Trust: your leadership compass in the perfect storm!


Business is more global. Teams are more diverse. Organizations are more and more flexible. Technologies change more and more rapidly. Roles and responsibilities change almost daily at all levels. Objectives change. Strategies change. People change. The manager who sets the strategy moves on and someone else has to live with the consequences. Or a new manager arrives and doesn’t have the history which led to where you are today.

The only thing that seems permanent is the relentless change that we all face on a daily basis.

In such a storm, leaders and team members may be tempted to hold their hand up and say “how can we function effectively in such a storm? How on earth can we get things done? How can we decide on a course of action when everything is changing around us?”.

Paradoxically, in this storm of change, the biggest danger facing leaders and team members is….no change! Or rather, not deciding what to do for fear of making an error.

Work is basically a decision-making process. Leaders and team members are constantly confronted with having to make decisions. Decision making is difficult at the best of times but becomes more and more difficult in fast-changing environments. Decisions are of course based on data and as data is often incomplete, the temptation is to wait for perfect data before deciding. However, as change is always ahead of the organization, the information collected by the organization is always out of date and the temptation is always to wait for “better”, “fresher” data before deciding. And so the vicious circle goes on.

The biggest danger is therefore paralysis of decision-making & we suspect that there is a direct causal link between the amount of change in an organization and the speed at which an organization decides.

The speed at which an organization decides is inversely proportional to the speed of change and the ability of the organization to digest that change. and in fast-changing, matrix organizations, it is indeed not uncommon to hear leaders and team members complain on the one hand of the speed of change and on the other hand, complain that decisions are taking longer and longer and that more and more people need to be consulted, thereby slowing down the decision-making process.

So the faster the change, the slower the decision-making process and the slower the decision-making process, the faster the change imposed by external factors (global business, partners, suppliers, markets, technologies, etc…).

And yet, we all have to get things done and deliver results.

So how can leaders work with team members to set a direction and hold to it? What compass can be used to plot a course to safety? How can we all deliver the expected results when even it is not always clear what we are expected to deliver?

In our opinion, the key is TRUST. With trust, you still have a lot to do; without trust, you are sure to fail.

When everything else is uncertain and unclear, the key to setting direction and bonding the team around that direction is TRUST. Leaders have to build TRUST with team members so that all believe that they can rely on one another when times get tough or when the storm breaks. When all the basic inputs to the decision-making process are fuzzy: strategy, partners, budgets, objectives, resources, the environment, etc., and you still have to set a direction, then only TRUST will allow you to set out with your team and your team will only get on board and stay on board if you trust them and they trust you.

What is trust based on? Trust depends on consistency of behavior.

To gain trust, you have to say what you do & do what you say and be seen to do it. In other words, you have to walk the talk. If you don’t walk the talk but say one thing and do the opposite, your team will lose confidence in you as a leader and will be less inclined to stick with you, especially in such a stormy environment. Either they won’t get on board at the outset or they’ll jump ship at the first opportunity.

TRUST is therefore the compass that helps the leader set direction but also the glue that will keep the team together, whatever the conditions.

The world-renowned leadership expert, Ken Blanchard, makes a very interesting distinction between TRUST & RESPECT.

– If you respect someone, you face them to listen to what they have to say.
– If you trust them, you can turn your back on them because you know they will not harm you.

However,

– if you don’t respect someone, you show this by turning your back on them because you don’t want to listen to them.
– if you don’t trust someone, you must always face them because you’re afraid they will harm you otherwise.

Leaders must be able to establish TRUST with team members so that he/she doesn’t always have to be facing them as the ship moves along and must show respect by always facing them when things get difficult and they need support.

We said above that the speed of decision-making is inversely proportional to the speed of change. We can also consider that the speed of decision-making is inversely proportional to the level of trust within an organisation. The less trust, the longer it takes to decide, the more trust, the quicker it is to decide.

So build the TRUST by saying what you do and doing what you say and prove it day-in, day-out.

Build up the TRUST and you will speed up decision-making. Speed up decision-making and you will increase your ability to manage change.

View Ken Blanchard’s discussion of TRUST as a key to leadership performance.

Ken Blanchard on Trust

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