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Start With Trust

(May 22, 2023 Newsletter)

Last week, we explored a definition of trust (and distrust) and broke trust down into several components.

Since then, I watched a fabulous webinar last week through the Center for Creative Leadership called “How to Build Trust as a Leader (And Keep It)” – the recording seems to be available, for the time being. The webinar started with some stark statistics that only strengthen the case for building trust with your teams: “46% of leaders report that they definitely trust their direct managers and 32% of leaders say they trust senior leaders at their organization” (out of 13,000 surveyed globally).

With that in mind, how can you begin using the models we explored last week to cultivate trust with your colleagues?

I believe that the first elements presented by Feltman and Brown are good places to start – care and boundaries.

Care – Charles Feltman is right… it’s hard to trust someone who we don’t think cares about us. So how do people know we care about them, especially early on in a relationship?

  • Show interest: ask questions about what they’re most excited about, about what matters to them outside of work, about important milestones in their lives.

  • Remember little details and follow up: if you’re not the kind of person who remembers unconsciously, jot down important details – the names of their spouse and/or kids, put their birthdays in your calendar, where they said they’re going on vacation. There’s a subtle, but significant, difference between asking “How was vacation?” and “How was Denver?”or “How’s your daughter?” and “How’s Molly?”

  • Express appreciation for the in-between moments: people often expect to get comments on the higher profile moments – a high-stakes presentation, the completion of a project. But pointing out things they might not think you noticed goes a long way. For example, “Thanks for hanging back to help Cara clean up after the meeting. I value that kind of teamwork.” Or “Thanks for pausing whatever you were working on to send me those files quickly before my meeting.”

This goes hand-in-hand with boundaries, the B in Brené Brown’s BRAVING model.

Managers often let little mistakes slide early on, which end up coming back to haunt them once they’ve calcified into little habits. We’re all human and we all want to be liked, and many of us don’t want to come across as a “stickler” – but at what cost? Let’s take some examples:

  • If it’s important to you that people show up on time to meetings, tell the person the first time they’re late that you expect meetings to start on time – not after 5 meetings start late.

  • If you want certain documents labeled in specific ways, don’t relabel the first 5 yourself, hoping that they notice. Just ask the first time.

  • If you notice someone speaking impolitely to someone with less positional authority, point it out the first time, not after the person comes and complains.

You could even go so far as to have a dedicated meeting in the first week on the job just to ask them (!) and share any important communication or working style preferences – just know that more will come up that you didn’t discuss, so don’t mistake it for an exhaustive list.

If you devote your energy early in a relationship to showing care and setting clear expectations, you’ll be well on your way to developing a trusting relationship.


The Coaching Corner

Insights are different than commitments. Oftentimes, when I ask a coaching client at the end of a meeting "What are you taking from this conversation?" they answer with an action - "Well, I need to go and..."

If that happens to you at the end of meetings, yes, you'll want to help your team member design concrete actions. But part of your job is to help them articulate the underlying insight so they can apply it in future cases. If someone says "Well, I need to go and reorganize the invite list for that event," ask "Before we get into the weeds on that, just pull out from this conversation how you got there.


  • Dr. Kristin Neff on “Ten Percent Happier” with Dan Harris. It’s long, but absolutely worth it to understand the tenants practicing of self-compassion (I listened on 1.25x speed and skipped the last 15 minutes).

  • Adam Grant on "Building a culture of learning at work" - a cool experiment that he convinced Melinda Gates to try in order to create psychological safety on her team.


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