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Trust starts with being trustworthy

By Janel Byrne

While the word “trust” is only 5 letters, it’s a BIG word. A quick google search reveals trust means a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Think of the relationships with people in your personal life where trust does and does not exist. What’s the difference in the quality of those relationships? Now think about your work relationships – those with the team you lead, your peers, your leader and so on. What’s the difference you notice there? When I think about this question, the first thing that comes to my mind is how a lack of trust slows true progress – not only in what we can be achieved but literal speed … as trust wavers, a sprint can turn into a crawl.

What do I mean by all of this? Have you ever gone around someone to get the job done because you didn’t trust their ability to do it? Or you knew they were able to do it but their lack of follow-through will result in you having to do it anyway? How about a meeting where you needed to say something crucial but it went against what the majority of participants thought or, worse, against your leader’s opinion?

In cases like these, i.e., going around others that should do the work or meetings where people don’t share their true opinions because of a lack of trust, there is a lot of wasted time with not-so-productive outcomes. There’s a reason Stephen M.R. Covey titled one of his best-selling books, “The Speed of Trust.” When there’s trust, people have more open conversations where honest opinions are shared, folks can hold one another accountable to what they said they were going to do, and results can be achieved in half the time because there are less “meetings after the meeting” (i.e., the water cooler chats where people share what they really think).

While I don’t need to spend a significant amount of time convincing you that trust is important, I often get asked by leaders, “So, really, how do I build trust throughout my team?” To which I say, “Well, first you need to be trustworthy.”

Pulling from the practical teachings within “The Speed of Trust,” one’s trustworthiness is their character and competence. Simply, I can like you but if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, I won’t trust you. Same is true for the opposite – you may deliver what you say you will, but if you’re a jerk about it I’m not going to trust you either. Covey, and subsequent learning experiences available through the FranklinCovey Group, breaks down character and competence further and includes simple definitions for behaviors within each, and how to bring them to life to increase one’s own trustworthiness. For our purposes in this article, I’ll share a sample behavior within each to give you a flavor for how to you can improve your character and competence, aka – your overall trustworthiness.

Character is your intent and integrity. Intent means your genuine concern and caring for others. It’s your fundamental motive or agenda where you seek mutual benefit and act in the best interest of everyone. A behavior within intent to improve your trustworthiness is to “declare your intent.” Choose the intent that will serve everyone best, including yourself. State it, signal it, clarify it and discuss it – especially when your intent is unclear. Share the “why” behind the “what” you are asking, requesting, recommending, etc. wherever possible.

Integrity is the congruence of values, beliefs and behavior. It is deep honesty, humility and courage. A behavior that demonstrates integrity is the ability to be open. When you are speaking with others and asking questions, are you formulating your responses while they respond (i.e., not really listening) or are you genuinely listening to hear their perspective? Are you truly open to having your mind changed or are you defaulting to saying “no” before you fully consider something new or different?

Competence is a combination of capability and results. Capability is the capacity we have to produce and accomplish tasks. These are our talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and style. A behavior that supports capability is running with your strengths. It’s important for us to all be able to identify our strengths and our weaknesses. And in the areas in which you can grow – how are you working toward filling this gap? We can’t be strong at everything, so this is an opportunity to maximize our strengths and partner with others where we are not as strong.

Results means your track record – past, present and anticipated. Getting the right things done while not taking away from the trust others have in you (instead, adding to it!). A behavior that comes to mind is taking responsibility for results which means adopting a “results” mindset rather than an “activity” mindset. This is where you define outcomes and move toward achieving those. Ask yourself, am I just doing this because we have always done it this way? Will what I’m doing now lead to the results I want, or am I just staying busy?

Bringing us back to the original question, “How can I build trust?” or, even, “How can I re-build trust?” Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you truly walk the talk of trustworthiness – do you regularly demonstrate that you are someone of character and competence? Trustworthiness is a life-long journey that requires ongoing commitment to improve and sustain in all of your relationships. This is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.

JANEL BYRNE, MSW, SHRM-CP, is an organizational effectiveness manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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