Issue Number 33: Leadership and Nurturing Trust

Trust is foundational – you can accomplish wonders with it and very little without it. A reputation for trustworthiness and your willingness to trust others are worth more than just about anything else, and like many things of value, they are fragile. And like many fragile things, they require a great deal of care.

Some leaders cite the importance of “building” or “establishing” trust. I consider it much more important to nurture trust – to keep it alive through constant attention. You nurture trust by recognizing that everything you say and everything you do either contributes to or erodes trust, and by acting in accord with that recognition. Imagine the amount of time our friend on the motorcycle has spent nurturing trust with his smaller companion.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill describe trust as a balance of character and competence. Consider adding to the balance a willingness to take a risk – to allow yourself to be vulnerable by trusting others, to question why anyone would trust you and to become the kind of person you would trust.

This means working with people where they are. Some of them have healthy egos, have achieved a great deal and are confident not only in their abilities, but in the likelihood they can do your job better than you can. They rightly trust their own judgment and may not want to risk substituting yours for theirs. As their leader, you need to demonstrate through your example they can take that risk.

Others may not be as aware of their abilities, and you may have to use different techniques to unleash the leader within them. They may be situational leaders who are just not in the right situation. They may have had their initiative worn down by leaders who came before you. They may have become disengaged and complacent on someone else’s watch, and are now retired in place on yours.

You may have to push them beyond their comfort zone to build, or rebuild, their confidence and help them realize their potential. You may have to give them “stretch assignments” that require them to do something they do not think they can do. They may be more cynical, more timid, or more afraid of failure, and if they do not trust you, they may be unwilling to stretch.

Just remember, trust runs both ways.

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