As I browsed back through the episodes, trust has been a prominent player in the content I publish. More than 30 episodes either reference or are specifically dedicated to trust. Some of my best work is about trust. In particular, I view the series I did on trust in episodes 20, 21, and 22 to be fundamental and cornerstone content for a healthy, effective leader:
But here’s the kicker: we’ve all blown it. Each of has violated the trust a manager, a team, a community, or a customer placed in us. Maybe you have broken trust with a friend, spouse, or child. You understand the pain that results as well as the consequences. Relationships drive business – you know that. Customers do business with those they know, like, and …. trust. So what do you do when you’ve blown it? You and I both know that one size does not fit all, but there are some guiding principles you can use, and modify, to fit your particular circumstance.
Here are five steps you can take to restore trust.
I don’t think there’s anything more important than acknowledging the damage you’ve done by violating another’s trust. That’s why step one is owning it. You might be able to think of an example where you owned it. I can think of several. I’ve made HUGE mistakes with my team and the path to reconciliation always begins with identifying where I went wrong.
Sometimes our mistake was not taking action. It was letting it slide thinking it would improve on its own. That’s rarely true; however, there are great leaders in my life who chose not to make mountains out of molehills. One of the best mentors I ever had who was a master at this practice is Pastor Don Wight at Calvary Community Church in Gillette, Wyoming. That man knows, he just simply knows, when it is time to take action, sometimes uncomfortable and confrontational action, and when it was necessary not to overreact. These men and women are priceless treasures in your life and I’ll tell you right now, you NEED wise counselors in your corner.
And believe it or not, you have them around you right now. They are there for you. Some physical, some virtual. People you can depend on as you walk through tough stuff. Don’t underestimate the value of having someone to talk to. I mentioned the group of EPIC people that I met with on a regular basis in Salt Lake City (LTL 076: Authentic Relationships As The Basis For EPIC Conversations). This group was formed to provide exactly this type of support. Be intentional about creating that group NOW. You want those people surrounding you as you maneuver your way through difficulty. And don’t make the mistake of surrounding yourself with people just like you.
Exhibit Humility While Demonstrating Empathy
So, no excuses. No blame. No justification. Just simple owning it. I messed up here and I wish I wouldn’t have. Do you know the definition of humility? It’s not groveling. Merriam-Webster defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance” – it’s the exact opposite of claiming that I do everything right.
Proverbs 11:2 says that pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. That is pretty clear. Wisdom travels with the humble.
There’s a great article in The Economist titled Davos Man and His Defects, from early 2013 that is worth a read. It concludes with this statement:
If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs…but also to the kind of people who don’t get invited, such as his customers.
—The Economist, 26 Jan. 2013
And this principle underlies all the efforts of a great leader. She listens and she empathizes. As she considers who is represented at the table, she pursues the voice that isn’t heard, the one that isn’t speaking up. She acknowledges she doesn’t know everything and wants, actually needs, to understand where you are coming from. It sounds something like this:
I violated your confidence in me. I’m ashamed of how I mismanaged this thing. It was important to you and I didn’t handle it correctly. More importantly, I can see how this made you feel and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t consider that sufficiently before acting the way I did, choosing the words I used, or simply managing the physical communication through body language and facial expression.
It’s A Long Game
These words aren’t going to make everyone better. These words simply communicate, without hedging, that I’m accountable for my mistake. I’m looking at it from your perspective and engaging with the impact I had on you, your company, your trust in our relationship. But you must keep this in mind: no amount of words is going to return things back to normal. You aren’t waving a magic wand to make all of the hurt, disappointment and injury disappear.
As a leader, your perspective has to shift. Things aren’t going back to the way they were. The bigger the violation, the larger the consequence. There are so many examples that come to mind for me. I wish I could describe to you the myriad of ways in which this plays out over long periods of time. Shareholders or communities response to unethical leadership. Saving a few dollars and compromising the quality of a product that directly and negatively impacts a customer. Intentionally deceiving or misleading team members.
We are talking about restoring trust and often an organization is forced to make a decision to move on without the offender. Damage control requires an immediate action before other parts of the company or the customer base is negatively impacted. Unfortunately, the longer term implications of broken trust are not fully considered or understood. Short-term decision making for ease or gain can often carry a price far greater than an individual, team or company was willing to pay.
There’s a great quote from Kevin Plank, the founder and CEO of Under Armour, that applies here:
“Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.” – Kevin Plank
As one who has violated or broken trust, you must recognize that it will take time to restore trust. Constant, repeated, consistent, and predictable behavior is required to reestablish yourself as trustworthy. Most leaders dramatically underestimate how important this is and how long it will take.
Living With Pain: The New Normal
There are many sad parts of violating or breaking trust, but this is one of the most difficult. It’s both the good and bad news: you can’t change the past. You will have to live with the pain you have created. Remember this: it is a mistake to force others to move past this too quickly. In many ways, the reason you want to move past it is the pain it causes you each time you are reminded of your problem-causing action.
Fundamentally, you are lost here. It’s not about you – it’s about the others you have damaged. You will feel that pain for a long time to come. Every time you are reminded whether accidentally or on purpose, you will want to crawl under a rock. Running seems like a great option. Don’t!
Like it or not, the pain isn’t going away. Whether a pinprick or a knife to the heart, you will feel the impact of your action for longer than you wanted. Time will help but you can’t short-circuit the process. Those who pay for your actions will have a long memory. You will likely throw your hands in the air and say “Are we still talking about this? Will we move on?” Yes, they are still talking about it and you will instead have to revert to humility combined with empathy to validate them and take the time needed.
Adjust Your Expectations
Things aren’t aren’t going back to where they were. You might think that the best thing that could happen would be stepping into the time machine and returning five minutes prior to your life-altering decision. If I could just go back there, everything would be okay because, in hindsight, I would choose differently. You see, I actually believe that. Experience is a marvelous teacher. I believe you, and I believe myself as well; we would do it differently if we could knowing what we know now.
But I know what I know because I messed up. I would rather learn from another’s mistake than to make it my own but that’s not how life works. At least it’s not how my life works. Because of my mistake, I now have an opportunity to become a different person. It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s a gift. Joy isn’t going to come because things went back the way they were; joy is coming because you learned from the past and it’s making you into a better leader.
In most instances, I would bet money that because of what you have been through, you will never choose that path again. Some of us aren’t quick learners and we make the mistake more than once before we finally get it. Don’t let that be you. Consider your past. Contemplate that part of your history that you would rather forget. Consider others who have done what you might be tempted to do and how it turned out for them.
To Be Continued…
Please, do not miss next week’s episode. Part Two of this series is equally important: I’m going to talk about the five steps you can take to recover when your trust in another was broken.
Are you practicing these five steps to restore trust you have damaged? If not, today is the day to get started. You will be glad you did. Don’t give up – this journey is not for the faint of heart, but I believe in you. You can do this and you will come out on the other side a better leader for it. Don’t delay; start now.
Thanks for Listening!
I want to hear from you! Reach out and:
- Leave a note in the comment section below.
- Email a question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Share this show on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Finally, I would appreciate your honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
Now, go lead like someone you would want to follow!