-risk family members, friends, and colleagues is one way to be authentic. When leaders put on a mask and pretend that “all is well”, they do a dis-service to their team members who can see beyond the facade. Acknowledging real-life struggles and sharing how they have impacted your personal perspective on social distancing or your organization’s return-to-work plan can connect the “real you” to your team.
  2. Empathy: Many teams have started daily or weekly video-conferencing calls to stay connected with each other. Welcoming your work team into your kitchen, study, or dining area does not require much emotional thought but does spark a new level of intimacy among team members. Some teams have reported to me that they have designated times at the beginning or end of video work calls to have a “Crib Crawl” where various members give home tours. A more common (and less housekeeping-related) way to increase empathy is to check-in emotionally at the beginning of a meeting. How is everyone feeling? What is your emotional health temperature? Recognize that a new host of emotions, including fear, uncertainty, and loss, are a part of our new normal.
  3. Logic: Explain the logic of new business practices. Be as transparent as possible about how decisions are being made, ask for input about those decisions, and be sure to respond with thanks when team members question your thought process. For example, should someone ask, “Why are we wearing masks now but those of us working here since the start of the pandemic haven’t been required to before this week?” Be sure to share gratitude (not annoyance) for the question. A reply that signals openness to such questions might start, “Thanks so much for pointing out this new precautionary step that we are asking everyone to take. You are right. Initially, we did not ask staff to wear masks. Now that we have more information, we have decided that it is in everyone’s best interests to require masks at work.”

Building trust takes time, cognitive effort, and intentional actions. It will not happen overnight. Despite the challenges of working in today’s germ-sensitive world, these same challenges provide an opportunity to lay the foundation, or build the next layer, of trust within your team. What has your team done to rise to this challenge? Please let me know.

To learn more about leadership, trust, and teamwork see my recent book “FRESH Leadership: Five Skills to Transform You and Your Team.”

To read the full Harvard Business Review article mentioned here see “Start with Trust.

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