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Communicating as a Leader

Trust – a Leader's and Networker's Currency

John Kenworthy asked:

Copyright (c) 2008 John Kenworthy

Trust is leader’s and a networker’s bankroll. With trust, he or she is solvent, without it, he or she is bankrupt.

A trusted networker, like a trusted leader, has a thick bankroll of crisp bills. Every time you act inconsistently with your professed values, or break a promise, you must spend some of those crisp bills – when the bankroll is gone, so is the trust that others have in you. At this point, your personal appeals or persuasive arguments cannot buy back that trust. Once lost, trust, and the personal credibility it took to gain it, may take years to regain.

Trust & Credibility

Trust is much more than credibility. Credibility is a necessary precursor to trust – before someone will place their trust in you, they have to believe in you. Trust is when a person places something of value to them into your care an stewardship because they believe that you will take good care and, usually, return to them something of greater value.

As a leader, the ‘something’ may be as obviously important as life – a military leader for example. It may be time or skills or an idea for a business leader. Whatever the situation, we place our trust in the leader. In turn, the leader trust you to deliver on your promise. The relationship is established beforehand, the leader’s credibility has been established and the result of this ‘transaction’ may reinforce or destroy trust.

In networking, the same rules apply. You might offer to introduce someone to a business opportunity. As the initiator, you must trust the person to be capable or risk your personal credibility and the trust your opportunity has in you. The individual you are introducing will also trust that you will genuinely do as you say and that it is a legitimate opportunity. Trust is a two-way street.

Establishing Trust.

1. Be honest and open The top leadership attribute of most admired leaders in Kouzes and Posner’s comprehensive survey is honesty. This isn’t just about telling the truth, it is also ‘doing what you say you will do’. And, it’s worth noting that honesty does not always imply that the truth is to your own liking nor the action something with which you agree.

Some networkers though fall into the ‘marketing trap’ – embellishing aspects of their business or person to such a degree that their honesty could quickly become suspect. It’s all very well having a fabulous 30 second ‘elevator pitch’ designed to intrigue and excite others though if it is too far removed from honesty, you may soon be dealing out some of those crisp bills from your bankroll.

Trusted leaders are open and transparent – particularly in this post-Enron world. The suspicion surrounding UK politicians currently has a lot less to do with their actual expense claims and a lot more to do with questions about why such claims should be so secretive. Openness also means being open to question. Your elevator pitch should (according to those far more expert in this) invite questions – your answers to those being a robust defense citing evidence that supports your pitch. Can you defend your elevator pitch?

2. Don’t hide bad news Northern Rock has suffered a major fallout, in part because the leaders hid the bad news (or the potential for bad news), possibly even from themselves. As the bad news leaked out, savers who had entrusted their money queued to withdraw it immediately. To regain some trust, the UK Government had to spend rather more than a few crisp bills from its bankroll.

Advertising of financial or pharmaceutical products now carry a warning of the potential downside or side effects (albeit in tiny print or spoken at a rate few amphetamine addicts would understand). Should our elevator pitch contain such caveats? It would be honest.

3. Don’t over promise Making promises you cannot keep? Why do politicians rate as the most untrustworthy of people? They promise the world and seldom deliver.

It’s a trap that many parents fall into. Talking to their kids about the exciting places they’re going to go and the fun they are going to have. From pimples – “you’ll grow out of it” to exhortions to study – “you’ll be able to do whatever you like when you graduate with honours”.

Networkers are prone to over promise – it’s considered perhaps an embellishment, a slight exaggeration or, the catch-all, marketing.

4. Walking the talk

Doing what you say you will do is probably the most critical component of trust. If any of the three points above are in doubt, there is little chance that you will be able to walk the talk.

How many times have you been to a networking event that ends in warm handshakes and empty commitments? When you say that you will introduce a friend to a contact, do it. If you say that you’ll pass on their contact information, do that. If you say that you’ll turn their business around and they will make 2 grand a month with just 4 hours work a week… Diligent follow-through sets you apart from the crowd and communicates trust.

Your trust bankroll is being spent every-time you: speak falsehoods (however small); hide bad news (even the potential of the downside); over-promise or; under deliver.

How to rebuild trust.

Even the greatest leaders can suffer a loss of trust. This may be the result of error in judgment or a mistake. Or circumstances may conspire against the leader (a favourite of politicians and ex-Northern Rock senior management).

Networkers are also prone to losing trust – perhaps the result of adverse market conditions or the failure of a supplier or partner. A respected and trusted networker can lose years of building trusted relationships through introducing a connection who failed to deliver on their promise. So how do we rebuild damaged trust?

Acknowledge the mistakes. When decisions turn out unexpectedly, the leader owes his followers an explanation. Inflated egos can make a leader quick to assign blame or make excuses, but a mistake unacknowledged is compounded.

A straightforward acknowledgment of the mistake should be the front end and made voluntarily. One forced (because I got caught) does nothing to re-establish trust. “I forgot to call” may not be something a networker likes to admit, but it’s more honest than making up a convoluted story of deceit that tries to shift responsibility elsewhere.

Apologise. Admitting that you are fallible, that what you did was wrong, that you made a mistake is an important step to accepting responsibility. Knowing that you made an error is one thing, admitting it to others, though painful, allows you (and often them helping you) to put the incident behind you and take action to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Make amends. Find a way to make amends with people you have wronged. If you have harmed, make restitution. People often forget that undelivered promises frequently have cost the other party. If, for example, you agree to meet someone at 2pm, and turn up at 2.30 – you’ve just cost someone 30 minutes. Next time who will turn up and when?

You may not be required to do so, and it may be that circumstances conspired against you, and it may be that it really truly wasn’t your fault – but accepting ownership and taking responsibility goes a long way to thickening that bankroll of trust.

Trust is the bedrock of the bond between leader and follower, the bond that makes a network work. As a leader and as a networker, trust will make or break your success in any industry or circumstance.

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