How can leaders build trust among their team? What happens when leaders demand loyalty without earning employees trust? How does trust dissolve and is there anything to prevent it from disappearing? Leaders building trust at work is essential and these four key ideas will help get you focused.

How do leaders build trust at work?

Hanley Brite is a Preferred Partner with Six Seconds. He runs Authentic Connections, which provides coaching services that allow people to connect to themselves, their work and communities with a deeper sense of vitality and authenticity. He has more than 30 years of experience as an executive, business leader, personal executive. I sat down with Hanley to explore how he sees the concept of trust playing out in the tech companies he works with.

Let’s talk about trust

How do you talk about trust with leaders of organizations?

I’ve been dealing with trust since the first day I started doing work in organizational development with teams. Based on those experiences and research I did some research with some colleagues, I developed a model I’ve been using a long time.

I begin with the question, “How do I have a more structured and meaningful conversation that dives straight to the underlying issues that people are really talking about here?”

Leaders building trust at work with training

Four Key Ideas of Trust

I describe four key ideas of trust: Character, Judgement, Reliability, and Competence.  These four levels, four building block, build the foundation of trust.

Character: Why do we trust people? It’s because we have a shared sense of values with them, what’s good and bad, dependable and undependable. We’ve come to that place and we have an understanding about whether this other person is a person who tells the truth and plays by the rules. When that’s in place, we have an underlying trust in someone’s character. A lot of mistrust goes to motive. When we are in distrust, we’re questioning motives, we’re questioning their character.

Judgement: Is there evidence of making good calls, sharing insights, clear decision making? What’s their ability to synthesize and think of the larger picture and bring additional perspective? Do people making operating decisions have a very clear grasp of how things really are, as opposed to just how you want them to be?  We surround ourselves with people we trust because they make good decisions and have good judgement.

Reliablity: Do you show up when you say you will and do it with the quality you promised? One of the greatest stories I tell: One guy I worked with, he was highly reliable. I could count on him to show up ten minutes late every time. One time he showed up on time and I asked what was going on with him. So it follows–as character goes to motive, judgement goes to wisdom, reliability goes to “I can count on you.” The most important part of reliability is predictability. Do we feel safe?  Can I count on you?

Competence: Is there demonstrated know-how? The most competent people I know are comfortable to say what they don’t know. They know their limits.  They don’t have to go around proving they’re competent at everything. There is a trust that comes out of this.

Leaders building trust at work isn't easy but nec.

When I talk about trust in an organization, I look at the interactions of these four characteristics. It’s really interesting because these four are highly interdependent and mutually exclusive at the same time. You can go to somebody for something because they are incredibly competent at getting something done for you, but they are not someone you’d rely on to make judgements on big issues, but they get it done.

The other thing is that the lines between these things become blurred easily. Specifically, if someone is consistently late, we question their competence. The reason why I created this model is because so many of my coaching engagements, we get into “I don’t trust him”. We get into where does trust dissolve? Is the person good? Yes, she’s great, BUT she hasn’t hit a deadline in three years. So the trust goes to reliability.

As of late, I’m really starting to see the interplay between this model and emotional intelligence. It’s really clear. The first thing, if you take a look at 6seconds’s model, Vital Signs, like strategy, there are some very simple things. Strategy goes to judgement. Reliability goes to execution a lot, and competence. That’s some of the underlying ways it starts to tie in.

Finding the Borderlines of Trust

At another level, I have coaching conversations where we tie it directly to their SEI. We’ll start talking about trust, and we’ll talk about navigating emotions and how your ability and someone else’s interact. What impact does somebody who does not navigate their emotions well have on your ability to trust them? They could be dependable and showing up and reliable, but are super reactive. That may damage your trust because they’re acting emotionally unpredictable. Is that possible?

Building trust at work?

It’s on the continuum of adversity and conflict where that really starts to play in. You’re highly reliable on a good day, but things heat up on a bad day and you get switchy. I don’t know if I can count on you. When there’s conflict in the situation, as we both know, one of the obstacles of navigating emotions is conflict.

Change is hard, but trust is essential

How do you work with leaders to help them be more flexible and understanding?

When I am beginning to work with clients, one of the things I get very sensitive about, is the willingness to change and work on this. Many people who are highly senior and authoritarian are low on the change matrix. I tend to find where the opportunity is, is with people who have already have a sense it isn’t working already. Sometimes it comes out of a 360, sometimes with an organizational assessment. There needs to be a preceding conversation. To what extent are they owning that they don’t just tell people what to do “because I say so?” I ask, is this working for you or not? If it’s not, what do you need to consider that there are other ways to have that conversation with people?

A question that I tend to get into with people is… “How do you feel about how people trust you? And how much do you trust them? Which do you think is more important? You’re trusting of them, or their trusting of you? How do earn their trust and how do they earn yours?”

Some will say “I trust them to do what I say.” Others will say, “I trust them because they don’t just automatically do what I tell them to. If they don’t think it’s the right thing, they push back, and that push back makes me a better manager. “

To learn more about leaders investing in trust check out : Believing in Trust: The Spiral of Investing (in People!)

Building trust at work

Within those two poles, there is tremendous room to work with organizations and people. There is this incredibly false believe that a lot of people hold that trust comes with the title. That’s inherently not true, as we both know. You have to earn trust. How do you earn that? how do they earn it? That conversation can get me into the four dimensions of trust into these key issues.

If we were to overlay your four cornerstones to trust over Vital Signs, what does that look and sound like?

Where it says trust in the middle, I’d just have four bullets: Trust in competence, reliability, judgement, and character.

Even though all four apply to all, it’s a decent conversation to say that trust in motivation goes deeply to character. We are just not highly motivated by people who lie to us. Reliability and execution are very linked together.

Any recent stories where you used this? Anything specific to the tech industry?

I was on a call about an hour ago with one of the three senior guys in a company and this was exactly what we were talking about…Two different questions.

Somebody got a top shelf engineer off his team. He said, “I just couldn’t trust the guy. I don’t know why, but I don’t trust him. I’m in the business of knowing stuff like that…”I don’t know” is not a good answer. It is what sparked me to do this work.

What came out after a couple of conversations? Turns out this guy was a really good engineer who was conflict averse and was off the charts on the optimism side, and so he always painted a prettier picture of what was already there. So what happened was, the trust really came out of the expectations that were being set that were constantly being missed. Was he not telling the truth? This is a good guy that just likes to polish it up.

To learn more about how leaders build trust at work in cross cultural setting check out: 3 Ways to Build Trust in a Cross-Cultural Workplace

Do people overpromise and fall into a trap by undermining trust?

We experience expectations made intellectually, but we experience missed expectations as a promise broken.

An expectation and a promise are two different things. The guy had recently done the SEI, and it led into a conversation which is great. He was in Canada. I do these virtually and I have the coaching sheet in front of me. I find it really helpful. Let’s talk about your intrinsic motivation and what’s driving you. Trust was being missed because someone experienced an expectation as a promise. Many times with many people, the thing they are conveying, they are experience it as the truth, but it’s simply a story about what they think is going on.

Once mistrust happens, how can it be repaired?

Well, two situations. One is to determine what the pattern is, and where this is on some sort of escalation scale. Are we early on in this thing, and can you correct it, or is there a long history of blow-ups following things being o.k. for a while, and another blow up? I call them marriages … In that pattern that’s been going on for years, the pattern is so habitually scripted, that in some cases you need a garden shovel, but others you need dynamite, because things are so set in place. It depends on how deep it is.

Trust is rooted in relationships

Leaders building trust at work looks like repairing autos.

I have an interesting analogy. So much of the work I do really has to do with relationships. It is how people are in relationship with one another. To me I have this odd language with myself. I basically say, is this some “body and fender work” or is it wrong with the engine, or do we have a total here? How bad is the accident?

The good news is that most things are just bent out of shape. In business, if it’s beyond the body and fender the willingness to work it out is overcome by the willingness to opt out, to quit, work for someone else.

There is a wonderful article by Jack Sherwood, about plan renegotiation, crunch model. It talks about the whole concept about how we get into escalating conflicts with one another and our ability to manage it and process it instead of waiting for a crisis. The crisis is so damaging it’s hard to repair. So much of the work I do is, “ I don’t think you’re going to fix this one, but let’s talk about how not to have another one.”

That’s basically the message.  We can shift the way we generally operate so that we’re not in a causal relationship to get the crisis again. Helping people navigate this is the nature of my work and why I’m not retiring. I just love it so much.










Rachel Goodman

Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and communications professional, editor, producer, and writer for effective outcomes. Ms. Goodman has been a radio producer for much of her career, specializing in short features and documentaries. Some of her work includes Southern Songbirds: the Women of Early Country Music, Pastures of Plenty: A History of California's Farmworkers, and The Boomtown Chronicles: Reflections on a Changing California. Ms. Goodman teaches journalism at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County. Her goals are to facilitate positive change in the world through effective communication, and to continue conducting her work with the highest level of integrity possible.

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