Trust, Must, or Bust

As one of the most respected management and leadership researchers in the world, Warren Bennis learned there is no substitute for trust.  He says, “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”

In other words, without trust, organizations aren’t going to make it. And neither are your relationships on and off the job.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a handle on “trust” these days.  Almost every day, we’re told of another politician, athlete, businessman, or preacher that can’t be trusted. So what does trust look like in a truly healthy team?  And how do you develop more of it?

Edward Reede, one of my Tuesday Tip subscribers, gave me a perfect illustration as to what trust LOOKS like.  He illustrated his point by sharing a story about his father, Dr. Hal Reede, and Mr. Endicott Johnson.

Dr. Reede, a labor economist, had been summoned by a union to investigate the Endicott Johnson Company in Binghamton, New York because they couldn’t find one worker that wanted their union. They were certain there had to be some unfair labor practices going on.

At the gate of the plant, an old man met Dr. Reede, shook his hand, and asked what business he had there.  After Dr. Reede explained who he was and that he was there to perform a labor audit at the request of a union, the old man simply introduced himself as Johnson and personally conducted a tour of the plant for Dr. Reede.

Johnson introduced Dr. Reede to about 5000 employees — by name — and asked each of them how their spouses and children were doing — by name.  During the tour, Johnson heard about one employee’s son who had just broken his arm.  Johnson took out his own wallet and forced the man to accept money for medical bills they both knew were coming.  Johnson wasn’t just those workers’ boss; he was their best and closest friend.

Upon returning home, Dr. Reede’s report to the union was simply that the union, “had never recruited a worker at EJ and never would while Johnson lived!”

So what does trust LOOK like?  Simple.  Trust is caring.  It’s knowing that the other person, or the other members of your team, or your organization really and truly want what’s best for you.

Of course that brings up a question.  How can you sow the seeds of caring so you reap the harvest of trust?

At a minimum, it involves four behaviors.


1. Demonstrate Character.

As Congressman J. C. Watts says, “Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.”  In other words, you can’t goof off when the boss is gone and think it’s okay, just as long as you don’t get caught.

No!  That’s not caring; that’s stealing.  And remember, trust is all about caring.

To earn the trust of others, you’ve got to know what’s right and do what’s right.  You’ve got to walk your talk.


2. Share Information.

Practice openness and candor. Share what you know.  It demonstrates caring.

By contrast, when you hoard information, keep secrets, or use beguiling words and ways, you show a lack of caring.  And that will inevitably get in the way when you’re trying to build teams and relationships.

You can’t be like the sly grocer who had a homely dog tied to a stake in front of his store.  He was letting the dog drink from a rare china saucer when an equally sly antique dealer walked by and asked, “How much for the dog?”

“He’s not for sale,” said the grocer.

“I had a pup just like that when I was a lad.  Seeing your dog is bringing back loads of wonderful memories.  Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” begged the dealer.

The grocer sighed as he continued sweeping the steps to his shop, ignoring the man.  “I’ll give you $75,” the dealer exclaimed.  “I simply must have that dog.”

“For $75 bucks, you’ve got yourself a deal,” said the grocer.

Then the dealer added, “Well, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind parting with that saucer, too.  The dog seems so fond of it.  I wouldn’t want him to miss it.”

“Absolutely not!” cried the grocer. “That’s my lucky saucer.  I’ve been able to pawn off every stray dog hanging around my stoop because of that dish.”

It’s a cute story, but it has a moral.  Holding back information may pay off in the short run, but it will also destroy any trust you might hope to build in the future.


3. Follow-Through.

DWYSYWD.  Do What You Say You Will Do.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Or as one woman told her husband, “Don’t write a check with your mouth.  Pay cash.”

Forget mush words such as “I’ll see … Well, maybe … When I get around to it … or … I think so.”  Just speak with clear “yes” and “no” responses.

If you are going to build trust, when you answer with a “yes,” when you give your word, you absolutely must follow through. It’s the only caring thing you can do.


4. Honor One Another.

It was one of the secrets of Mr. Endicott Johnson.  And according to Dr. Gary Smalley, a marriage and family researcher, honor is always present in healthy relationships, and honor is the best way to turn a dysfunctional relationship around.

One way to honor the other person is to strive for communication balance.  In other words, in a team context, you don’t have one or two people doing most of the talking and most of the deciding.  No, the talking and deciding functions are shared amongst the team members.

You might even try the “Go or No-Go Technique.”  If you’re in a team meeting, when you feel it’s time for the group to move on to the next agenda item, take a vote.  Ask who would like to go on and who would not like to go forward.  Address the concerns of those who give a “No-Go” vote.  Ask them, “What needs to happen before you’ll feel comfortable moving forward?”  It honors the other person, shows you’re caring and builds a stronger bond of trust.

Final Thought:  Trust is a must or your team will bust.

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