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Hard but necessary steps to build trust

There are many rewards when trust is high or at a premium throughout an organization – things such as efficiency, lower costs, greater staff rapport and higher customer loyalty.

But, how do you build trust?

The first thing is you can’t fake it. Everyone smells a rat sooner or later, so if you are inauthentic, you’ll be found.

You might get away with it for a while, but eventually it will catch up with you. When it does, likely it will be disguised as key employee departures, employees who “quit and stay” (the worst), high costs of production, poor quality or lost customers.

This is no soft skill for the organization. It has hard, bottom-line effects on the organization’s performance, probably more than any other factor in the organization.

There are steps to building trust in your organization. However, there is no magic pill, workshop or book that will fix this alone.

It is hard work, but the dividends, vs. the tax, to your organization are immense.

Stephen Covey, in his book “The Speed of Trust,” says that trust starts with credibility – first, do I trust myself, and, second, am I someone others can trust.

A key component to credibility is integrity. A person of integrity who does not produce results is not credible. If you are not credible, you are not trustworthy.

Most of the major violations of trust are violations of integrity. Build your integrity by focusing on these three actions:

• Act according to your values.

• Act for the good of others in addition to what is good for you.

• Do the right thing, even when it is difficult.

There is another interesting factor at play in the leadership challenge of trust, and that is the ability to have crucial conversations.

A crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary and (3) emotions run strong.

This skill – the ability to get in the “tank” and have the hard conversations – is a critical factor in leadership success.

The irony of crucial conversations is not about winning, but rather about having a real conversation in which all parties are heard and some sort of action is determined for going forward.

It’s tough stuff. A favorite quote, by George Bernard Shaw, speaks to this: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Don’t assume that because you talked and someone was present that there was true communication.

Our minds are sort of pre-wired around the following model:

(1) We hear/see/think something.

(2) We tell ourselves a story (the story comes from our collective experience of life).

(3) We have an emotional response.

(4) We act.

Between our story and our emotional response, lots of things can happen, sometimes not good when emotions run high.

Great leaders are aware of the story and the emotional response (theirs and those whom they are communicating with). It’s a tremendous skill to know “my story is creating the emotion I am feeling and the action I am about to take,” and to be able to back off, slow down and keep a dialogue going.

When you can do this effectively, you can create a very powerful dialogue between people, empower them to achieve more than they ever thought possible and create breakthrough results.

Isn’t that what leadership is supposed to do?

Trust is one of those traits we assume will just be there. But it takes work. And the work is never done.

Tom Garrity is managing partner of Compass Point Consulting LLC in Bethlehem. He is a certified coach with Gazelles International and a certified exit planning adviser with the Exit Planning Institute. Compass Point provides growth and business transition consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses. He can be reached at 610-336-0514 or tgarrity@compasspt.com.

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