Trust is the foundation for everything we do with other people. Trust is critical on many levels: personal, organizational and societal, but it’s often taken for granted. When was the last time you consciously thought about trust?
When we motor up the intercoastal, we trust oncoming boats will obey the rules and regulations as we pass. We obviously watch them, but we don’t let the fear of an accident prevent us from leaving the dock. We trust other boats will do their best to avoid having a collision. This trust is generally unconscious.
The same cannot be said when you are in a leadership role. As a leader, trust needs to be consciously front and center in your thoughts and actions. What you say and how you act determine whether your crew trusts you.
So what does trust mean? Mostly, it means confidence, confidence in your relationships with others and a strong faith that they will meet your expectations. The opposite of trust — distrust — is suspicion.
When you trust your people, you have confidence in them, in their integrity and in their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them, of their authenticity, of their agenda, of their skills, or of their track record. It’s that simple.
In a high-trust environment, everything moves faster. For example, when the first mate trusts her deck crew to get their tasks done, she doesn’t need to follow behind the team looking for problems. Trust enables her to let her team do their job, freeing her up to do hers. Trust lets you get more done, faster.
Compare this to a low-trust environment where everything moves more slowly due to constant double checking, miscommunication over the smallest thing or continual suspicion of motives. The chief stew who doesn’t trust his interior team will spend valuable time micro managing and doing everyone else’s job.
Trust allows you to be vulnerable and authentic as a leader. By this I mean you allow yourself to be real as a person, which opens you up to another person’s actions in a safe way. Your team will still respect you if you do not know everything. You are less concerned with saying the right thing because your teammates will get your meaning.
A low-trust environment can feel like an unsafe place to be vulnerable around others. Vulnerability in a low-trust environment can open you up to the possibility of abuse or being taken advantage of.
To develop and build trust, you need to demonstrate the following personal characteristics:
• Integrity in all your actions
• Competence in your skills
• Caring and compassion toward others
• Consistency in your actions for others to see
• Sincere commitment to the growth and development of others
• Clear communication with others
To build trust, you must be the first to extend trust and be seen as a person who does so. Once you start giving trust to others, in return you will earn it on a daily basis. Trust is earned every day through your actions. We don’t get trust from others as a part of our title.
For example, say the chief engineer asks the second engineer to take care of the main engine oil change. He will extend trust — and in return earn some trust — if he does not micromanage the process. If the second knows what to do, don’t look over his shoulder. You let him know you trust him to do the job by letting him do the job.
For this scenario to play out positively — with the chief extending trust and earning it as well — the chief must be smart about it. Don’t “trust” the second to do a task that he’s not trained for, for that will only end in distrust and resentment when the task goes awry. Extending trust in a smart way requires the use of judgment on a leader’s part.
The burden of leadership requires us to accept that when we extend trust, there is a chance it will be broken. This possibility should not stop us from extending it. We can’t let damaged trust with one person or group stop us from trusting a different set of people in the future. We need to trust even when there is the potential that it may be broken.
In addition to the personal characteristics listed above, there are other actions leaders must consider to help build trust. These actions include:
• How well you listen to others
• How respectful you are to crew members, especially with the language you use
• How much loyalty you display toward your crew members
These actions are powerful ways to build up trust and are beyond your personal characteristics. Your crew may not notice how compassionate you are toward other people or how committed you are to their growth and development, but they will absolutely know if you sincerely listen to them when you have a conversation.
When trust is absent, your crew mates will have regrets about their decision to be a part of your team. Where trust is low or non-existent, a survivor mentality starts to develop. Your crew starts to watch out only for themselves and expects bad things to happen.
Try to imagine any meaningful relationship without trust. In fact, low trust is the very definition of a bad relationship. Building trust takes time. Unfortunately it can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. Do everything in your power to build and maintain your trust with your people.
Paul Ferdais is founder and owner of The Marine Leadership Group based in Ft. Lauderdale and Vancouver (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). He has a master’s degree in leadership and spent seven years working as a deckhand, mate and first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.