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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Trust: 10 Secret Components - Part 2

Updated: Jun 11

As I wrote in the previous post, every relationship we establish with another person, with an organization, and even with an object starts from this universal particle: trust. Trust is therefore the cornerstone on which we build our relationships. If we look at the aspect of leadership, which we hold so dear, trust is obviously: such a fundamental building block that in his book "The 21 Basic Laws of Leadership," J. C. Maxwell devotes an entire chapter to it.

Without trust, there is no collaboration, integration, innovation, motivation, or results. One of the things I have learned in my professional life is that trust can arise spontaneously, but it can also be cultivated.

What does it take to build trust as a leader? What are the "secret" ingredients that enable you to create and maintain a strong and lasting relationship with your team?

TRUST sign composed of red bricks on a background of a gray brick wall
Trust is composed of several building blocks, all equally important

Secret #1: Trust is bidirectional

In an interpersonal relationship, it is not enough for a person to give trust. To be cultivated, trust is given and received. In fact, receiving trust encourages giving it. It is like an exchange, a barter. So, if you want your team to give you trust, you must be the first or the first to have faith in them. If, on the other hand, you obstruct this relationship, your team will pay you back in the same coin and with decidedly poor results.

I always had a tough time trusting people who looked at me with distrust and detachment. It was a situation in which I was uncomfortable, almost paralyzing. I realized that to get the best out of others, to encourage one's team to work in harmony and achieve their goals, it is important to give trust. This was a winning element during my time in Afghanistan when I had the honor and burden of commanding a Task Force that was scattered within various military bases. I got to know all of them, and we completed some egregious work that I always take as a reference when I talk about my military career. I trusted them and they rewarded me with their trust.

Secret #2: Transparency

Clarity in communication eliminates ambiguities and uncertainties that can erode trust. This sentence should be enough to make it clear that the moment a leader hides something from his team, they will look at him with suspicion. Mind you, I am not talking about industrial or state secrets, which, of course, must be jealously guarded. Instead, I am referring to aspects that affect or impact the entire team.

Talking with Francesca Polti, President and CEO at the Polti Group (productors of the "steamer" for short) in a recent interview for my podcast "When Leaders Talk" (here to listen), Francesca said that quarterly she holds a plenary meeting with all employees and tells them what is going on, what are the goals and intentions of the management team, etc. This overall simple action is repaid with loyalty, satisfaction, and gratitude.

Secret #3: Keep your Promises

Consistency and loyalty are two values that should be in every "good leader's handbook," whatever language it is written in. After all, it is a lesson we all learned as children: a promise is a promise! And if any of our friends or relatives dared to break their word, we felt disappointed and betrayed. What has changed as adults? Nothing, from this point of view. In fact, we know that breaking a promise is the fastest way to reset trust.

I must admit that my sense of loyalty has always been extraordinarily strong and every time I have found myself breaking my word, I have felt an inner sense of discomfort, almost a pain. That's why whenever I make a commitment, I really do everything to keep it. And my friends, family, and even my colleagues know this. And I am proud of it!

Secret #4: Competency

To explain this concept well, let's take an easy example: would you trust a driver who just got his license? Obviously not, or at least not at the same level as someone who has been driving for more than a decade and has never been in an accident. Within a team, we tend to entrust a delicate task to a person or group of people who we know have the right knowledge and skills to accomplish it. We trust them. And of course, a team trusts its leader when he or she shows that he or she knows what he or she is doing and that he or she has the right expertise to make good decisions.

In whatever team I have worked in, I have never presumed to know everything better than everyone else. For example, as a ship's commander, I was more familiar with aspects related to the conduct of operations and maritime maneuvers rather than topics related to the ship's propulsion system. I knew I could trust engineers who had years of study and experience. I also knew that delving into the topics in which I was most lacking was my duty not to replace the technicians but to let them know how much I appreciated their work. This gave them gratification and me the opportunity to establish a relationship of mutual trust.

Secret #5: Active listening

Listening is as important as talking when it comes to building trust. When I took the coaching course, I learned that there are three levels of listening: internal listening (first level), when we pay attention to our own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and intuitions; focused listening (second level), when we listen carefully to the other person, his or her words, tone of voice, body language and expressions; and global listening (third level), when we pay attention to the whole context, environment, energy and nuances surrounding the other person. Confidence flourishes when we listen at the second to third level, that is when we observe the person in front of us and pick up not only the verbal message but also the nonverbal message and their interaction with their surroundings.

It is not pleasant to talk to someone who is constantly interrupting or who is obviously distracted. When this happens to me, the thought comes to my mind: "If you interrupt me or are obviously distracted, it means you are not listening to me because you are paying attention to your thoughts and not to my words. So, it means you are not interested in what I am saying. And if you don't care, it means you have no respect. And without respect, there is no trust."

a man sitting sun a sofa listens intently to a lady sitting on a chair
Being listened to carefully helps generate trust

Secret #6: Trust cannot be delegated

One of the first things I was told when I put on the uniform was that "responsibility is not delegated." True; neither does trust. If you read the previous article I wrote last week on this topic, you will remember that I talked about "indirect" trust. For example, our friend who recommends the best mechanic to fix our car may convince us to take our car to the same repair shop. But this is an artificial construct, a shortcut that may help in the first instance but then must be cultivated in a direct way to grow. Even if the mechanic is our best friend's favorite, our trust is short-lived if he does not repair our car well. Simultaneously, in a professional context, many leaders spend time cultivating one-to-one relationships with their employees. It is not enough to rely on a mid-level manager to build these bonds. Trust is a currency that is only truly valuable when it has been earned directly.

I never welcomed recommendations that came to me to help one person or another because I knew that if I did, I would put my face and name on it. I always preferred to get to know the person or person concerned in a direct way before I took a chance on them.

Secret #7: Trust is built on fertile grounds

There is none so deaf as those who will not hear. For the same reason, trust cannot grow if a person does not have the intention. A leader must therefore actively work to establish a culture of openness and collaboration, without prejudice or obstacles of any kind. This includes removing communication barriers, encouraging debate and innovation, and showing empathy. In an environment where trust succeeds in thriving, people not only feel freer to express their opinions but are also more likely to take initiative and show superior commitment.

In an interview with Gianfranco Bacchi, a naval officer and author of two interesting books on leadership, he confessed to me that he is one of those who immediately gives people confidence. In the podcast episode (recorded in Italian - available here), he also recounted how he handled situations in which this trust was disregarded. The negative experiences did not make him change his approach, however, and to this day he continues to trust his people and receive loyalty in return.

Secret #8: Reliability over Time

One of the biggest regrets I have had in my professional life is t a person who had made a fairly big mistake. I wanted to re-trust him because he had said he had repented and realized he was wrong. Instead, he fell into the same mistake. Obviously, I learned my lesson, at least with him, and I felt a fearful guilt for believing him means being predictable in unpredictable situations, i.e., always acting by referring to well-defined values with integrity.

One of the biggest regrets I have had in my professional life is about trusting a person who had made a fairly big mistake. I wanted to re-trust him because he had said he had repented and realized he was wrong. Instead, he fell into the same mistake. Obviously, I learned my lesson, at least with him, and I felt a fearful guilt for believing him.

Secret #9: Facing Challenges Head-on

Trust is strengthened when a team overcomes challenges together. For a leader, facing challenges is an opportunity to show his or her capabilities and to strengthen trust with the whole team. It is about showing courage, but in a smart way, of course. It is about being able to be strategic, innovative, and above all, compact. This does not mean having all the answers. On the contrary, it shows how willing a leader is to seek them out together with your team, showing humility and a desire for continuous improvement.

There was a particular period in my professional life when I was a ship commander when a series of quite unexpected accidents happened. You know the movie (and TV series) called "A Series of Unfortunate Events"? Here, we were the main characters. However, my crew and I never lost our bearings and faced each event with courage and determination. What happened acted as a glue and to this day, ten years later, we are still in touch.

Secret #10: Rewarding Trust

I know this will turn your nose up at it, perhaps. Trust is a mutual investment between leaders and employees. So why not help it with incentives? Recognizing and rewarding the trust the team places in the leader can include tangible aspects such as bonuses or promotions, but also public recognition or a simple thank you. As we have already seen in "Secret #1," nothing is more powerful in maintaining a virtuous cycle of trust than making people feel valued. This recognition acts as positive reinforcement, pushing the team to continue to invest in the relationship within the team and with the leader.

One of my clients told me about her problems in establishing trusting relationships with the people she works with. Yet the ingredients were all there. We explored her relationship with others and how, because of an internal saboteur now long ingrained in her personality, she had difficulty openly acknowledging a job well done. Once we understood the source of the problem and after giving her a name (the miser), we built a series of small new habits that helped her to show more open appreciation and gratitude toward her co-workers. Predictably, with perseverance and application, the trust relationship with her team was finally welded.

Six people in a circle place one hand over the hand of the person next to them as a sign of understanding and trust
Trust is the glue and, at the same time, the lubricant within a team

Trust can be built

Each secret we explored is a piece in the complex mosaic of trust.

As a whole, trust is a journey, not a destination. It is an ongoing process of growth and refinement, an art that requires practice and dedication. And just as an artist refines his technique through study and practice, we too can refine our ability to build and maintain trust.

Confidence is crucial in leadership. Without trust, it is impossible to inspire and lead a team. This is why I have devoted much of my time to exploring the dynamics of trust in interpersonal relationships, both in my podcast "When Leaders Talk" and through the coaching services I offer.

If you feel lost in a sea of uncertainty, find yourself navigating through the billows of distrust, or simply want to strengthen your professional and personal connections, know that I can offer you the compass you need to navigate with confidence. In the end, trust is the beacon that can guide a leader, a team, and an organization through the darkest night to a brighter future.

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