What are the three conditions required for trust?
A team that functions without trust invariably ends up with redundancies, tension, and drama. If the people on your team are left in the dark, they will be unable to report mistakes or work together, which leaves you without a solid foundation from which to build success. So how do you build trust? And can trust really improve productivity?
Joel Peterson is the chairman of JetBlue and a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He's the founding partner of Peterson Partners and the author of The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great. I recently interviewed Joel for the LEADx podcast in order to learn more about his building blocks of trust, and how they can change the way your team operates. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Before we get started, what was a time in your career where you failed, and what did you learn from it?
Peterson: “Why do so many people like to talk about failure?”
Kruse: Do you think it’s overrated?
Peterson: No, actually that's a funny line from Peter Thiel. In Silicon Valley, they talk about failure as the preamble, the prelude to success, and he said one time, “It's overrated.” I've got a couple of examples of failure. The first one's a very simple one, where I was working on a deal for a couple of months, and it fell apart, and I had my head in my hands.
Trammell Crow sat across the room from me, and he spotted me. He came over to my desk and said, “What's wrong?” And I said, “This deal I've been working on blew up, and it's not going to happen.” He stood up, and he just looked at me. He said, “There's a trolley every five minutes.” It was a great lesson. It wasn't my fault, really, that it had fallen apart, but it was a failure. The deal didn't happen, and I felt bad.
The other example that I've got is one where I just blew it. I had worked on an information system, and we had a budget maybe of $10 or $12 million, and it kept getting deferred. The deliverables weren't arriving. It got more complex, and it was just completely off budget and behind schedule and everything.
I ended up, basically, shutting it down after having wasted a bunch of money. I even felt that I should withdraw and just say, “I blew it.” The guy that I was working for said, “Declare victory and move on,” and that was a great lesson to me. We'd learned some things. It had been a failure, but the idea was, “Look, we learned a lot. Declare victory and move on.”
Kruse: Why is trust so vital?
Joel Peterson: Well, I think trust allows people to innovate. It makes organizations more flexible. It allows things to get done faster. If you just look at Congress and how our government works, where there's such low trust, it's inflexible. Things don't get done. They cost more. They take longer, but that aside, it's just a much happier way to live, a much more stress-free life because if you're around people you trust, things go better. Life's better.
Kruse: You say that trust depends on three conditions. What are they?
Peterson: Well, first of all, I would say that trust really depends on results. Fundamentally, we learn to trust people when they produce results, but the fundamental elements of trust are, first, ‘character.’ You can't trust somebody that doesn't have high character, that doesn't have integrity because they'll fail you in the moment of stress.
Secondly, the person has to be ‘competent.’ There's no point in trusting somebody who has high character if they're not competent, if they can't deliver. Then finally, they have to have ‘authority.’ There's no point in me trusting you to help me not pay taxes if you don't have the authority to change the law or do anything. All three conditions have to be present for trust to be a smart thing to rely on.
Kruse: Can you share a few of the 10 laws and explain them to us?
Peterson: The first one I list is this notion of ‘integrity.’ I think if a leader doesn't have integrity, he or she will never be trusted because they will cheat a little bit on this. If they don't have integrity in their personal lives, it's hard to trust them in their business life, so I think that's one vital starting element.
Organizations tend to mimic the leader, and so high-trust organizations tend to have high-trust leaders. Low-trust organizations, low-trust leaders. Another one that I like to think about is respect. If you don't show respect for people in the organization, it's very difficult to create a high-trust enterprise, and that includes everybody, from the receptionist to the EVP.
Then I think the final one that I'd mention is this idea of ‘communication,’ lavish communication. High-trust organizations communicate before, during and after events. They communicate bad news as well as good news. People, when they're kept in the dark, assume the worst. They learn not to trust, so high-trust organizations are one where there's just tons of communication going on. People are open. There's an open-door policy. There's transparency. People, of course, make mistakes, but they communicate about them.
Kruse: If there's low communication, people will fill in the blanks, and usually whatever they think is worse than what the reality is.
Peterson: Sure. People are really smart. They pick up on things. They figure things out, and so if you're not talking to them, they're going add things together. They'll connect the dots.
Kruse: Are there ways to quickly earn trust of your team members and peers?
Peterson: I think it starts out with listening to them. We don't trust people who don't listen to us, and usually, that means capturing what another party is saying, so I advise new managers, new leaders, new team leaders to spend the first 90 days getting to know team members. Being able to capture what it is they're saying and needing, as well as they captured it themselves. That will build trust faster than anything.
Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to become 1% better every single day. Is there something you can challenge all of us to do to try out today?
Peterson: You know Adam Bryant at The New York Times writes this thing called The Corner Office. I had an interview with him, 90-minute interview, and then, of course, he writes this short column. He entitled the one he did with me, Listening without an Agenda. That was a really good capture of what I would say. If you want to make yourself better, don't have an agenda.
You know how people sometimes, they're listening to you and you think they're just waiting until they can make their comments? They're thinking of something else. I think this idea of listening with no agenda is a really powerful way to get better and better at building high trust and to make everybody. I don't know if it'll make them 1% better, or 21% better.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.