The question of how to gain credibility and earn trust is nowadays a very hot topic. Tabloids here in Europe are full of more shocking news about top managers betraying clients and employees or political leaders seeking artificial power by being highly corrupt. So, it is not a surprise that people and organizations are seeking the golden key to how to rebuild trust.
Although we all have been aware of the truism that trust is the first and foremost ingredient for highly effective leadership so as to build sustainable relationships, retain employees, and win prospective clients, many people still go to great lengths to gather loyal followers. Many books have been written on this topic, making an attempt to reveal some golden rules. However, I personally have always been fascinated by people who apparently break all the rules — and manage all the same to gain and build trust to the highest extent imaginable.
Let’s look at a real case. Project managers A and B are in many ways two of a kind. They both work in the same organization, have been gathering more than 30 years of profound working experience, have been successfully running various multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects, are born on the same day, lead large interdisciplinary and cross-cultural teams, and act very often as mentors.
However, when it comes to leading themselves and others they are completely different. Project manager A always lends a caring hand when employees seek his advice. Furthermore, he is an extrovert, is eloquent, and knows how to enthuse his fellow mates. He is passionate about sharing his experience and informs in an open and transparent way.
Project manager B, however, is highly introverted, acts as a scientist rather than as a leader, and normally spends his entire working day in his cubicle behind closed doors. Most people shy away from even knocking at his door when they seek his valuable advice. His presentations often end in short monologues.
When I ask people who they would trust more or choose as their boss, most of them answer “Project manager A.” However, the fascinating truth is that employees and clients from all over the world — especially those who are stuck in a real crisis situation — prefer to work with project manager B since they trust him much more, which stems from a few simple reasons.
Micro-management versus generosity. Project manager A likes to delegate and allocate demanding tasks, which is motivating to the employees. However, when it comes to either making corrections on the performed tasks or eliminating errors in reports, he prefers to do it on his own without informing his employees. They rarely get a proper feedback on their work and respective corrections made by the boss. He justifies his behavior with “increasing the efficiency and minimizing risks.”
Regardless of the degree of difficulty of some tasks, project manager B likes to delegate as well but never makes any corrections on his own. Even if employees commit serious mistakes with heavy financial consequences, he always gives a second, even a third, chance to make corrections so that they can move along a powerful learning curve. Such behavior is considered to be the deepest respect for their work. Furthermore, when it comes to financial incentives, project manager A always hesitates to make a decision and beats around the bush, while project manager B takes fast and generous decisions.
Claiming versus gaining power. The eloquent project manager A enjoys standing in the limelight so as to shine. Nothing speaks against it; however, driven by the fear his employees might deliver a poor performance, he never allows them to present their own work or results.
Project manager B rarely delivers speeches or presents his results. However, he is not acting like this due to a lack of communication skills or fear, but due to the sincere desire to let others shine even if they lack the experience or self-confidence. His willingness to give the floor to others is a powerful weapon in promoting others in an authentic way, which in turn builds their self-trust and boosts his own popularity as an effective leader.
Written versus verbal feedback. Although project manager A is very eloquent, he always gives feedback in a written form by sending emails, even if his employees sit next door. The written word takes not just more time but also poses the risk that readers misinterpret or misunderstand the real message, which might result in serious conflicts. Project manager B however avoids writing emails at all. He always gives clear and straight feedback by talking to the people, which proves his courage and a healthy self-confidence.
The power of silence. I have very often experienced that project manager B never says a single word during workshops, sometimes lasting several hours or even days. Clients often ask me, then, what he has really been thinking. His silence has always been considered a real mystery, which in turn attracts the attention of others. However, when a decision has to be made, he reveals with just a few words such a clear message that everybody is stunned. His behavior and attitude underscore a high degree of listening skills and powerful modesty, which is preferred not just in the Western culture but also especially by his clients in Asia.
Project manager B is very eloquent but often talks too much without listening properly and literally submerges others with a flood of words.
Showing true respect, even behind closed doors. Project manager A always seems to have time for others. However, during meetings he tries to settle different tasks in parallel. People therefore feel disrespected since they get the impression that their boss is focusing on other things that seem to be more important. Project manager B, however, always lends a caring hand if one dares to knock at his door. While talking to others, his thoughts and ears are fully focused on their specific needs.
In a nutshell, project manager B seems to earn more trust much faster due to the following reasons:
1. Trust-building traits such as active listening; a humble appearance; straight, honest, and verbal feedback; determination; and clarity of his words. All this proves his deepest respect for others, which in turn opens doors in sometimes-difficult situations with clients all over the world.
2. His behavior is most probably built on a solid foundation of self-trust. I dare to claim that we can only give what we already possess. At the same time people’s reactions around us are always a wonderful mirror of our own behavior. Therefore, self-trust generates trust, which is mirrored back in every single moment.
Furthermore, I realized once more that technical skills, expertise, and experience are important but not essential. Younger and less experienced people therefore have a good chance to build trust if they listen and show an authentic interest in people, which expresses the deepest respect for others.
Andreas Dudàs. Swiss, visionary entrepreneur, mentor, motivational speaker, and expert on authentic leadership. More than 20 years experience in top executive positions in over 25 countries. Founder of the BE SHiRO Group in Switzerland and India, dedicated to empower individuals and organizations to achieve greatness through authenticity. Author of “Do you dare to be yourself? Developing power in life and leadership through authenticity." Learn more about Andreas at www.andreasdudas.com/book.
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