3 Steps To Building Trust So It’s Ready When Your Team Needs It

We often think of trust as a fixed, static idea, such as “We trust the Union” or “The Operations Team doesn’t trust us.”

However, trust is more complex than that, and oversimplifying our understanding of it prevents us from applying the proper techniques to improve it. Instead, leaders should consider the three fundamental raw materials on which trust is built: competence, benevolence, and reliability.

How these materials mix will depend on context. However, effective leaders need to assess which of these trust components is lacking within their teams and follow steps tailored to that specific component of trust.

It’s time to abandon generalized, generic models for building trust. Below, we share the three steps you can follow to build trust. First, identify which of the raw materials of trust your teams lack and then use the proper methods to increase them.


Step 1: Make Sure Everyone Knows What They’re Doing (Competence)


What It Is: Competence is the ability to do something efficiently and successfully. It includes hard skills, such as technical knowledge (the ability to create and deliver a product or service), and soft skills, such as social knowledge (understanding people and team environments). In short, competent people are “good at their job.”

How You Know It’s Missing: In many ways, competence is often the easiest to assess, as people either possess the necessary skills to execute their jobs or don’t. However, poor performance is not always a direct result of incompetence, as other factors may be at play. Someone may know how to get the job done but lack the capacity due to many factors, such as having too many tasks, personal stress, or not being given the proper tools to succeed. Determining which factor may be at play as a leader prevents acting on faulty assumptions.

What To Do About It

Provide targeted feedback. To give effective feedback, you must first clarify what “good” looks like. This might be a job description or a conversation at the beginning of a project to clarify expectations for each team member. Establishing that benchmark first allows you to provide targeted feedback by comparing actual performance to already agreed-upon expectations. Once you understand the gap between performance and expectations, you can work with your team members to develop an improvement plan.

Ask questions and coach. The best way to change someone’s behaviours is not to tell them the answers but to ask questions that help them find the answers themselves. Try asking a struggling team member: “I saw x and y this week, and I am concerned; can you tell me what’s going on?” and “What do you think should happen next, and how can I support you?” Asking – rather than simply directing – empowers your people to act and builds a relationship of mutual respect.

The Six Questions You Must Ask To Be A Better Coach

Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses and openly share that information with others. Demonstrating self-awareness regarding your skills will give others confidence that you understand your limitations and the value you can add to the team. Then, proactively take steps to mitigate those limitations, either through personal development (training, mentoring, practice) or procuring the support of others who can ensure no balls are dropped.


Step 2: Build your Team into a Community (Benevolence)


What It Is: Benevolence is the quality of being well-meaning and the degree to which you have others’ interests at heart. Benevolent people care about others. The more a teammate can demonstrate the motivation to serve others or the team, the greater trust is built.

How You Know It’s Missing: A lack of benevolence can show up as siloes, where people consistently choose themselves and their team over others. Other subtle ways include team meetings where people may respond to others with what seems like agreement before following up with “but,” interrupting speakers or ignoring requests for help.

Read more about how one word can impact your culture 

What To Do About It: Avoid judgment when you notice a lack of benevolence. Every person believes they’re doing the right thing under the circumstances. So, leaders should understand why they took a particular action that appeared self-serving. Techniques to improve benevolence include:

Active listening helps demonstrate that you’re paying attention, wish to understand someone else, and care about their answers and, by extension, them as a person. Active listening can be broken into three subskills, all of which you can start implementing today to understand your people better:

    • Paraphrasing- Restate what the person said in your own words.
      “Let me say that back to you to make sure I understand…”
    • Labelling- Identify the emotion being shown by your team member
      “Seems like that is frustrating.” or “Sounds like that made you angry.”
    • Mirroring- Ask someone to explain what they mean by certain words or phrases: “I just don’t understand what they think they’re doing. It’s so confusing.” Or, “What do you mean by confusing?”

Get your copy of the 27 open-ended questions ‘cheat sheet’

Ask for help when you need it. As a leader, your willingness to share and request assistance sets an example for others to follow and signals to everyone that this is where we help each other. First, start with small tasks that may not take much time but might make a considerable difference in freeing up your capacity. Be sure to recognize and thank those who step up to help.

Step 3: Build Consistency Into People and Processes (Reliability)

What It Is: Reliability is the ability to be dependable and behave consistently. Reliable people do what they say they will.

How You Know It’s Missing: The easiest way to know reliability is lacking is when timelines are not respected. However, a lack of reliability can also manifest in other ways, including treating others inconsistently (showing favouritism or being particularly hard on someone) or being hypocritical in asking people to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.

What To Do About It: Reliability begins with accountability and transparency.

    • If someone is not delivering what they’re supposed to, when they’re supposed to, explicitly have that conversation about expectations and consequences. By mutually agreeing on objectives, responsibilities, and expectations and putting them down in writing, you now have a vehicle to hold people accountable for something they decide to own. If they need more support, create frequent check-ins, but lessen the oversight as they develop a proven track record of delivering.
    • Create transparency in what decisions are being made and why. Any time a request is made, it includes an explanation of the ultimate objective to help people understand why they are being asked to do something. That deeper understanding lets individuals know where/how to deviate from the project should circumstances change. People like having reasons, so give them the ‘because’ behind a request so they can figure out what the team needs without being asked.

Learn more about better results through communications

Unfortunately, these actions will only change your teams’ trust after some time.

Trust is hard to build and happens slowly, so it is essential to start now.

And even if the returns of these actions are down the line, there are slow, smooth actions that you can implement today that build the capacity for fast action when needed most.


Does Your Team Have an Accountability Problem?

“We need to hold people more accountable.”

How many times have you said this in the past year? When things aren’t going well — maybe your numbers are down, you haven’t met your goals, or your pipeline is dry — it’s easy to turn to this familiar mantra.

But when you say it, your team members hear: “You are letting me down,” or, “We are failing.” Instead of lighting an inspired fire under people, you can deflate them.

While there will undoubtedly be times when your team could put in a more focused effort, in my experience, a “lack of accountability” often results from an underlying issue, such as unclear roles and responsibilities, limited resources, a poor strategy, or unrealistic goals. This is why leaders who default to a plea for accountability often hit a wall and feel even more frustrated.

Further, verbalizing that there is “a lack of accountability” on your team can quickly come off as threatening or condescending to people on the receiving end. This is hardly productive when trying to inspire change; more importantly, it doesn’t help you get to the root of the problem.

When you need to push those around you to get better results (that’s what you are looking for), a better approach is to tackle the issue with a leadership mindset. Use the following steps to guide yourself on how to start the conversation, identify the real problem, and execute a plan to help you solve it.

Check in with yourself first. 

Instead of asking, “Why aren’t they doing their part?” ask, “Is there anything I can do differently to help?”

While you should avoid feeling compelled to complete someone else’s work, it is beneficial to consider whether gaps in communication, process or other areas are setting you both back.

Before even approaching the other person, consider the following:

  • Have I been transparent about my expectations?
  • Have I asked what I can do to help?
  • Have I taken time to brainstorm and review processes?
  • Have I built a plan of action with my team members?

Self-awareness is a leadership superpower, and reflecting this way may help you recognize any unhelpful patterns you can fall into.

Another tip for increasing self-awareness is to pay attention to what’s happening in your body.

Do you feel tense when considering this discussion with your team member? Do you clench your jaw, fidget, pace, bounce your leg, change your facial affect, talk more, or shut down?

Work to shift your mindset from a place of hostility to a place of curiosity about how you can help.

Create a safe environment for the other person. 

Once you’ve set up time to talk, begin the conversation by asking fact-based questions. For example, if your team member is constantly missing deadlines, you could start by saying, “I’ve noticed that you seem to need a little more time to get the work done lately.”

If a team member has failed to reach their quarterly goals, you could say something as simple as, “How do you feel your work has been going this quarter?” and gauge their initial reaction.

Provide specific examples, then ask, “What can we do to help you get back on track?”

Avoid jumping directly into critical feedback or using judgmental language such as, “Why would you…”, “You should have…” or “That’s wrong.” It helps to assume positive intent in the other person. The goal here is to listen and to remain genuinely open to their “take” on things.

By listening, paying attention, and understanding the needs and motivations of the other person, you may discover that they are not “lazy,” “incapable,” or “unreliable,” but rather, that they are unclear on organizational goals. You may discover that they need more feedback to do their best work or that other obstacles are holding them back. While none entirely excuse a lack of initiative or follow-through, understanding the underlying issues can give you a clear idea about how to move forward.

Ensure there is clarity and a mutual agreement on moving forward. 

Now that you have identified any underlying issues, it’s time to clarify that your intention in starting this conversation is to address the core of the problem and agree upon a path forward (considering any new information you have just been given).

Whether your goal is to help a direct report meet deadlines or to collaborate more effectively with a team member on a project, it’s vital to make sure that you both understand what the issue is, how to address it, what success looks like, what needs to be done, by who, and by when to achieve it.

Next, directly own and express your frustration with what you see to be the problem. For example, you might say, “I know you are not intentionally missing deadlines, and now I have a clearer understanding of everything on your plate. But when you do miss deadlines, the result is that I have to take on your unfinished work, which causes me to get behind on my projects. I often feel frustrated by this.”

Finally, ask if the other person would be open to trying new strategies to address the issue. A better approach may be, “Based on our conversation, let’s try to agree to a mutual set of objectives and then brainstorm how we might develop a strategy to achieving those goals. “

In all cases, seek to demonstrate empathy and work towards a mutual commitment around a goal. From there, you can brainstorm and agree on some concrete next steps.

Regularly track and measure progress. 

You’ve heard of the importance of leaving a paper trail. The lesson is the same, but we don’t use paper often. Ensure you get the agreed-upon plan in writing so it can be revisited if there are any questions about what was initially decided. Don’t just set it and forget it. Determine what communication tools you will use to check in on progress.

The above documents will help you identify what’s working and what’s not over some time, as well as course-correct as needed.

Pleading for more accountability isn’t the answer to your problem.

Anyone can express frustration around an issue, but those who harness self-awareness and empathy find practical solutions and build winning teams and colleagues for life. If you want to be a next-level leader or peer, one that people want to work with, shift your mindset and practice these five steps. You’ll drive better results, more impactful change, and reduce frustration.

Clarity thru the Grace of Pauses And The Hardy Boys

With apologies to Victor Frankl, as leaders, we must learn to embrace the pause between the stimuli we receive from a million sources.

Who has never received a stimulus from our employees, coworkers, bosses, family, or customers?

And who has never responded too quickly?

This week, listen to Steve’s boyhood shoplifting experience and a series of gracious pauses that impacted his life and his leadership style.

And how we can use that moment to be better bosses.

The Day A Chasm Opened Between Values And Actions

A few days ago, a close family friend said he was struggling with his job and employer. 

He was scheduled to go on an international trip with another employee.

Coincidentally, his company organized a party before this trip. Lots of liquor was involved, and all had a good time until our friend witnessed a coworker launch into a public homophobic rant. Of course, this coworker was the one he was about to travel with.

Our friend was horrified.

First, he was horrified that this individual publicly raged about LGBQT people.

Read more about ‘The Most Important Leadership Value’

Second, he was horrified that his bosses seemingly did nothing at the time.

He seriously considered cancelling this international trip because he worried about what might happen if he were in close quarters with this impolite, undignified, and not-a-very-nice person.

But deep down, he began to wonder about his employment with this company.

His bosses did not stand up for the values they espoused as a company. This company had invested a lot of time and energy in positioning itself as an ally and friend of LGBQT people. They ‘proudly’ branded themselves with rainbow Flags and advertised their building as a welcoming, safe place.

This created quite a dilemma for our friend.

He became increasingly upset and angry that his employers had allowed a chasm of space to open between their values and actions.

I am sure the employers were trying to figure out how to respond to this person’s homophobia. Still, their lack of action created an environment where people weren’t sure if they could trust their employers to act appropriately or the values they so publicly stated.

It took a couple of weeks, and in the end, they terminated the employee who made the comments.

In time, we will learn if there were any long-lasting impacts on the organizational health of that company or my friend’s satisfaction with working there.

What Is Heck Is Organizational Health? 10 Questions Answered by Steve

But I suspect that some irreparable damage has been done. 

As leaders, we need to be cautious about not creating expectations that may be hard to live up to.

This is a cautionary tale to all of us that people are always watching us and judging whether or not we live up to our values. 

World Events & Trying To Give Your People Some Peace

It is impossible to deny that world events impact the workplace, whether it’s a natural disaster, a conflict in a war-torn region, or some other significant cultural event. 

We are in the first weeks, and likely months, of a significant event in the Middle East. 

I am not here to explore the political ramifications, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own opinions and feelings about what has happened. And I am indeed horrified by the terrorism and atrocities we’ve seen and heard about. And I am equally horrified by the impacts of war on civilians and the innocents. 

I want to focus on how leaders in the workplace can deal with this. It would be easy to say: ‘Hey, let’s pick a new business issue and move on to normal things.’ 

However, ignoring people’s real feelings about what is happening in the world may seem cold and out of touch. So, as a leader, we need to acknowledge that there’s a humanity element to what is happening in the world. And that the workplace isn’t just where you separate life from your workspace.

Your people look to you for guidance, but you do not want to sound tone-deaf or indulgent. 

You are tone-deaf when you know many of your people are not in a good place, and yet you are ‘forcing’ everyone to behave as if everything was normal and that outside events are not impacting your workplace. You don’t want your people asking: ‘Are you not human?’ 

What does indulgence, in this case, look like? It is going too far in the opposite direction. It’s like endlessly discussing the matter, having all the TVs continually tuned to the non-stop news feeds and driving people into further fear or worry.

So, how do you thoughtfully and respectfully acknowledge what is going on? I would suggest letting people know you can appreciate what is going on by saying something like: 

I know a lot is happening in the world right now, and it’s heavy. 

We are all sad and shocked, and if you need to talk to me about how you’re feeling, please do. 

Let’s all pray and think about all those impacted people. Some of you may know people over there.

Some of you might have historical reasons why you are connected to all this, and I don’t want you to think I’m not concerned about you. 

I hope we can allow our workplace and team to be a place and a time of peace, consolation, and distraction.

But if you need to discuss it, know I’m here.

Stephen Covey says that we all have a circle of influence and a circle of concern. 

Right now, the world is distracted by something far outside of our circle of influence. And, when we allow that to go on, our people get increasingly frightened and feel like they can’t impact anything.

We only impact our circle of influence; in this case, we can influence how we lead our teams by acknowledging the humanity of the work, the people who work there, and what people are experiencing.

There is an art to this; you must understand where your people are to draw the line in the right place.

As a leader and a manager, we have a massive impact on people’s psyche and ability to see things. We must consider what these people need from us today to move forward so they can go home and be with their families.

Ignoring the emotions now would be ridiculous. We must acknowledge that current world events impact our work, and your work is not the most important thing, especially in such moments. It’s hard to put this in perspective, but it gets even worse if you don’t acknowledge it.

Sometimes, just being human is what we need to do, even if we don’t do it perfectly.

Trust your judgment and get advice from those around you to determine the best way to deal.

Because we’re trying to do is give people peace.

When you don’t know what else to do, keep our people in mind and that their hearts sometimes suffer. 

That’s all we can do.

Ultimately, it’s essential to acknowledge all those suffering and for peace in the world.

10 Solutions To Stop Good Objectives From Going Bad

So many objectives – so many failures

That’s the refrain of leaders everywhere.

The business objectives they need to meet to be successful in their jobs are taking longer than planned, costing more than budgeted or failing outright.

Why do good objectives go bad?

My clients say the ten most common mistakes that cause their good objectives to go wrong – and the coaching solutions I helped them with to solve these costly problems.

Mistake No. 1: Not Assigning the Right Manager. Typically, more time is spent fighting for resources than finding the right person to lead. Too often, managers get picked based on availability, not necessarily skill set. This is a severe mistake as more projects failed because of the wrong manager than could ever be blamed for lack of resources.

Solution: Choose a manager whose skills best match the requirements of your objectives.

Mistake No. 2: Failing to Get Everyone On Board. Too often, objectives fail because they don’t get enough support from those affected by and involved in the project. Usually, the manager:

  1. It didn’t make clear what everyone’s role was.
  2. It didn’t describe the payoff when the objective was achieved.
  3. It didn’t tell how each person’s contributions would be evaluated.
  4. Failed to generate a sense of urgency.

Solution: The project manager should start by calling the team together and delivering a presentation about the objective and its importance to the broader organization.

Read More: How to Communicate

Mistake No. 3: Not Getting Executive Buy-in.

Solution: A ship without a captain soon runs aground. Somebody at the higher levels of the organization needs to own the objective and be personally vested in its success.

If the objective isn’t crucial to your boss, ask yourself why it should be meaningful.

Mistake No. 4: Putting Too Many Objectives on the table at One time. Most managers think that they can start and work on every objective at the same time. In reality, multitasking slows people down, hurts quality and, worst of all, the delays caused by multitasking cascade and multiply through the organization as people further down the line wait for others.

Solution: A good first step to stop productivity losses is to reduce the objectives you are working on by 25 percent. Though counter-intuitive, reducing the number of open projects increases completion rates.”

Read more about priorities.

Mistake No. 5: Lack of (Regular) Communication. Communication is the most crucial factor of successful objectives; without regularly communicating, the project will fall apart.”

Solution: Schedule time each week to review progress and stick with it. Regularly scheduled meetings and communications processes help to keep everyone on the same page and work flowing.

Mistake No. 6: Not Being Specific with the Scope of the Objective. Any objective that doesn’t have a clear goal is doomed. Mission creep is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to your project. If not handled properly, it can lead to cost and time overrun.

Solution: Define the scope of your project from the outset and monitor the project by continually asking if our work is contributing to the objective’s success.

Mistake No. 7: Providing Overly Optimistic Timelines. The intentions are noble, but missing deadline after deadline will only lead to distrust and aggravation.

Solution: Add a buffer — some extra time and money to your project.

Mistake No. 8: Not Being Flexible. While you may think of your plan as the bible that leads you to your goal, listen to new information and suggestions that come up along the way.

Solution: Step back and take a fresh look at the overall project, review how things have gone so far, and how you can improve.

Mistake No. 9: Micromanaging Projects. New managers commonly treat their job as an enforcer, policing the team for progress and updates.

Solution: Set expectations from the start that there will be regularly scheduled updates to advise the status and progress expected and encourage them to vocalize any issues.

Read more about micromanagement.

Mistake No. 10: Not Having Defined Success.

Solution: The first thing a manager should do is to ensure what will be considered a successful completion of the objective. Understanding what success looks like ensures everyone walks away satisfied at the end.