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Leaders must build a culture of trust

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One of a leader’s top jobs is to build a culture of trust. Can I tell you something? If you are a leader, this is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Let me illustrate in real time (I’ve cleared it with everyone so as not to undermine our trust). I’ve got two leaders in Morocco on a…
By Seth Barnes

One of a leader’s top jobs is to build a culture of trust. Can I tell you something? If you are a leader, this is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

Let me illustrate in real time (I’ve cleared it with everyone so as not to undermine our trust). I’ve got two leaders in Morocco on a setup trip for the AIM ministry they oversee. One of their subordinates in Mexico is fairly new on staff and has not built trust with another of our staff members. In fact, both these guys have struggled to overcome the trust-depleting actions of the other.

trustThe problem is, if they would trust one another, they could really help one another a lot. But
because they are starting with a trust-deficit, the easiest thing to do
is to work independently, leaving potential synergies unrealized and
undermining my efforts to build a culture of trust.

If
AIM had a more robust culture of trust, the two staff members would
understand that they can’t back away from the table, that they have to
press into the sticky business of clarifying how past actions have
depleted trust in order to take another shot at building trust.

Here’s how seriously I take this: At
11pm last night, I’m emailing my leader in Morocco (with whom I have a
covenant relationship and an enormous reservoir trust). He in turn asks his highly trusted subordinate to lay out in an e-mail to our guy in Mexico the reasons trust has been broken. That e-mail went out last night.

This morning I was copied on our Mexico guy’s response to the e-mail. I haven’t read it yet, but the first thing I’m going to look for is, did he validate the other guy’s issues? Or did he simply respond in a lawyerly, point-counterpoint manner? Validating
someone’s issues shows that you appreciate where they are coming from
and respect them as a human being who is just trying to navigate a
complex world.

If at the end of the day everyone feels respected, then that gets us back to zero on the trust meter. The
two co-workers in Mexico then get a do-over; we give them the
opportunity to help one another and participate with us in building a
culture of trust all over again.

At
some point if a staff member is so independent (some would say selfish)
that he can’t participate in building a culture of trust, it is the
leader’s tough assignment to find a way to ensure that the staff member
doesn’t undermine his trust-building efforts. Usually this means dismissal. It’s
a step most leaders are unwilling to take and the result is dysfunction
– a piece of the corporate body that doesn’t fit with everyone else.

My next blog further explains the dynamics of trust in organizations.

For next blog in series, see: Trust-building: Job #1 for leaders

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