Why should trust be given not earned in workplaces

By Mark LeBusque. Published at Oct 28, 2020, in Features

Trust is like the air we breathe – when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices – Warren Buffett

Try holding your breath for an extended period of time.

Go on – give it a go and focus on what starts to happen both physically and emotionally to you as the time ticks on.

What do you experience?

Feeling ok for a short period of time but then a level of discomfort kicks in when your brain starts sending signals that something is not right here. Hold for a few seconds more and discomfort starts to move to distress and panic sets in. You want to breathe and then finally you find yourself gasping for air until your breathing at some point returns to an unconscious act.

It’s a bit like that under the old ways of looking at the idea of trust amongst teams and workplaces.

The old school approach of “you have to earn my trust” sucks the oxygen out of teams and creates a level of panic amongst humans who are continually trying to demonstrate their worth to survive. It takes too much conscious effort that could be used in other ways that can build business success.

Here I share my approach to ensure individuals aren’t sent into a panic as they are holding their breath hoping that they are trusted. It starts with twelve very powerful words:

“You don’t have to gain my trust, you have it to lose.”

When I started the process of mind mapping the framework for building a truly human approach to management, what struck me most was the need for a "big word" to provide a level of comfort that created the stability for an environment where sustainable success could be achieved.

I tried to be clever and come up with something grandiose; I kept landing back on the word TRUST as the "big word" that would provide the foundation to create a more human approach to managing individuals and teams.

But there was far more to it than that.

As a ‘Human Manager’, I had to decide on what I communicated to the team on the importance of trust in creating an engaged and united group. This raised the following questions:

  • How does one shown some courage and communicate their position on trust to a group of people they have not worked directly with before?
  • What is the personal risk associated with being too trusting of others?
  • Is it "soft" to show your hand too early and be disappointed when things didn't play out as you hoped they would?

Why not just tell them all they had to earn my trust over time and I would let them know the precise moment this had occurred.

“The act of extending trust is an act of leadership” – Stephen Covey

To extend upon this, I looked at three components to trust and focussed in on the one that I declared my ‘trust killer’. This was the component that, if broken, would result in a fracturing of the trust contract and creating some surprising ground conditions.

The Three Elements of a Trust Contract:

  • Motive – do you have my back?
  • Capability – can you do the job?
  • Reliability – do you do what you say you will?

Have each of your team members share which is their trust killer and why that is. It’s not about going into a long-winded debate on what’s right or wrong, but an opportunity to have everyone breathing easy and not fighting for oxygen to breathe.

My trust killer is ‘motive’ as I believe it is critical that anyone under my care feels that they are supported and will be given air cover when they feel that they are under attack. I assume that they are capable of doing their job, just as I assume they turn up with good intent to do what they say they will do.

This mindset ensures that I am not second guessing what might happen next and become distracted by looking to protect myself by interfering with my people doing the work that is best done by them.

You see many managers have ‘capability’ as their trust killer.

This is an old-style view based on how they would be viewed by others (their manager) if one of the team members failed to deliver due to an issue with capability or competence. It removes any form of experimentation, challenge or innovation, as everyone looks to play a safe game to impress the manager.

Capability as the trust killer in a more human environment is like a manager regulating the oxygen supply to the team.

As they all start fighting for less oxygen, panic and survival instincts kick in which create an environment of unhealthy competition just to exist.

Here again, are the twelve words that will serve you and your team well and ensure that nobody is gasping for air.

“You don’t have to gain my trust, you have to lose it”

What's your approach to trust?


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