Trust changed my life. That might sound like a dramatic overstatement, but the fact is that the intentional consideration, internalization and application of trust in my professional relationships has been the most significant lesson I’ve learned in my career. The framework that spurred forth this reflection and change was introduced to me by a former manager. The great thing is that the framework is universal and nimble – it can be applied in a multitude of settings, including in education (a topic I’ll blog about next month). But first, I want to share more about my own experience and lessons learned around trust.
Several years ago in the midst of a challenging professional experience, I received some reeling performance feedback in my annual review. As I read this feedback – which included perspectives from my manager, my staff and several key community partners – it felt like I was reading about someone else. I’d always felt that my most valuable strengths were around building relationships, influencing and motivating others, and collaborating to accomplish shared goals. This feedback told me something very different – that others oftentimes perceived me as “having an agenda,” not valuing their opinions and perspectives, and communicating and managing in a way that was not inclusive. It was deflating and disorienting. Was my perception of my own strengths misguided? What had led to this gap between my perception and reality, and what could I do to fix it? While the feedback was hard to take, I knew that there was a lot of truth to it – I had failed to build trusting relationships with many key people around me.
As I set out on a course of personal reflection over the coming weeks and months, my manager introduced me to the trust equation. The model lays out 4 key components of trust – reliability, credibility, intimacy and self-orientation – that are crucial in building trusting relationships with others:
- Reliability: consistency in follow-through, action and demeanor
- Credibility: one’s level of skill and experience; the extent to which people trust that what you say is true (i.e. you don’t hold things back)
- Intimacy: the extent to which one is willing to share about him/herself, and the extent to which others trust you enough to do the same
- Self-Orientation: Are you focused on yourself or on others? Do others feel like you have an agenda, or do you truly care about others and their interests and goals?
And the equation:
Reliability + Credibility + Intimacy = Trustworthiness
So, in order to maximize your trustworthiness, you want to maximize the three components at the top and do everything you can to lower your self-orientation. It’s fairly simple, straightforward and intuitive, and you can take the self-assessment here (I highly recommend it).
While my manager had shared the framework with me as a model for building staff culture and supporting teachers with their relationship-building work with students, I made innumerable personal connections to my previous professional challenges as I began to internalize the framework. Many of my colleagues and partners had perceived me as being quite self-oriented, and it made a lot of sense when I thought about it. In my role I had been under pressure to drive results, and so I would frequently sit down at meetings and rush to the outcome that I needed rather than seeking to understand the perspective, experience and ideas of others. I had turned down several opportunities to get to know colleagues on a more personal level and to share more about myself – a direct tie to intimacy. As a young leader, I needed to go above and beyond to demonstrate credibility in my work – I reflected on many situations in which I wasn’t well-prepared for critical meetings and events and likely confirmed some peoples’ doubts about my ability to lead at a relatively young age.
Two of the great things about trust: 1) It’s possible to earn back once it has been lost, and 2) There are concrete ways to build it intentionally, no matter your strengths or personality type. While some elements of it are more intuitive for some people than others, a person can take actionable steps to get stronger in certain areas. The revelation about my previous shortcomings drove me to reflect on the new relationships I was building, as well as the longer standing ones that needed some work. I began to uncover what was holding my previous relationships back and made commitments for earning back trust with those individuals and groups (for example, I made an intentional effort to ensure I was doing the least amount of talking in meetings – a helpful way to lower self-orientation). As I approached new relationships, I was thoughtful about how to build trust from the start – were my actions and words lining up with my intention to truly get to know the person and to orient myself to their success? Over time, this intentional thought approach transitioned into habit, and my innate strengths around relationship-building and inclusion have really hit their full-potential.
A year after I received that difficult but important feedback from my manager, I sat down to read my next annual review. The story of that review couldn’t have been more different from the year before. Even so, in the years since I have continued to use that learning experience – and my deep commitment to trust-building – to leverage my strengths and to be my best every day. It’s powerful!