How Great Leaders Inspire Us to Trust Them

 ”The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” –Peter Drucker

Today, it seems that we have trouble looking up to our leaders, especially in the corporate world where it is widely viewed by industry analysts that 80% of Americans do not trust corporate leaders. But, our confidence has plummeted in our church and synagogue leaders, our congressmen, our bankers and our doctors. Indeed, our trust in people in general, has plummeted from the 59% (1960’s) to 33% (2006) according to “The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations” by Robert F. Hurley, 2012 Jossey-Bass Publishing.

In our recent work with a senior leader of a team in turnaround, it became very clear that team members did not trust each other. The atmosphere was tense and the results were suffering, the team was faltering. The backstabbing, gossiping and throwing team members under the bus lurked beneath the surface. The senior leader made the decision to go right at the issues, she decided to do 4 things to restore and inspire trust in the team:

  1. She made herself really vulnerable, she talked about what she needed to do to step up and lead the team more effectively. She spoke of the opportunities as “learnings” and fostered a great commitment to learning and humility on her team. She was honest in her assessment and the team appreciated her realistic view of the situation.
  2. She got really clear about her vision for the direction of her team. She solicited input from all team members and involved them in helping to craft the priorities for the future. She made a big deal of the direction, using every meeting to talk about the new focus, the burning platform for the business moving forward.
  3. She really showed compassion and kindness. She went out of her way to ask how they were doing, to ensure them that their work was going to pay off. She talked directly with each of them about how much she needed them for the team to achieve their goals.
  4. She confronted those who could and would not play by the team rules. For years, she had looked the other way, when one of her talented but self-centered team members would attempt to sabotoge the team. Not anymore, she recognized that this lapse was allowing mistrust to permeate the team.

Leading a team from the place of “we” means being able to put others first, model a learning mindset, and fostering a spirit of collaboration. Showing kindness and compassion sets today’s leader of teams apart from the rest of the pack. It creates a different breed of followers, the kind that trust us.