For some reason the topic of trust is on everyone’s tongue this fall. Everyone I talk to is discussing it, or symptoms associated with a lack of it; whether it be in a relationship, friendship, community, organization, leadership, congress, or government, it seems to be of utmost timeliness. Trust, or trustworthiness, in my opinion, is at the apex of being genuinely effective or successful in personalities, relationships, organizations, communities and governments. If you’ve followed the Queer Shift columns I have written, then you know I often return to my theatrical core to pull from as I humbly try to posit ideas for change. Shakespeare said it quite well in All’s Well That Ends Well — “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
When I used to work in Seminarland, designing and conducting trainings in organizational development, one of the regular questions I used to ask people at all levels within a company was “do you automatically trust, or do people have to gain trust?” It was always very interesting how I could directly assess the organizational health and employee engagement through that one question. It didn’t change based on generations either. If people said they trusted easily, readily, and regularly, I always knew the hard work we were about to embark upon was going to be much more productive. The same rule applies to communities.
In today’s world, and even more so in the queer world we are not immune to this crisis of trust. Regularly, there are examples of emotional withdrawals, broken promises, personal ego over pure intentions regarding trust; nationally, in the general culture and in the gay subculture.
There are daily reminders of leaders who have eroded solidarity and collaboration with their community members’, constituencies’, employees’ and customers’ trust. I used to believe that the majority of leaders walked the path of trustworthiness, but in these hectic times, my willingness to simply offer that belief has eroded. It amazes me that more leaders don’t do regular checking as to this vitally important personal characteristic. When some get themselves into dire straights, the results can in fact be harrowing for many leaders if they receive feedback that others don’t find them trustworthy.
However, being trustworthy, for most people, is rooted in their own mindsets and may be strongly influenced by the fracture of trust in the day-to-day world around them.
If I propose that most people don’t automatically trust leaders these days, then how is it earned, and more importantly how is it kept and increased? Trust needs to be earned through honesty, transparency, a shared community buy-in, diligence, integrity and applied effort. And like most gigantic issues, the change in trust begins individually.
“Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson
If lack of trust is an issue either as a person or organization, what can be done do to manage perceptions of trust? Here are a few tips:
Monitor your use of “I” in your communications. Do an audit of your emails, for example, and see how frequently you use “I” as opposed to “we.” Peter Drucker said it best: “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we‘; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we‘ gets the credit. This is what creates trust.”
View promises you make as an unpaid debt, and be very careful the promises you make. Keep your promises.
Keep talking about what matters. Lewis Carol knew this when he said: “What I tell you three times is true.”
Your reputation is like a brand. Manage your brand, what you want to be known for. Brand is trust. Be known as a truth teller.
Be willing to help. Rather than complaining, comparing, criticizing, or competing, try pitching in to build trust, community and culture.
Treat everyone as a very important individual. As much as this is hard to do, don’t try to lead through email, have “face time” with people. The more time you spend with people, the more the level of trust increases.
Manage your moods. Predictability engenders trust.
Make people feel safe? Fear and trust are mutually exclusive. Most leaders would be shocked to find out that, in many cases, people fear them. I recently watched an excellent PBS documentary on Caligula, undeniably the most notorious and horrific Roman Emperor, who was best known for the ridiculous stratagem — “let them hate me, so long as they fear me.” As absurd now as it was then.
Trust and respect, which are the ultimate facets of love, are the benchmark to healthy relationships. It’s all about individual behaviors. Do individuals behave in a trustworthy manner or not? There is only yes or no responses here.
Do I share information that I know is helpful to others, or do I withhold it?
Do I treat everyone with kindness and compassion?
Do I try to do good in my dealings with others?
Do I follow through on my commitments, even if it is at considerable personal expense?
Do I seize opportunities to encourage others?
Am I just as happy about others’ achievements as I am of my own?
Trust is connected to leverage, influence and being a change agent, the ability to inspire. It’s the adhesive that bonds us to each other, that strengthens relationships, organizations and communities.
Respect, civility, and abundance in thought, language and behavior also create critical trust. Finally, may I kindly offer a rule from my own life operating system or L.O.S. — he or she who trusts least — should be least trusted. It rarely, if ever fails me. Here’s to the power and value of trust.