Your Team Wants You to Ask Yourself These 10 Questions about Trust

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The more conversations I have with clients, family and friends, the more I’m thinking about trust these days. Seems there’s precious little trust actually being experienced in work places and homes. Let’s start by defining trust.

My online dictionary states that trust as a verb means: to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something or someone.

Conversely, the same dictionary defines distrust this way: to doubt the honesty or reliability of; regard with suspicion.

My experience confirms that people know quickly whether they are trusted or distrusted; whether their supervisor believes in their strengths or regards them with suspicion. People know when their leader hovers, limits, takes back a responsibility or removes authority. People can sniff out with no effort or conscious process the reality of trust – or not – placed in them. Consider the challenges of trust.

  • Can trust be granted on a trial basis?
  • Is a “wait and see” outlook really trust?
  • Does trust only happen when it’s fully earned?
  • Does trust say: “I’ll trust you ’til you prove I can’t trust you?”
  • Does trust come in different sizes and portions: a little bit of trust, barely trust, trust a whole lot? Or is trust, simply trust?

I remember when our daughter was learning to drive. I’ve looked back and asked myself: Did I trust my daughter to drive to school when her license went from “permit” to the real deal? Did I send her off to school without acknowledging that her training and preparation meant I could trust her to get there safely? If I didn’t trust her ability to do so, would I have allowed her to get behind the wheel of a car? Based on her training and demonstrated skills, I did trust her to drive to school and home again.

What if, in that same season, she had asked me for permission to drive to Chicago from our northern Indiana home on a weekday morning, in rush hour, on toll roads with Nascar-mentality drivers on mission to make their destination on time? If I didn’t trust her ability to make that drive, would I still trust her to drive to school on the city streets of our small town? Yes, I decided I could trust her ability to drive to school, while I knew more coaching was my responsibility to help her navigate the chaotic, erratic and frightening traffic of the Dan Ryan Expressway.

So, is trust given in portions? Maybe so. Maybe not.

If I flag down a Chicago taxi driver on Michigan Avenue, do I trust him or her to navigate the same traffic? Do I trust the Uber driver to get me safely from my home to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport? Yes (Although, think about it, we’re trusting Mr. taxi driver or Ms. Uber, because we trust someone else has vetted him or her.). So, trust does seem to be “proven,” whether we’ve seen the proof or we trust someone else’s standard that these drivers are trustworthy.

Back to the challenge of leadership and trust. When a business manager or church staff leader asks someone on the team to lead an initiative, or they hire a staff member to lead a division or team, does that leader trust that staff member to do the job they’ve been asked to do? Did the staff person believe upon being hired, that they were given trust with the offer to come aboard? Was authority to carry out their responsibility given to that staff person?

Here’s what happens when we don’t actually trust the person to fulfill what we’ve charged them to do:

  • When we don’t actually trust them, we don’t tell them that we believe they are unqualified to accomplish all we originally ask of them. But they know.
  • We limit the scope of their decision-making. Or we over-ride their decisions.
  • We work around them, leaving them out of conversations where their input and opinion should be considered, if not deferred to.
  • We redefine their role - at least in our own minds, shaping new expectations they’ve not processed nor had opportunity to agree to.
  • We realize we must find ways to get work done that we don’t trust them to do, so we either do the work or find others to do it - often without informing the leader charged with the responsibility.

These behaviors and more kick in automatically for many leaders and managers (or in some cases the positional “boss” who is neither a qualified leader nor manager), often allowing us to dismiss any reflection on our reasons for distrust and therefore not acknowledging that we actually don’t trust them. This of course causes us to avoid honest conversation.

Let’s go back to my daughter and my trust in her ability to drive. Let’s say I do believe I can trust her to drive to Chicago and back. BUT - as it turns out, she has a fender-bender on the Stevenson Expressway and she arrives home shaken and apologetic. I have at least a couple choices: 1) I tell myself and maybe her: “I knew I couldn’t trust her to drive in those conditions. I don’t trust her to do it again.” OR 2) “Experiencing a fender-bender doesn’t necessarily make you a bad driver. How about we both drive to Chicago next week? You drive, I’ll ride and coach.”

My decision to get in the car, leaving her in the driver’s seat communicates: “You’re still driving this car. I trust you to be behind the wheel. And I’m here to help you so your competency, and perhaps more importantly, your confidence grows.” IF I micromanage every turn, every stop and go, every passing of another car, my daughter will intuit immediately that although I left her behind the wheel, I don’t actually trust her.

Again, my daughter was trained well to drive a car. I do have control issues.

My daughter is an active learner. But it’s easier for me to be behind the wheel than coach.

My daughter did make a mistake or two. And mistakes behind the wheel of a car or mistakes driving an initiative can easily be the “I knew it moment” for the leader that validates our suspicion and moves us into the driver’s seat.

I’m not all that, but the truth is, I trusted someone else’s training of my daughter and because of that, I trusted her to get behind the wheel of my car and drive on the road with other cars – knowing all the risks of anyone driving were present.

I encouraged her to get in the driver’s seat after a fender bender. I didn’t keep distrust to myself and find excuses why I should drive and she couldn’t. I didn’t tell her she wasn’t ready. I didn’t tell her she wasn’t capable of driving.

I got in the car with her after the fender bender. She was in the driver’s seat. And although I could have been a less directive passenger/coach, I learned to encourage her and celebrate her skill.

I’m not perfect. Neither are you. We’ve all messed up when it comes to trusting others.

Here are 10 Questions to ask yourself about trust and your team:

  1. Did you ever trust them to do the job you asked them to do?
  2. Why have you stopped believing in the people on your team?
  3. Do they know you are for them… or do they sense deep in their soul, you don’t trust them?
  4. In what ways are you communicating doubt or suspicion about their ability?
  5. Have you given them responsibility with no authority?
  6. Do you believe you alone can and will do the initiative or task better, do it "right?"
  7. Do they have to ask you about every turn, every onramp, every stop before they can act?
  8. Would they say you are effectively checking in and coaching or would they say you’re micromanaging them? 
  9. What are you putting in place to help them trust themselves and experience a win?
  10. What steps are you taking to celebrate the ways in which they are trusted… and giving them opportunity to be trusted with more?

I’ve had to ask myself in various seasons of my leadership: What’s going on in me that creates this lack of trust? Am I insisting on proving myself as a competent leader? What do I think I have to prove? Where do I see people on my team shrinking… in their self-confidence? In their joy? In their passion for the work? In their trust in me?

We all suffer from unconscious self-deception. It’s easier to blame someone else and call it wisdom on our part. We’re more prone to prove ourselves than to give others an opportunity to prove themselves. We’re often more likely to play judge than play coach.

Your team is longing to be trusted. They want a seat at the table. They want to be heard with the confidence you want to learn from them.

What will you do with this? Will you ask honest questions of yourself? Will you ask your team if they feel trusted? And when they say no or somewhat… will you listen when they explain why they feel the way they do? We must.

Because people matter. Period.

By the way, if you’re the one not feeling trusted and therefore feeling devalued, it’s fair to ask:

  • Am I behaving in some way that reduces others’ trust in me?
  • Am I blaming someone else for my lack of passion, incompetence or dissention?
  • What step do I need to take to fully show up, to give my 100%?

And when you’ve answered those questions and you feel you cannot “win;” when you know you are not trusted; that you are not acknowledged or valued… well, you have some difficult choices to make. And when you find yourself in that place longer than you want to be – remember, your worth does not come from the approval of others. Your value is not determined by what you do or how well you do it. Your identity is not defined by any job or task. Your worth, your value, your identity rests in one truth: you are created in the image of God. You are an image-bearer. You have innate worth, intrinsic value and a core-to-your-soul identity.

What’s your step in trusting others? How will you evaluate your motives? What do you need to do to be more trustworthy than you are today? And who will you talk with to explore your innate gifting, your intrinsic worth and your core identity?