If you want engagement, don’t keep secrets

There’s a simple truth when it comes to relationship building: If you want someone to trust you, you can’t keep a lot of secrets. People find it very difficult to trust an unknown commodity.

To get more engagement with others, to build more trust with others, to push away the secrets, try these two strategies.

► 1. Kick down the silos.

Alan Mulally knew that when he took over the reins of a struggling Ford Motor Company. When he went there, he found an internal culture filled with secrets or silos, where people and departments walled themselves off from everyone and everything else in the company.

In fact, Mulally was aghast when he found out the various operating groups shared almost nothing with one another, information in general and financials in particular. When he began requiring them to share everything, they were equally aghast and called him privately to make sure he meant it. He did mean it. As he said, “You can’t manage a secret.”

Silo thinking even extended into Ford’s management meetings. So Mulally started requiring division chiefs to meet weekly … instead of monthly … to make certain all data got discussed. More importantly, the chiefs had to attend the meetings and not merely send assistants as they’d done in the past. In fact, they had to bring a different assistant to each meeting so the word got out more widely and quickly.

To keep discussion flowing once the meetings started, Mulally banned the thick briefing books managers used to bring to defend their every position. Instead, they had to use a new Business Plan Review system that he implemented, where everyone shared everything going on in their work areas, the good, bad, and the ugly.

According to Mulally, that was the only way people could learn to trust each other and help each other. Nothing was hidden. The secrets were gone.

And it worked. Before that, the Ford Motor Company was about to die because of their secret keeping. But when the secrets were gone, new life was breathed into all of Ford’s operations.

What about your operations at work or at home? Are there some secrets that you and others are holding on to … that make it difficult for people to understand each other … let alone trust each other and work together?

If so, read on. I’ve got a great strategy for you coming up, a strategy that starts tearing down the secrets and building up the engagement.

Let me in!

F.Y.I. Back by popular demand is my five-week, interactive, virtual master class on THE TRUST CONNECTION: How to Build Stronger, Empathic, Engaged Relationships. It starts on September 28, 2023 and continues for five Thursday mornings in a row. It will take you to the next level in your personal and professional relationships. And it comes with a special BOGO tuition offer.

Here’s the strategy I promised for getting rid of the secrets that are closing up your engagement with others.

► 2. Share your defining moments.

Be willing to tell people about the moment you decided to excel. Talk about one of your most excellent and wonderful moments in in your life. Share an experience in your past that helped you define who you are now and what you’re trying to do.

Using this technique of sharing defining moments, one executive told his staff about the time his squad in Vietnam was ambushed. He alone survived. Hiding in the grass, he watched the small Viet Cong unit file off into the jungle. One by one the Viet Cong soldiers filed past without seeing him.

But the last one turned and looked right at him. For a terrible moment, they stared at each other. “All he had to do was pull the trigger and I was dead,” the executive said. “But then he did something that astonished me. He turned away and kept walking. He gave me my life.”

“Because of that moment,” the executive went on to tell his team, “All the years since, every day I give as much as I can to people.”

By sharing his “defining moment,” the executive inspired his associates to give as much as they could to their coworkers and customers. Their trust and engagement levels jumped up.

One of the best ways to engage people is to let them share the moment that changed their lives. It has an uncanny, motivational, trust-building quality about it.

That’s what one new CEO found out a few years ago. As the new leader of a large service company, he was preparing his first presentation for the national manager’s meeting. To make things more difficult, he was facing an angry and distrustful audience because of a number of arbitrary decisions made by the previous CEO.

His coach persuaded the new CEO to make trust the theme of his talk rather than give detailed predictions about the company’s future. So the CEO told the group about his defining moment coming in a softball game several decades before. He had been a champion sprinter in high school, but he had broken his leg skiing, and it had never healed properly. A year later, when playing in that softball game, he hit a single to right field — and was thrown out at first base!

“Until that moment,” the new CEO told the managers, “I had not let myself realize that I was washed up. But when I was thrown out, it hit me that the person I had been — a track star — no longer existed. I had to find a new me.”

“I realized I couldn’t succeed without other people. I went from ‘stardom’ to ‘teamdom.’ I realized that to rely on other people I had to trust them and they had to trust me.”

By sharing his defining moment, the CEO established some extra trust with the team he would lead.

Years ago, I would have doubted the power of sharing defining moments. After all, I figured, what right did I have to teach other people about relationships when I just lost the three most important people in my life, all in one weekend, I kept it all inside until one of my students commented on my personal tragedies.

I took a risk. I opened up. I shared how that experience changed my life and what I learned from it. And almost instantly, I found my classes turn into closer knit communities and my business audiences turn into more trusting teams.

Perhaps it’s time for you and your team to share some of your defining moments — and watch the trust and engagement rise to higher levels.