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Trust is Not Obedience

by Rand Golletz

Note From Rand

In September, I picked the Steelers and Seahawks to meet in the Super Bowl. In the past, my picks have been very successful. This year – not so much. Even so, I’m looking forward to watching the game on Sunday. I’m a New Englander, originally, but not a Patriots fan. That said, I revere excellence. The Kraft – Belichick – Brady combination has yielded unparalleled competitive success for the last 17 years. I’m rooting for them to do it again.

I’ve written about the importance of “trust” in the past. In both business and personal relationships, it’s the cornerstone of success. It’s one of those words that gets used a lot; however, its complexity is deeply misunderstood. I think my column sheds some bright light on what it is and why it’s important.

I’ll see you in March. Until then and as always: Get real, get tough and get going.

Trust is Not Obedience

A couple of decades ago before becoming a CEO, I worked for a Fortune 200 company as Chief Marketing and Sales Officer. An organization that had just been spun off from an even larger organization, it had a reputation for being stodgy, bureaucratic and inwardly focused. I am none of those things. Give me rule, and I’ll find a way to break it. But I digress.

The guy that I reported to at this company (I’ll call him John) in turn reported to the CEO. He was an egomaniac while also being REALLY insecure. This manifested itself in a variety of ways, but the following example typifies the way he tried to control those who reported to him.

John required us (his direct reports) to provided his assistant access to our electronic calendars. She could then view each calendar and provide it to him. He would regularly dive into our calendars and routinely question the wisdom of our time management. Keep in mind that we were all Senior Vice Presidents of a Fortune 200 company. Bad enough to be treated like children in this way, but it’s small potatoes compared to what comes next.

John was fond of scheduling meetings that never happened. For example, he would decide on a Friday afternoon that he wanted to have a staff meeting on Monday morning. Without notice, his assistant would delve into our calendars and erase anything we had already scheduled that conflicted with said staff meeting. If we didn’t maintain a hard copy of our schedules, we could and would be caught totally off guard. Here’s the kicker: We’d show up in his office at the scheduled time, and he was NEVER THERE. A couple of times, he showed up an hour late. Most of the time, he just didn’t show up. This was John’s childish attempt to demonstrate control. Implicit in this charade was his declaration that he was “the man,” and he ran the show.

When I resigned after about a year of this insulting and rude behavior, John asked me why I was leaving. I responded that I simply didn’t trust him. He didn’t respond; he returned to his work as if I wasn’t there in his office. After about five minutes, I got up and left, never to hear from him again. From that point until my physical departure, he communicated with me through a third party. When my peers asked me why I was leaving, I repeated what I told John. They were astonished by the fact that because I didn’t trust him, I decided to leave. It seemed inconsequential to them.

Trust is Not Obedience

 

Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without it, any organization (or family) is screwed.

When working with clients, I describe trust as having two broad meanings with many implications:

Trust is “confidence in competence.” This is frequently an overlooked definition of the word. Whether you are a boss, a team member, or just working among peers, the level of confidence you have in the competence of others (and they in you) determines levels of authority, autonomy, and responsibility that are delegated, as well as accountability, for results.

Trust is the “assumption of intent.” When you trust another person, you assume that he/she has positive intent. When you don’t trust that person, you assume that person’s negative intent. In this context, trust has a complex “anatomy” that includes the following:

Boundaries: I trust that you are clear about your boundaries and can hold them, and that you are clear about my boundaries and respect them.

Reliability: I can only trust you if you do what you say you are going to do – over and over and over again.

• Accountability: I can only trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, to apologize for it, and to make amends. I can only trust you if, when I make a mistake, I am allowed to own it, to apologize for it, and to make amends.

• Vault: What I share with you, you hold in confidence; what you share with me; I hold in confidence; we do not share anything that is not ours to share (gossip). In our relationship, I see you acknowledge confidentiality; we do not create false intimacy by having a common enemy.

• Integrity: I cannot trust you and be in a trusting relationship with you if you do not act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same (choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; practicing rather than just professing your values).

• Non-judgment: I can fall apart, ask for help, and struggle without being judged by you; you can fall apart, ask for help and struggle without being judged by me; trust = help that is non-judgmental and reciprocal.

Some questions to regularly ask yourself – this is an informal “trust self audit.”

• To what degree is organizational trust driving our success or impeding our progress?

• What got in the way of my doing my job today? Was trust involved?

• How much time did I/we spend covering my/our a#*es today? What were the “trust implications” of that?

• Did my interactions today signal to any person or group that I didn’t trust him/her/them?

• Did any interactions with me, today, by any individual or group signal his/her/their distrust of me?

• What got me upset/annoyed/irritated today? Was trust involved?

• What specific things can I and my work group do to improve the overall level of trust in our organization?

Next month, I’ll be writing about Bridgewater Associates, which is a company at which trust prevails. They exemplify the notion that trust is neither easily earned nor the equivalent of lapsing into terminal niceness. It has to start at the top and be supported by mechanisms that give it teeth.

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