Being Trustworthy

STD_2331Trust isn't just an idea; its a feeling down deep in us.  

Trust is not some philosophical construct or a business strategy, but the measure of what people feel about us and our organizations.

In our interactions with people, it is an early warning system, alerting us to something being not quite right. It is that gut "feel" that we just can't quite place that tells us to be a bit more skeptical.

Trust is the mission-critical measure of our life & work.

Without trust, nothing is sustainable, things begin to fail. 

How do we measure trust?

The simplest measure of trust that's been told to me is, "You are a man of your word."

It means that our words and actions align, and trust becomes the measure of our competence to do what we say will do.

Trust is that feeling of confidence down deep within us that says yes or no to commitment, investment, vulnerability and risk.

Do we measure trust more by its absence than by some tangible measure? 

For example, when we talk about trust, why does our mind go immediately to Bernie Madolf or Enron or some politician.

Who would you list as a person or organization that is trustworthy?  What criteria do you use to determine trustworthiness?

Measuring trust is more a relational art than it is a science.

Forbes 100 Most Trustworthy Companies list is focused on financial criteria, therefore is limited in scope.  CNN/Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For is also limited.  These lists represent the fragmentation of understanding of what it takes for a company, or for that matter, a person, to elicit trust.

That feeling of trust is an intuitive measure. We know more than we can say; and never fully prove that which we know. This is what scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi calls "tacit" knowledge. It is the knowing that comes from practice, like typing on a key board, riding a bike, or interacting with people. Our determination to trust comes from the millions of interactions that we have over our lifetime that gives us a sense of knowing when to trust and when not to do so.

It is for this reason that trust is slow to build, and so easy to destroy.

What Trust is Not.

Trust is NOT something written on a piece of paper. You may have a trust account at the bank. You don’t place your trust in the document that is your trust agreement. You trust the people who are your bankers that they are honest and competent to handle your money.

Trust is about relationships.

Trust is NOT something one person can command another to give. We’ve all seen politicians or business leaders on television claim that they are trustworthy. I can’t help but think of Richard Nixon telling the American public, “I am not a crook.” Words and actions must align to be trusted.

Trust can't be delegated either. It resides with the person regardless of their place within the organization.

Trust is the gift that we give in response to the character of a person.

Trust is NOT something that can be bought or sold. Trust can only be earned or squandered. Trust is hard to develop, harder to sustain, and easy to lose. It is more precious than anything money can buy.

It is priceless and is never possessed by the person who owns it. Hear that! Our trustworthiness is held by others, not by us. Therefore it is fragile and relational.

Trust is an investment of respect and confidence in another person or organization.

Becoming a Trustworthy person

I'm not sure we adequately know what it means to be a trustworthy person. I've thought a lot about this over the years. So many of the leadership projects that I've done have had to address issues of trust.

Why is it that so many governing boards fail to understand that how they function, make decisions and communicate those decisions determine for their constituents whether they can be trusted?

It is like the way we approach ethics. It is about how to avoid embarassment and illegality, rather than how to create strength and trust.  It is a denial of ultimate responsibility. Only when we take that responsibility do we create the trust that matters.

I have identified three qualities or characteristics of people that create trustworthiness. They are Integrity, Openness, and Love.

Integrity is what we have when we live each day with honesty, respect for others and a clear sense of our values and purpose in our live & work.

Integrity is what we see in people who are not fragmented by doubt or fear or a lack of self-knowledge. Instead, we see these people as strong, rather than arrogant, humble rather than weak, committed rather than ambitious.

Integrity functions in our relationships by respecting boundaries. By boundaries, I mean that we don’t find ourselves caught in situations where someone can manipulate us into doing something that goes against our values or principles. We can say no, knowing that we might lose an opportunity that we've longed for. Yet, in doing so, we preserve our self-respect, and rise to see another day.

Often it is the "NO" decisions that determine our trustworthiness. When we are willing to sacrifice our own gratification to maintain our values, then we are becoming persons of integrity.

We don’t trust people who lack integrity. We are scared of them because they are not dependable.

For me, personally, integrity is more important than any other value. Or rather without it, all other values are mere words. To preserve and strengthen my integrity means that I cannot live or work for the approval of others, and that I must be quite clear about what success means.

Openness is our willingness to listen, to be vulnerable, transparent, and try new ways of doing things.

Openness is freedom to be who we need to be in the moment. This isn't the opposite of integrity, it is how integrity finds its place of strength and impact in our lives. A person of integrity who is closed, remains untrustworthy because we see their integrity as self-serving and rigid, rather than as a strength.

Without openness, we get resistance and push back. We find people closed to us, shut off, hard to reach, and difficult to deal with. It is difficult to trust people who always must have things their own way.

I have gained great insight and affirmation from Brene' Brown's work on shame and vulnerability.  She addresses the importance of our openness to others. She writes in her book Daring Greatly,

"Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection."

Openness is the willingness to be vulnerable and engaged with the people and situations that we encounter socially and organizationally each day. When this openness is joined with integrity, we find not only strength but a connection with people that truly matters. It is in that connection that trust is born, and where we learn how to be trustworthy.

Love is overcomes all sorts of obstacles to trust. But, what is love?

The ancient Greeks had four different words for love.

Phileo - friendship

Storge - affection

Eros - embodied, sexual

Agape - selfless, unconditional love

We live in such a fragmented world, our view of love is just this fragmented. These are not four loves, but four aspects of love. Meaning that we are not truly loving, except when all four of these loves are aligned.

How can we have friendship without affection. Erotic love that is only sexual is selfish and unsatisfying. It is embodied love, involving all of our physical being, touching all our five senses, that brings us to the fullness of the world in which live & work. These three loves can be fragmented, missing or corrupted. It is Agape, the self-less, unconditional love that creates an environment for the other three to find their fulfillment.

This love is not just about relationships. It is a holistic passion for our life and work. It is a love that is big enough to engage people to join us on our journey.

If I know what you are passionate about; what your committed to with your whole heart and life; what causes that you are willing to make a personal investment in to make a difference; then, I know almost all I need to know about you. I know what you believe in, what you hope for, and what you'll give yourself to create that matters. From there we can form a relationship of integrity and openness that allows our shared passion to create the impact that we both seek make.

Expressing yourself this way, with freedom and passion, with hope and determination, with a commitment to create impact in your life and work, to be a person of integrity, you are laying yourself open to both criticism, but also trust.

Leadership, Authenticity and Trust.

Trust comes with the price of responsibility.  It is a mantle of leadership to be trusted. Even if you are at mid-level in your organization, and you are trusted. You are trusted to lead.

Leadership in this sense is not a title or a role. It is our character, the performance of our attitude and behaviors in relation to other people in the social and organizational contexts of life and work. It is the alignment of our actions with our words.

Many people shrink away from such a responsibility.  That is sad. Mostly because down deep inside of us is the desire to be trusted, to be appreciated and to make a difference in our lives and work.

What holds us back is the fear of shame and vulnerability that Brene' Brown addresses. In an online conversation about her work, I made the following comment.

The whole shame thing that Brene' Brown describes is really my issue. Shame, for me, is looking poorly prepared, without an answer, or just damn ineffective; or, it is being out of touch, insensitive or just plain inadequate.

As a result, I work on too many fronts in order to stay ahead of the learning curve, and end up not being as impactful as I desire.

The result is weariness, and a growing awareness that I can't be a walking Wikipedia. I could be Brene' Brown's poster boy.

To be trustworthy is not to be perfect or having it all together. It is to be real and authentic, out which the characteristics of integrity, openness and love flow.

If trust is an issue in your business, consider that the solution begins with you.

It is not something you fix and move on.

It is learning to be a trustworthy person each day.

The place to start is with openness and vulnerability. Out of that learning experience, love and integrity will grow.

Ultimately, the desire to be count a trustworthy person must become more important than the fear and the resistance that keeps us from making the changes that matter. 


In Transition, Start with Connections

First Posted August 13, 2012.

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Listening to the discussion between Mitch Joel and Jeff Goins about writing, raised the question about how to start anything. This is particularly important if you are at a transition point in your life and work.

I know I need to change. How do I start?

Think. I'm starting fresh. Not starting over.

The best way to start fresh is with connections. The connections to ideas, to people and to the contexts where your transition is taking you.

Starting with Connections to Ideas

Connections with ideas at its most basic level is about communication.

You are communicating a message to someone, maybe even yourself.

My blogging here is primarily about helping me clarify what is going on in my head.

What is going on in my head is a product of what is going on in my "gut"; about what is happening intuitively.

Intuition is nothing more than making meaningful connections with ideas or situations.

You are in a meeting. Something is said.

Boom, flash, I've heard this before.

Then you begin to wrack your brain from where.

What do you do? Start writing down things. You are brainstorming. All of a sudden. You remember.

You do because you have made a connection in your mind. It isn't a direct connection. In fact, there is no connection, yet there is. This is the function of the intuitive mind.

You then speak up and show your brilliance. Simply because you started fresh with the connection to something.

Connections are not always logical or linear. More often, I find, they are random. That is why I read books and blogs that have nothing to do with my work.

There is a common thread of ideas that connect everything together. No one has the final word on what string of connections is. But it exists. I see it every time I engage with other people's ideas.

The more broadly you learn, the more you will see that everything is connected in some way. I find it very comforting and exhilarating. You will too.

What are ideas?

Ideas are nothing more than the rationalized emotions we feel brought to life in a logical order of words that help others know what we mean in our "gut".

Make the connections, and you'll find fresh meaning for starting.

 

Starting with Connections in Relationships

This is probably the easiest way to start fresh in a transition.

Start with people. Here's a simple way to do it. This is what I did 17 years ago when I started my leadership consulting business.

Ask people you trust, "Who do I need to know? Will you introduce me?"

Simple. Because you are not asking them to do anything more than make a connection for you. With that connection, you say,

"I'm in transition to X. Any advice? Are there people you know that could use these kind of services?"

This is how we make fresh connections that lead us through our transitions.

What are Relationships?

Relationships are nothing more than personal connections that are founded upon common experiences, values and mutual beneficial caring for one another. If the relationship is missing one of these, then it is not whole. It has potential, but is not fully formed.

When people make a connection for you, they do because they care about you. They see something worth investing in, even if the investment is as little as an introduction. Respect that gift, thank them for it, and then return the favor in connecting them to people they need to know. This is how we develop strength in relationships during a time of transition.

 

Starting with Connections to Contexts

When we are in transition, it just does not take place inside of our minds and gut. It happens in a real world context. None of us live in isolation tanks, hermetically sealed off from people, places and events. We are living real lives with real consequences. And we live them within contexts that are just as real, if we make to be so.

When we change, our connection to contexts changes.

By far this is the most complex of all the transitions that we are going through. We are changing patterns of behavior, which is the hardest part of change.

It isn't that I have a new job. It is that this new job context is going to be different than the last one. It may be a good change. But it is a change none-the-less.

So, how do you start fresh in a new context?

Simplify around your core values and purpose.

Think of this transition as an opportunity to get rid of some old habits that weren't very healthy for you.

Stop doing somethings that weren't strengthening your ability to be at your best everyday. Then start doing some new things.

The new context may be a new job. It could be your children are now all gone, off to college and their careers. It could be a move to a new part of the country. It could be new responsibilities at work.

Whatever the context, it is an opportunity to change for the better.

What are Contexts?

Contexts are any relationship, place or event. They are the social and organization structures where we live and work.

Family is a context. Business is a context. Friends are a context. Community is a context. Even social media is a context. Natural disasters, political campaigns, vacations and social clubs are all contexts. Mastermind groups, religious congregations, car pools, kid's athletic teams, scout troops, fishing, hiking and drinking buddies, high school and alumni associations, are all contexts. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ning groups, Slideshare, Google+ are all contexts. 

Any and every person, place and event that our lives touch is a context. Each one connects with us, and contributes or distracts us from who we are and the transitions we are in. It is best that we not take them for granted.

Life is discovered in the connections

Transitions get harder when we try to minimize change, and we try to do it all on our own.

Transitions are about change, necessary change, change that can be beneficial and beautiful, if we can see it that way.

It is for this reason we need to make fresh connections with ideas, with people, and by simplifying our lives around the things that matter most to us.

Make sure you listen to Mitch and Jeff's discussion on writing. It is excellent. If you are in transition, both of these gentlemen have valuable insights, okay, wisdom, that will be helpful to you in adapting to changes in your life and work. Make sure you visit Jeff's webblog on writing. It will inspire you beyond the practice of writing. Writing is a very helpful tool in managing the transitions of change that we experience in our lives and work.