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Trust--the glue that holds us together

Trust Colin Powell

Leaders, like everyone else, are a sum of their experiences and knowledge.  They are who they are and they lead like they lead, as a result of their beliefs, of course. In addition, leaders are also influenced by what work they have been involved in, who they have worked with, how they were led and how they process and internalize all of these factors. Lessons are learned by both positive and negative experiences.  It is these lessons that affect how we trust others and how we get others to trust us.

When we ask ourselves why we follow a person there are a good number of answers.  The most common reply I hear is “trust.” Trust reassures. It makes us feel safe. Think back.  When we first learned to swim, ride a bike or try anything new, it was made easier when we trusted the person helping us. 

Why is trust important?

How people work and interact with each other is directly affected by trust.  Most of us won’t work with people we feel we can’t trust, or if have to work with them we give the bare minimum.  It is a two-way street. Others won’t want to work with you, unless they feel they can trust you.  They don’t give their all. No trust creates a pathway to mediocrity at best. 

Trust is essential to relationships and relationship building.  Relationship building is an essential skill of the effective leader, and especially the leader trying to affect change.  We know that our productivity is affected by trust.  Trust brings good communication.  Good communication means knowledge sharing. Effective knowledge sharing leads to more effective application of information.  All of these lead to a more successful organization.

“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”  Stephen Covey

What is trust?

Trust is both emotional and rational.  How often have you heard someone say, “I am going to trust my gut?” We process the actions of others through emotional filters.  It is also emotional because when we trust others, we open ourselves up for disappointment at best, and at worst, career or financial damage. 

It is rational because there are characteristics we can look for in others that increase the probability of a trusting relationship.  When we observe these traits plus monitor the outcomes of our working with this person, we make a prediction that it is worth the risk to trust them.

What should we look for?

If you are looking to identify a leader or a co-worker you can trust, look for these characteristics. Just as importantly, if you want to establish yourself as someone who can be trusted, then practice and develop these characteristics:

Honesty: Honesty, like trust, needs to be nurtured. When it is betrayed, building it back up can be difficult if not impossible.  When people start a conversation with, “I am not supposed to share this, but…,” it is an indication they can’t keep a confidence.  They were not honest with the person that shared with them. They probably won’t be honest with you.  Look for people who are honest, even when honesty isn’t the convenient or popular decision.

Humility: A spiritual advisor once told me that humility is knowing your strengths and accepting them and knowing your short-comings and accepting them.  Showing no arrogance in your talents and not beating yourself up over your shortcomings.  Use your talents to help others and work on your shortcomings to better yourself. Look for people who ask for help and provide help, who admit mistakes and forgive mistakes,  and who take responsibility for their actions and empower others to take responsibility. 

Gratitude: There is nothing like being thanked for your work, for being recognized for your achievements. When we let people know we are grateful for all they are doing, it contributes to them trusting us. Look for people that demonstrate gratitude not just with words, but in their actions as well.

Generous: An administrator told me about somebody they were trying to help at work.  At one point that person asked the administrator, “Why are you helping me? What are you going to get out of this?” The administrator’s answered, “I see potential in you and someone once helped me, so I am paying it forward.”  Look for people that give freely with no expectation of getting something back. Look for people that share power, share information and invite people into the process.

Consistent: One of the more unsettling characteristics of weak leaders is inconsistency. One day they are accessible and open to sharing ideas; the next day walls are up and they have no patience.  Their inconsistent reaction to situations and people creates an unsettling and unsafe environment. People don’t know what to expect day to day and therefore trust can’t be built.  Even if someone’s responses are always angry or uncooperative, that is better than responses that change day to day.  Look for people that provide clear and consistent expectations to others. Look for people who are consistent in their dealings with others. 

Protective: Leaders should be their team’s strongest advocate.  There may be times that leaders may not agree entirely on how something was done, but they are willing to praise the work, effort and outcomes. They support and protect their team as it searches for answers and solutions. When their people make mistakes, they are standing side by side with them to take responsibility. Look for people who aren’t just there to take credit, but are also there to extend their protection when things don’t go right.  Look for people who work to help others get back on track.


Trust is a valuable commodity that must be constantly nurtured.  Trust can be the glue that holds people together. Likewise, distrust is a cancer that spreads and destroys.

When people trust their leaders and each other they cooperate with each other. They go the extra mile to make sure goals are reached, if not exceeded.  For most people working in a trusting environment, it is worth as much or more than money.  It brings peace of mind. The energy that would go into dealing with lies and manipulations can now be directed to reaching goals and finding success.  

When we trust someone, we are telling them they are important to us. Ultimately, trusting someone is a compliment. It says, “I respect you. I am willing to follow you.  I will put myself on the line for you.”

Friday Reflection: Staying on Target

Stay on Target


Most of us are great at creating plans and producing ideas.  We see a problem and want to solve it.  Working in a group brainstorming can be exciting.  It can bind a group together. And it is an important aspect to change.

And while creating solutions is essential, the truth is, it is harder to implement those ideas or more accurately, to implement them effectively.  There are several factors that affect the successful implementation of new ideas.  Today we are going to take a quick look at the use of data.

Focused and on target

Try this. Go outside. Look off in the distance—about a hundred feet or so—and pick a landmark. It can be a tree or a pole or store.  Now, look down at your feet, and start walking toward that landmark.  Don’t look up (please make sure that the landmark is in an area free of traffic). After about 30 steps look up—are you still moving toward the landmark? Or have you veered a bit?

The landmark is the final outcome we want.  Looking up is our data check to see if we are still on target.  If when we look up and we are not, then we use that data to correct ourselves.

Staying on target is hard work

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are staying on target:

  • Is there a clear understanding of what you want to do, why you are doing it and how you are going to do it? Does your team share that understanding?
  • Have you indentified the data that will let you know you are achieving your goals? Have you shared that with your team?
  • Have you set benchmarks or milestones that are observable and measurable? Is your team aware of these benchmarks or milestones?
  • Are you reaching out to the people doing the work for their input? What is the system in place to do that?
  • Are you collecting and analyzing all of this information? Who is doing it and when?
  • Do you use that information to tweak what you are doing?
  • Are you sharing what you are learning so everyone can make use of it? How is that sharing taking place?


Staying on target is as important, if not more important to reaching our objectives.  We know that keeping our eye on the prize is essential, but stopping along the way to make sure you and your team have not drifted off is also essential. Effective leaders prevent drift by using data.

Just as the brainstorming phase can be binding and exciting, implemented correctly data collection and analysis can be empowering. 

Lone Wolf or Pack Leader?

Howling Wolves


The past years have seen a change from the “lone wolf leader” who is identified by their multi-tasking, micro-managing, and one-sided discussions to the “pack leader” who is identified by their commitment to their group; maintaining leadership because of their ability to meet the needs of their “pack” and providing their pack with what they need to be successful.  The result is a stronger emphasis on team building and on using team effectively.

Food for Thought

Susan A. Wheelan and Jan Kesselring in their paper “Link between Faculty Group Development and Elementary Student Performance on Standardized Tests” (The Journal of Educational Research July/August 2005) shared this conclusion from their research:

“Our results suggest that one strategy that could be used to improve student learning and performance is to facilitate the development of high functioning faculty groups…On the basis of our results and the findings from other industries, as these faculty groups and teams increase their effectiveness, productivity also will increase.”

Our findings suggest that although staff size, rural or urban location, and district poverty level do influence student outcomes, the manner in which faculty members work together as a group also is influential, particularly in high poverty schools. Professional educators have minimal or no control over school or district demographics.  However, teachers and administrators have significant control over the way the work as a group. The results of this study suggest that if faculty members work to become more trusting, cooperative and work oriented as a group, student performance will improve.”

As with a lot of research or good ideas, we read it and say, “Well, of course.”  Success is found in the implementation of the idea, not the idea itself.

Play nice together

As with so many simple concepts, they are easy to identify, but not always easy to implement.  Consider Mr. Gerard, a principal of an elementary school that was hovering between students performing at the basic level and under-performing.  His staff is comprised of seasoned teachers and new teachers. More than the difference in years, the difference in how they perceived their roles and how they approached those roles were different.  The more seasoned educators were steeped in years of teaching (with many experiencing success), while the newer teachers were closer to being digital natives and exploring their own methods.  The more seasoned were used to operating as single units that met with peers, but the purpose of the meetings was to collect new information and hear about policies and processes. The younger members used texting and emails to communicate. 

The challenge was how to bring them together in a common forum.  Mr. Gerard’s answer was creating teams. He searched for the most effective way to do just that.

People before things

Effective Leaders put people first. Mr. Gerard learned this over the past five years.  When he first came to the school he had presented his vision and ideas and although they were met with polite agreement in meetings, that polite agreement did not transform into action.  He learned he needed to take the time to listen to his people, to hear their concerns (problems) and their ideas (solutions) and to create a continuous cycle of monitoring and feedback. He needed to put people before things.

He learned people follow people, not processes, rules, procedures or grand plans.  As he built relationships and people accepted him as leader, they accepted his vision.  They began to buy in, because the trusted him. 

The lesson learned? If you are not developing people, you are not building teams!

How and who to pick

Remember when you were in school or you were hanging out with friends getting ready to play a game. Two captains were picked and they alternated turns choosing their team.  How did they decide? They KNEW their friends-who was good at what sport and who was not and what positions they played the best.  This lesson from the playground still holds true.  Leaders need to know their people—their strengths and weaknesses. 

One of the first things Mr. Gerard realized was that he had to build on his existing relationships.  He explored those and identified which of his relationships were strong.  Here are the criteria he used:

  • Ongoing two-way communication
  • Honest exchange of ideas in which there was room for healthy disagreement
  • An openness to learning new things
  • The courage to be the first in trying something new
  • Staff that had a proven track record of expertise in the focus of the team being formed (backed by data)
  • Teacher leaders that helped others and shared information
  • A healthy mix of people that represented multiple sides of an issue

5 Steps to Develop Teams

Mr. Gerard next thought how he could develop his team, both as a group and as individuals.  Here are five steps he used:

  • Teach and model leadership behaviors and skills you want your team to practice. Teaching also means explaining why these skills are important and how and when they can and should be used. 
  • Create opportunities for your team to use these skills-embed these opportunities into their day
  • Check in and see how they are doing—don’t wait until they need help or are floundering. Waiting until they need help is not helping—it is rescuing.
  • Checking in can be via a text, email, and most effectively a personal visit (they don’t have to be long).  Ask questions. Listen to what they have to say, AND THEN provide input and guidance.  Follow up with a written note recapping the discussion and next steps. Ask them to verify that it is accurate. These notes can be used as guidance for future visits—“Last time we spoke about….”
  • Be consistent. Be honest. Be kind

Remember to Celebrate

The leader of pack of wolves begins howling and other pack members feel the call to approach and join in.  One wolf expert, Lois Crisler says, “Like a community sing, a howl is a happy occasion. Wolves love to howl. When it is started, they instantly seek contact with one another, troop together, fur to fur. Some wolves will run from any distance, panting and bright-eyed, to join in, uttering, as they near, fervent little wows, jaws wide, hardly able to wait to sing.”

Mr. Gerard knew he needed to bring his team(s) together regularly and allow them to celebrate and to revel in the positive working relationships that bind them together.  He established a system of recognition for the work of the team members.


The days of the lone wolf are behind us. Leaders who seek success need to create a sense of unity.  Creating teams provides people with opportunities to use their talents, contribute to the well-being of the larger group, experience both feeling valued and valuing other and to joyously celebrate.  


What are you doing?

What are you Doing

Some people define leaders by their followers.  The best leaders are defined by the leaders they create.  They realize that their organizations and their people can’t grow or address all the needs of their group with people that blindly follow.  They need thinkers. They need leaders.  One of the most demanding “jobs” a leader has is the responsibility to nurture, develop and support future leaders.

Leaders who only seek followers don’t value the skills, talents and expertise of their team members. The implicit message is, “You have skills, but if I wasn’t telling you what to do, you wouldn’t know what to do.”  And their team knows that.  If you want 100% from your team, they need to feel valued.

Let’s be clear

This doesn’t mean that leaders don’t provide direction and guide their team. It does mean that leaders should provide opportunities for growth.  They should model leadership skills by providing clear directions.  They clarify expectations with specific objectives and goals—that are measurable and observable.  They follow up and check in with team, monitoring progress, providing appropriate feedback and when necessary effective interventions.

Effective and Ineffective Interventions

The ineffective leader uses interventions as opportunity to take over command, to say, “Gotcha, you are doing it wrong.”  This stifles potential leaders. The message is do it my way, it is the only way.

The effective leader uses intervention as a teachable moment—an opportunity to foster mutual understanding.  They see it as a chance to exchange ideas and participate in some knowledge-sharing that allows for growth on both sides.  They listen and are willing to allow their team to tweak the work if it brings the same outcome or better yet improves outcomes. They use it to mold future leaders and teach leadership skills.

Ineffective leaders will say they don’t have the time for all this coddling. It is easier to just tell people what to do (there is immediate satisfaction/gratification-the job is done and I did it!). There is a timeline and a deadline.  They feel future leaders will just raise to the top. 

Effective leaders see the worth in investing in human capital. They understand the power of relationships.  They know that taking the time to nurture talents pays off in big dividends as time progresses.  It may take more time upfront, but the impact off their leadership and visions is far more lasting and has great impact.

Five Steps to Developing Leaders

  • Teach and model leadership behaviors and skills you want your team to practice. Teaching also means explaining why these skills are important and how and when they can and should be used.
  • Create opportunities for your team to use these skills-embed these opportunities into their day
  • Check in and see how they are doing—don’t wait until they need help or are floundering. Waiting until they need help is not helping—it is rescuing.
  • Checking in can be via a text, email, and most effectively an in a personal visit.  Ask questions. Listen to what they have to say, AND THEN provide input and guidance.  Follow up with a written note recapping the discussion and next steps. Ask them to verify that it is accurate. These notes can be used as guidance for future visits—“Last time we spoke about….”
  • Be consistent. Be honest. Be kind.


Weak leaders surround themselves with only followers.   They believe unless they are managing everything, it won’t get done.  Strong leaders create more leaders. They develop leadership qualities in each member of their team.  They build capacity. They create people that can add to their vision and expand its reach.

Strong leaders allow people to lead—people they have developed and trained. They aren’t afraid to share leadership—they know it makes the group more effective and their leadership more powerful. They know fostering leaders brings additional expertise and perspective and that these bring expansion, growth and loyalty.

What are you doing? 

Just pour me some coffee

Years ago when hired to work at a community based organization, I went around and visited several Executive Directors of other organizations.  One of those meetings will forever stick in my mind. 

I was only 24 years old and inexperienced.  As the saying goes, I did not know what I did not know, so advice and input were very welcome.  I was looking for a mentor, a guide. One of the directors set a time to meet with me through their assistant.  On the day of the meeting I arrived and was asked to take a seat, Mr. Smith was busy. After about 20 minutes, the assistant came out and told me, “Mr. Smith is tied up and won’t be able to meet. Can we reschedule?”

We set a date for the next week.  The same thing happened again and a date was set for the following week.  On that day, the assistant assured me that Mr. Smith would be seeing me. He handed me a pad and pen and said, “Mr. Smith is very smart. You will want to write down everything he says,” and escorted me in Mr. Smith’s office.  It was a long and slightly uncomfortable walk from the door to the desk.  When I got to the desk, Mr. Smith looked up, smiled and said, “Hello.”  Behind Mr. Smith, holding a carafe of coffee was an assistant and the assistant’s sole job seemed to be to fill empty cups of coffee.


I don’t remember much of what Mr. Smith said—sadly the advice to write everything down went unheeded.  Much of it was about what he had done and how he did it. There was no offer for a continuing relationship.

What I do remember is how I felt.  I felt small and then angry. Definitely didn’t feel like a young leader looking for a mentor.  And I do remember that I made up mind, right then and there, never to be that kind of leader.

What could he have done differently?

  • Well, first of all he could have kept the first appointment.  Nothing says you are not valued like cancelling a meeting AT THE TIME OF THE MEETING twice.  When you are in a leadership role, yes, your days get filled quickly and things come up, but everyone’s time is valuable.  Cancelling at the last minute tells people their time is not valued. Plus knowing how to schedule and managing your time well is a great skill to model (and/or teach your staff).
  • Train his staff.  Either Mr. Smith handled his own calendar, and not well, or it was something he should have delegated and trained his staff to do.   I didn’t need to hear how great Mr. Smith was. I did need my time to be respected and to feel comfortable.
  • Simple action. Mr. Smith could have gotten up from behind his desk and welcomed me. Instead, by sitting at his desk and continuing to work until I arrived, said, “I am busy and fitting you in.”  A simple gesture like a recognizing me as I entered could have gone a long way.
  • Mr. Smith could have asked me about my new position and what I intended to do. He could have asked me if I had a vision—not even sure I knew what a vision was back then. I knew what I wanted to do, but had no real plan. There is room for leaders to share their experience; however listening first is a good way to start. When we listen to others, they feel important. The message shouldn’t be, “I am important and I am giving you some of my important time.”  It should be, “You are important. Share what you are thinking and planning. How can I help?”
  • Mr. Smith might have considered how it felt to be an assistant whose sole responsibility was to serve coffee. He could have introduced that assistant and IF the assistant was going to be there, invite them to the table. Make them a participant with a meaningful role.  That is how staff is developed. That is how you create future leaders. He could have modeled how to treat people.


Good leaders place the focus on developing people. They make people feel important—not a false importance.  An importance based on listening to them, developing their talents, providing direction and giving them responsibilities that not only have value, but will help them grow. In short, by respecting them.

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