Trustworthiness is the cornerstone of exceptional leadership. If people don’t feel that they can trust us, we do not have psychological safety or the positive relationships required for organizational success. However, trust is a difficult thing to cultivate and maintain because it relies on us being consistent. Great supervisors are consistent, dependable, and reliable.
Honestly, none of us are going to be reliable and consistent all the time, but we need to manage it most of the time. Our employees need to know that we aren’t going to yell at them when they come to us with a problem. They need to feel confident that we are going to be calm and reliable. We’re going to ask questions and figure out how to fix the situation. We want our employees to feel that we are a stable, reliable force that is going to help them. Until employees feel confident that their leaders are reliable and consistent, they are going to be tentative and watchful—maybe even subversive or dishonest in order to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
Keeping our emotions and, more importantly, our actions in check takes a great deal of emotional intelligence. Specifically, we must exercise self-discipline. We don’t get to fly off the handle and yell whenever we get angry. When we talk about this in workshops, participants ask me if I ever lose my temper, yell, and say hurtful things. My answer is “rarely.” Actually, I can’t think of a time in the last ten years when I’ve hurled mean-spirited insults at anyone. I do get angry, and I sometimes raise my voice a bit and sound stern, but my words are still intentional and measured.
The first reaction that I get is incredulity, and then there is a definite belief that to control one’s temper is not healthy. One does need to express anger, but we don’t need to damage people, walls, furniture, or relationships to do it. Exercise is a great way to release pent-up anger. When my boys were young, I would hold sofa cushions while they hit on them and yelled. I’ve used both of those techniques.
I’ve also walked through my home ranting and yelling. I have a friend or two that will allow me to vent to them. One time I called a good friend and fellow coach and said, “I need you to say, ‘What an ass!’ every time I pause for breath for about three minutes.” She did, and I felt better. Recently I bought an ax-throwing kit for children. Think Nerf when you visualize it in your head. Throwing foam axes can be very cathartic.
The bottom line is that we can manage our anger so that we don’t intentionally harm others. Words can be powerful weapons. We want to express our anger in appropriate ways to others, and then go home and take it out on the sofa cushions.
Fortunately for us, people have a tendency to extend trust to others in the beginning of a relationship. The trust is a gift that we need to appreciate and work to keep. We want to avoid breaching trust because once it’s gone, trust is difficult to gain back. However, all is not lost if we lose someone’s trust. There are things that we can do to regain it as quickly as possible.
The first thing to do is to admit that we’ve done something disappointing. If we made a bad decision, forgot something, or lost our temper, we should admit it. The second thing to do is to apologize. Some old-school thought states that leaders should never apologize. It’s based on the belief that leaders have to be perfect to be great leaders. The problem with that thinking is that none of us are perfect. We are human, and we make mistakes. We only make matters worse if we don’t admit them and apologize.
We also need to do whatever we can to fix the problem if that’s possible. An apology goes a long way, but we also want to do what we can to make things right. If we forgot to do something, how can we get it done and deal with the results of forgetting? If a plan doesn’t work, it’s time to regroup and try again. We help to rebuild trust when we do what we can to repair any damage that we’ve done.
After we have broken trust, we will have to continue to behave in a consistent, reliable manner until everyone feels comfortable again. It may take some time, so we need to be patient.
In summary, when we break trust, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize, and do what we can to fix it. Then we continue to be trustworthy until whoever was affected decides that they can trust us again. However, the best course of action is to do our best each moment of every day to be reliable, consistent, and dependable.
For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.
Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.
If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.