AGL 034: Trust Doesn’t Come from a Title

Your team doesn’t just “trust” you because of your title.  When I started at my most recent position where I head up the IT group at a mid-sized company just south of Charlotte, NC, I wasn’t granted full trust of my team.  Just like, when you get a new boss, you don’t fully trust them. You can’t tell them just anything at first.  You have to learn how they react to things, how they accept feedback, etc.  As a leader, we must remember that trust works both ways, and people don’t automatically trust you because you’re their manager.  You must earn that trust.


Building Trust with Your Team is Critical

A leader must provide the vision and direction for their team.  Then the team pours in their focus, assets, time and energy (FATE – from Todd Henry) into the project. Many times the team has no idea what is just around the corner and what might come of the work they are putting in.  They trust the leader to guide them.  If they don’t trust you, will they really put in the hard work?

You must build trust over time and ensure that your team trust you and that you can trust your team.  If you don’t trust each other, it makes working with each other very difficult.  You’ll always be watching your back, spending time verifying petty things that you should need to do.  When I have members of my team that don’t trust each other, I find it difficult to watch them work together.  Their work doesn’t flow, it doesn’t jive, it doesn’t move in an efficient way. It’s just meh.  But when a team trust each other, their work has an artistic type of efficiency that is beautiful to watch. If you want to build the best team you can, then trust is critical.

Trust is Dynamic

It takes a longtime to build trust, but you can wash it away in an instant. Trust can also vary based on a person’s mood, how they are feeling that day, and what situations they may have encountered that day. Trust is fluid and dynamic, its not a constant.  Trust varies from situation to situation and from circumstance to circumstance.  My team trust me to make a good technical decision on purchasing software or equipment, but they don’t trust me to tell them how to go sky diving.  Trust is fluid and dynamic.  If you understand that you must build your trust in different areas at different times and at different paces, you will do a better job of mastering trust with your team.

For example, when I started my new position, it wasn’t long before I built up trust on my technical knowledge of Active Directory and server infrastructure. It took longer for me to build trust about my direct reports skill sets.  At first people were afraid to let me in on what exactly they were good at and what they weren’t.  They didn’t know how I would judge them.  I had to earn that trust by being vulnerable myself.  Showing them the areas I wasn’t good at and letting them know that I understood that everyone is good, maybe even great, at somethings, and not good, or even downright terrible at others. And that it is fine.  It took time to communicate that I don’t expect perfection, just a strive for perfection.  And that I don’t want to focus on your weaknesses, but rather, focus on your strengths.

Make your Actions Match your Words

If you say you’re going to do something, do it.  But more than that, if you say its “not okay” for someone on your team to do something, then you better be sure that you’re not doing that thing.  For example.  If you’re a boss who is strict on employees coming in on time, then you better make sure you’re never late.  If you tell your team that its important to show up to meetings on time, then you better not be late to meetings either.  If you are, then your actions aren’t matching your words.  I know this may seem petty, but it actually matters when it comes to building trust.  Our brain does a good job of figuring out in the background what matches and what doesn’t.  They say the easiest way to spot a counterfeit $20 bill is to put it on a table next to several real $20 bills.  The subtle differences stand out like a sore thumb.  The subtle differences in your actions to your words stand out too.  Another example based on the last episode about dealing with vendors, if you don’t allow your team to accept gifts from vendors, then you better not accept them either.  If you get caught doing what you’ve told your team not to do, then your trust will take a damaging hit.

“You typically don’t lose trust in only one area. If you prove yourself to be untrustworthy in one situation, people tend to generalize that lack of trustworthiness to other areas as well.” – Todd Henry (Herding Tigers)

Don’t use words like “Always” and “Never”

When you use words like “Always” and “Never” you’re setting yourself up to be wrong.  There are very few absolute truths in Technology and the landscape is always changing… see what I did there, used “always.”  But seriously.  You can say things like, “that is unlikely to happen” but don’t say, “that would never happen” because you maybe setting yourself up to be wrong, and too many of these mistakes will put you into a category where you appear to be wrong as much as you’re right, which makes trusting your judgement become difficult.

Be Realistic up Front with Your Team

As a leader your job is to be honest with your team.  Sometimes its easy to hide some of the details that make things look gloom or negative and only emphasize the positive. Be realistic on the situation or circumstance your team is in.  They aren’t stupid and they appreciate upfront honesty.

Don’t be Afraid to Say “I Don’t Know”

I say this a lot.  Mainly because there are a lot of things I don’t know.  For example, someone just came to me today and asked me about chiropractors. My honest answer is that I wouldn’t use them, but I don’t know if they are helpful or not.  I know that there are lots of skepticism around the science or pseudoscience around their practice, but I’m not an MD or a DC so I really don’t know.  Don’t be afraid to tell people you don’t know, because if you portray you know everything and it turns out you don’t (which it will) then you’ll look like a fool and your creditability on the things you do know will suffer as well.  Its like the boy who cried wolf.

Explain Your Viewpoints

Tell your team how you see things and listen to their perspectives.  Understand that everyone has their own lens in which they see the world.  I plan on doing a future podcast episode just on lenses, perspectives and viewpoints.  We all look at things differently and it builds trust when others can see things from your eyes and see that you’re trying to see things from theirs.  Before I do my one-on-ones, I spend a few minutes trying to picture what work is like for the employee I’m about to meet with.  I try to see what they feel like with the workload I put on them and my management and leadership style. I try to think about their home situations and if how I lead them is affecting them outside of work and what I can do better.  Its very helpful to take other people’s viewpoints into consideration when building trust.

Make Mistakes

Explain your mistakes, don’t hide them.  Learn from your mistakes. Share your mistakes, so that others can learn from them.  Being human is to make mistakes.  People relate to humans that make mistakes because they make mistakes.  We all do.  If you hide them, then you’re hiding things, which is counterproductive to building trust.  Don’t hide stuff, especially mistakes.  Mistakes are valuable.

Neil Gaiman said it best in his commencement speech.

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” – Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

As I just stated, we all make mistakes.  There is no problem in making mistakes, but the problem is when we don’t learn from our mistakes.  Sometimes we have beliefs or ideas that we hold on to.  When we’re proven wrong, or when new information comes in, we need to change those ideas.  In politics this can be calling flip-flopping on points or issues.  But I think a more accurate description would be to call it changing your viewpoint in light of new evidence or information.  Don’t just “change your mind” for the sake of it, but feel free to tell people that your views on something has changed based on more information that what you had when you formulated those views.  A previous boss of mine once hated scrum.  He thought it was just a buzzword or a fad and that we didn’t need to go to it.  But after seeing it successfully implemented on mine and other teams, he changed his viewpoint.  He then came around to scrum and no one thought less of him as a leader because of it.  It actually helped us trust him more, because we saw that he follows the truth and is willing to admit he was wrong and change his mind.

Be Open To Feedback

A good leader will always ask for feedback from those around them.  In everyone of my one-on-ones I ask my team for feedback on the job that I’m doing.  Just asking for feedback isn’t “being open” to the feedback.  Being open to feedback is inviting it in and then responding to it appropriately.  Accept feedback as a way to improve.  Don’t get defensive when you receive it, but welcome it as a challenge to make you a better leader. Followers trust leaders they can confide in and provide feedback to without fear.

Just before recording this, I came up with a silly acronym that I thought might be helpful…

T= Tell the Truth

Try to always tell the truth.  If you don’t know, say “I don’t know”

R= Relate to your team

Use empathy to try and relate to people on your team. Try to see things from their point of view

U= Understand your team

Seek to understand what is said before speaking.  Listen, listen, listen… think, then speak.  Always try to understand fully before offering your take, opinion or solution.

S= Serve your team

As a leader, you are hear to serve.  Serve your team.

T= Talk to your team

Be open with your team. Talk to them about your successes, your failures, and even your weekend.  Open up a bit.  It goes along way to building trust.


I hope you enjoyed this show, please head over to iTunes and subscribe and leave me a rating and review, even one sentence will help spread the word.  Thanks again!