Monday, October 6, 2008

The speed of trust

Spent some time last week reading Stephen Covey's book "The Speed of Trust." He contends that trust "undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every effort in which we are engaged."

It is the "key leadership competency."

As I read the book, I found myself thinking about people I've played with or worked with in the past who were trustworthy and effective builders of trust inside organizations or on coaching staffs or teams.

Covey writes that organizations where trust levels are low (or very low) are characterized by a toxic culture, unhappy employees, lots of politics, bureaucracy, micromanagement, and hidden agendas. Compare that to places where trust is not an issue and you'll find a healthy workplace, good communication, close cooperation, effective collaboration, positive energy, and a focus on work.

Trust is grounded in character (integrity, motives, intent) and competence (skills, capabilities, results, track record). "Character is a constant; it's necessary for trust in any circumstance. Competence is situational; it depends on what the circumstance requires."

Credibility also plays an important role of trust. It's grounded in four factors. The first two deal with character. The second two deal with competence.

1. Integrity: Walking your talk. Acting in accordance with your values and beliefs.

2. Intent: Our motives and agenda.

3. Capabilities: Abilities that inspire confidence -- talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style.

4. Results: Track record, performance, getting the right things done.

You can enhance your credibility by increasing your capabilities:

1. Play to your strengths. "Feed strengths and starve weaknesses." Make your weaknesses irrelevant.

2. Keep yourself relevant by continuously learning new things.

3. Know where you're going. "At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they're going."

Covey then lays out 13 behaviors of "high-trust people and leaders worldwide." I've listed them here:

1. Talk straight. This is honesty in action. It's based on "the principles of integrity, honesty, and straightforwardness." Talking straight means (1) telling the truth and (2) leaving the right impression. Use simple language. Let people know where you stand. On the other hand, beating round the bush, withholding information, double-talk, spinning -- all of these behaviors diminish trust.

2. Demonstrate respect. Show you care. Be kind. You can't fake this, so don't try.

3. Be transparent. Be open. It's about being real. Authentic. Operate on the premise of "what you see if what you get."

4. Right your wrongs. This means more than just saying you're sorry. It means making restitution. It's taking action and doing what you can to correct the mistake -- and then doing more than what's necessary or expected.

5. Show loyalty. How? By giving credit to others, speaking about others as if they're present, and acknowledging the roles of others, regardless of their title.

6. Deliver results. If you want to build trust fast, the best way to do it is by delivering results. Don't overhype. "Look for people who are short on talk and long on delivery. Give the best opportunities to the big producer who doesn't talk rather than the big talker who doesn't produce."

7. Get better. "Unless we improve our capabilities dramatically, we're going to be inadequate to the challenge." We get better by seeking feedback and learning from our mistakes. "Be a constant learner. Act on feedback you receive. Don't consider yourself above feedback."

8. Confront reality. "Take issues head one, even the 'undiscussables.' Address the tough stuff directly. Acknowledge the unsaid. Don't skirt the real issues. Don't bury your head in the sand."

9. Clarify expectations. Understanding that "almost all conflict is a result of violated expectations," work to "create a shared vision and agreement about what is to be done up front. This is one of those behaviors that people rarely pay enough attention to. If you focus on this one up front, you will avoid heartaches and headaches later on." Discuss expectations. "Don't assume that they're clear or shared."

10. Practice accountability. "A good leader takes more than their fair share of the blame and gives more than their share of the credit." Because we live in an "increasingly victimized society," many people don't want to accept responsibility. This creates "dependency and distrust." As the author puts it: "Accountability builds extraordinary trust when people feel secure that everyone will be held to certain standards." Failure to do so "creates a sense of disappointment, inequity, and insecurity."

11. Listen first. "When you listen first, you get insight and understanding you wouldn't have had. You make better decisions. And you show respect. The impact on trust is amazing."

12. Keep commitments. This is big: "To break commitments or violate promises is the quickest way to destroy trust. When you make a commitment, you build hope. When you keep it, you build trust."

13. Extend trust. "Most people are capable of being trusted, want to be trusted, and will run with trust when it is extended to them. 'False trust' giving people the responsibility, but not the authority or the resources to get a task done. By extending trust, you empower people."

Covey concludes that "leaders who extend trust to us become our mentors, models, and heroes. We're overwhelmed with gratitude when we think about them and about the difference they have made in our lives."