Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, once said, “He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.” Trust is an interesting thing. There are many beliefs, ideologies, and teachings about trust. Some say trust is earned, some say give trust until it’s broken, and some even say, “Trust no one.” The idea of trust can be a touchy subject for some. Either way, I want to ask you a question, do you trust your people?

Even though my question may bring a simple “yes” or “no” answer, the intent is to make you think beyond the here and now. Let me re-ask the question this way: Do your people know and believe you trust them? You see, the context has changed. With the re-asking of the question, you are forced to look at you from the shoes of another. This question, you may come to find, is not as easy to answer. You see, when we put ourselves in the shoes of those we lead, or as I like to call them, our teammates, we are forced to look beyond our outer shell and focus on our inner self. 

Trust is not something most people give freely. Many people have trust issues due to bad relationships, bad circumstances, or even bad upbringings. Even when we say we trust someone, do we really? How do we show others that we trust them? How can we become more aware of how our trust is being perceived? Trust in the company, organization, or what have you, is just as important as respect. In fact, one might argue that trust and respect go hand in hand. If I respect someone, wouldn’t I trust them? 

Let me try and explain this using a personal story. I worked on a volunteer fire department for a little over 7 years. When I first got on the department, the fire chief was unlike any other leader I have ever worked under. In fact, it was through him that I learned, “If something goes right, all praise goes to you. If something goes wrong, all blame goes to me.” He was a humble man, and someone who freely showed trust and respect to his crew. Sadly, after 3 years, there was a situation in the department that led to the chief resigning from his position. To make a long story short, his resigning had everything to do with his character. He was and still is a very good man. 

After a year or two of an interim chief, the city hired another full-time chief from within the department. The department was split on the city’s choosing of the new chief. Within a year, everything that we once knew as a department had changed. New rules, new regulations, new ways of doing things. I mean, sure, all of this is part and partial of change. However, how it happened is where the story changes. The new chief only trusted his close circle of officers and firefighters. It was clear, if he didn’t like you, he didn’t trust you. What’s more is he didn’t have any reason not to like people, he just chose not to like them. Needless to say, trust in the department dwindled to almost nothing. The environment became extremely toxic. Only those who the chief liked, and those who kept their heads down and never questioned or challenged the status quo, were welcomed in the department. 

I decided to resign just three months ago due to the overwhelming lack of trust, respect, and leadership from within the department. I say all of this to express the importance of trust. When a leader shows or expresses distrust for his or her team, the team will fall apart, or at most,  the team will be nothing more than mediocre. Trusting your team is vital to its success. However, there is another side to this coin.

Leadership should be trustworthy. Let me go back to the question I proposed in the beginning: Does your team know and believe you trust them? Ponder this for a second. Now, answer this question: Does your team trust you? How do you know? Do people trust you enough to come to you and share ideas, thoughts, or even concerns they might have? If you answer yes, is it the same person or few persons that do this? Again, if you say yes, I would wager that there are some trust issues happening within your team. 

A leader should be trustworthy. If you find that only a small handful of individuals on your team are bringing concerns, ideas, or thoughts to your attention, I would suggest asking yourself “Why?”. Why are only these few people willing to communicate with you? Granted, some team members may be shy or would rather not stir the pot. To that I say, your investment in your team may be lacking. How do you treat the information that your teammates share with you? Are you open, respectful, and keep things confidential, or do you become offended, throw your title around to keep people in check, or worse, share what was discussed with others? Are you trustworthy?

Trust is a two way street. And as a leader, trust must start with you. If you want to see your company, organization, business, etc. flourish, it needs to be built on a foundation of trust. Not only does your team need to know you trust them, your team needs to know they can trust you.

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