There’s a lot of talk flying around in the business world about earning trust. It’s a valued American ideal to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and earn the respect of others. It’s the kind of thing you’re expected to prove through experience, hard work, and due diligence.
And while this is sound wisdom in an era when many people expect “something for nothing”, fundamentally, most businesses can’t afford to operate this way.
Here’s what I mean.
In all healthy functional relationships, business and otherwise, there’s a certain level of implied trust. Trust that you will deliver the service you were hired for. Trust that you will be diligent in the completion of that work. Trust that you will lead with wisdom and efficiency. Trust that you have the best interests of others at heart as you lead.
Healthy leadership requires a whole lot of trusting others (especially in the case of delegation), and it’s better this way, and here’s why. Any organization, team, or working relationship that lacks trust, lacks the ingredient that makes companies great.
The problem with operating in low trust is your employees or team members are spending too much time or energy proving their worth to you, it’s inherently demotivating.
The truth is, most people with good intentions live up to the image they think you have of them. Trust is a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dr. David DeSteno, author of The Truth About Trust, illustrates how this works in romantic relationships as an example of trust begetting trust.
“Put simply, the more trust you have for a partner, the more you view his or her actions as noble sacrifices. Now, you might also guess that it works the other way as well — seeing a partner’s sacrifices as more substantive leads to even greater trust in her or him. And you’d be right. The ultimate effect of the biasing influence of trust is just that — it self-propagates.”
If you’ve ever had a manager who lacked trust in you without reason, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When doing your job, you resented being treated with suspicion. Your work environment felt transactional instead of communal. You only did what was expected of you, and not an inch more, because why would you give your best to someone that doesn’t honor you with greater responsibility or opportunities for influence?
Now, I’m not advocating for blind trust. In life and business, blind trust is unwise. It assumes, with rose-colored glasses, that the world is our oyster and others can do no harm. However, what we often forget that is that even a healthy amount of trust requires risk.
Risk that the other person will not follow through, represent our brand well, gain us new clients, or deliver what was in the contract. Still, we’re better off granting trust to employees as part of our culture, inspiring them to live up to their best selves, and carrying on until we are proven otherwise.
Nordstrom, a retailer that is consistently praised for its exceptional customer service, understands the value of trust. In its new hire trainings required of all sales associates, Nordstrom expects this one thing of their employees: to use their best judgment with every customer.
They understand that each customer is different. No rules regarding how to make a customer feel valued or served. They simply say, “do what you think is best, and we have your back when you need help.”
They encourage their employees with this sense of empowerment, in hopes that it translates to the customer, and if you watch their sales associates, they operate differently than all other stores.
You may see a shoe salesperson at the makeup counter, helping a customer buy some perfume as a gift. You might see an employee running out the door and hopping in their own car to go deliver a pair of missing dress slacks to a wedding.
Nordstrom sales associates proceed with a different kind of freedom that comes from trust. The company demonstrates that trusting the employee (and by default the customer) is in the best interests of the company and the revenue proves it.
We need to treat our team members and those we manage with an inordinate level of trust. One, because it inspires them to live up to a higher standard, and two, because it allows for a smoother, transactional exchange in the workplace.
Things flow easier on a team with a reasonable level of trust. The pressure to prove oneself relaxes. Self-centered competition falls by the wayside. Creativity thrives, and employees are encouraged to bring their best foot forward without manipulation or fear, but with the simple satisfaction of a job well done.
Trust is more like a mirror than we could have ever imagined. What you see, is what you get. And if you’re reflecting that level of trust back on your team through culture, delegation, and providing greater areas of freedom, you’ll begin to see its magic happening in your organization.
To your excellence in trusting your team at higher levels,