Two Very Different – Yet Effective – Ways to Build Trust
By Mel Nelson, CEO
Developing trust is a critical leadership role and skill – one that continues to fascinate me. In recent weeks I had two conversations with two accomplished leaders on how they establish trust. Both of these leaders are men I respect and have known for many years, one a superintendent of public schools, the other a military commander.
As you read on, consider how different their two leadership spheres are … yet how critical it is to have trust in both: public education and the military. You might ask yourself what you can adapt to your situation as a leader to develop trust.
The first leader is a man I got to know through my kids in their early school days – Dr. Jeff Schatz. As a teacher, coach, principal and now superintendent of the largest school district in our state – he is a man I have come to know and respect not only as a friend, but also as an accomplished community leader. In a recent conversation, I asked Jeff what five things he felt were critical for a leader to develop trust. He responded:
- A demonstrated ability to do the work
- Willingness to take on the difficult
- Continually building a vision
- “I do what I say [I will do]“
- Totally engaged in communication (listening, sorting, dialoguing, making every effort to be very perceptive)
This approach is very effective and can be employed in other settings as well. It underscores the principle of leadership by example.
The other leader is a man I got to know through my two eldest sons in their high school and college days – Brig. General Bob Summers (ret.). As a father, husband, military leader, and colleague – he also is a man I have come to know and respect. In a recent conversation, I asked Bob what five things he felt were critical for a leader to develop trust. He responded:
- Set the mission for the team
- Set the vision with the team
- Clarify the team’s values
- Set the goals with the team
- Once the mission, vision, values and goals have been set, “stomp on the first person that steps out of line”
In an environment where people’s lives are on the line, this is a very effective way to build trust. It establishes team alignment and accountability at the outset, and the expectation that you can depend on your teammates and trust them with your very life.
This approach is also very effective – yet quite different – and can also be employed in other settings as well. Among other things, it underscores the principle that values are not values unless their violation is treated as a serious offense.
In conclusion, I would like to pose three questions:
- Is there wisdom in broadening your approach to developing trust?
- If so, which of these trust strategies might be useful to you?
- Which of these trust development strategies make you uncomfortable, yet may be exactly what you must do?