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Random Thoughts Make the World Go'Round

How to Build Trust - A Lesson in Vulnerability


How do you build trust? Seriously, how is it done? Building trust might be one of the hardest things to define, let alone accomplish. However, the presence of trust is critical to all our relationships. Think about the relationships you currently have, and what level of trust you have with each of them. How did you arrive to that level of trust? Who would you trust with the care of your kids? Who would you trust to speak on your behalf in a critical situation? Who would trust YOU to do those things?

In order to build trust, one must first define what trust is. Here is what good ole’ Webster has to say on trust: “The reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.”

In order to achieve the things listed in Webster’s definition, we need time. It is hard to showcase integrity, strength or even surety, if you do not see it consistently. Being able to show a body of work that can vouch for your trustworthiness makes things much clearer. Proof is in the pudding, right? Consistency and follow through are the cornerstones of a trusting relationship. When people know what to expect, they can more easily trust.

However, how do you build trust when there is no time? I was listening to Adam Grant’s podcast, Work Life, and he lays out a pretty good plan as to how to achieve trust in a hurry (Podcast). Adam tells the story of how NASA astronauts have to build trust in a short period of time to execute missions in space. Being able to trust your crew members is critical because you might need to trust them with your life. Literally. In the podcast you learn that NASA implemented a wilderness activity to put their crew in extreme situations so that they can learn about each other in a hurry, and force them to have to rely on each other’s strengths to survive. Nothing builds trust like a life or death situation.

Think about the people you trust in your life. They are the ones that you have either learned to count on over time (your family, your friends), have gone through a critical situation together, or have something in common that connects you. It is a fact that people tend to trust people who are like them. Who have a commonality. Think about it like this. Say that you are stuck a foreign country, let’s say Brazil, and you are alone and in need of assistance. If you run into a fellow American, you will be more likely to trust them due to them being from the same place you are. The person might be the biggest con man around, but because of this commonality, you are more inclined to trust them.

Let’s take this to work. If you are a new leader, and you want to build trust with your team in a hurry, how can you leverage your similar sensibilities to a situation where distrust and hesitation are prevalent?

Most leaders think that in order to man the helm, they need to be infallible. The need to know all the answers and provide the right direction at all times. But how is this building trust with your teammates? Instead, you may be setting yourself even further from that place of shared values. Vulnerability is the secret sauce here.

The truth is that as leaders we have the same fears that our teams have. We want to do well, we want to provide value to our teams, to our clients, to our organizations. At times we are just as much, if not even more, lost than the people we lead. So why do we put up a façade that we are not human? That we do not have these shared feelings?

I clearly remember a meeting where my boss (also the owner of the company I worked for) and I went to a client meeting to pitch them a proposal for our services. In the meeting my boss was brilliant. He detailed the plan, was charismatic, showcased what we could and could not do. He hit a home run. However, after the meeting he shared how terrified he was. He asked me if it was good enough, if he rambled on, or if he could have done anything better… At that moment he showed me how vulnerable he really was. He was no different than I was. We had a commonality. Our trust and camaraderie increased by twenty levels in an instant. It was amazing.

So why don’t we as leaders, show our people that we are also vulnerable? That we do not have all the answers? That we NEED our people in order to be successful? If building trust can be accelerated by sharing a deep, vulnerable connection, why don’t we put ourselves out there more often?

Here is a challenge to all of us, leaders or not. Let’s be more human. Let’s look for those commonalities and leverage them to build trust amongst our teams. Let’s be courageously vulnerable. We just might find that we are not alone. That together, we can all achieve more.

Andre Mello is a Business Coach and vulnerable AF. He has been in marketing and leadership for over 17 years. If you would like to connect with Andre please visit www,wysecoaching.com.

Andre Mello