A version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur.
I like working with people I like. Who doesn’t? It makes life easy and work enjoyable. It makes me want to show up on Monday and tackle big jobs, knowing I’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with people I admire and enjoy.
But that’s a luxury most managers don't get. Sometimes -- most of the time -- there are a few people we manage and work with whom we just don't like all that much. Maybe there’s a simple difference in personalities, interests or even politics. Maybe their work style doesn’t fit ours. All that’s OK.
However, in cases like these, it’s only OK if we understand the difference between “like” and “trust.” When we trust someone to execute our own high standards, and when we know their core values are solid, it doesn’t really matter if we want to eat lunch or hang out together. With apologies to John Lennon, “All you need is trust.”
Trust is foundational. Trust is an essential business requirement. When leaders don’t know whether or not they can trust someone on whom they rely, the result is stress. Stress amplifies every opportunity to fail, while trust illuminates every opportunity to win.
It’s not enough for leaders to trust their followers. Leaders must inspire trust in their followers. For example, if employees can’t trust you to look out for their needs, they’ll be forced to look out for themselves -- and then selfishness replaces any sense of teamwork.
We can all recount stories about companies whose failure stems from a bankruptcy of trust. Too often, would-be leaders act the part of bad managers with self-centered demands for loyalty and sacrifice from “my” people. They create environments of selfishness and distrust. That formula never works for long.
Formulas that do engender trust go right at the heart of building a sense of mutual assurance. Trust -- a quality of shared “safeness” according to psychologist Robert Plutchik -- is one of eight core emotional drivers. It’s right up there with fear, anger and joy.
We’ve all seen that team building “trust fall” exercise with a person ending up in the nurturing arms of their colleagues. Maybe that’s silly. Maybe not. But creating a culture where people feel safe to express their views, safe to challenge convention, safe to try and fail and safe to be open to share and collaborate -- that’s a culture that inspires trust.
Trust begins with trust.
It would be nice if we could look across our team and always know who’s “trustworthy” -- finding that someone to manage the job, guide a hard process or make the right decision from a bunch of smart options -- or someone honest enough to let you know when things are headed in the wrong direction.
But, as Ernest Hemming once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Well, easy to say.
The opposite of trust is control, and control is not what managers typically like to give away. Frankly, would you let one of your managers report on a big project with an answer like, “I’m not sure. I’m trusting that Jane is getting that done.”
But trust demonstrated -- by assigning objectives and not tasks, rewarding the right try versus focusing on the small wrong and letting someone move forward while you take a step back (a bit) -- is trust rewarded.
Can you be trusted to hear an honest answer?
As professionals, we often ask for others’ opinions. “What do you think?” “Should we try this?” But when we ask for feedback that we don’t really want -- affirmation instead of input -- that’s a trust killer.
Are you truly looking for new insights and ideas, or just head nods from subordinates? Don’t ask for an opinion when you don’t intend to consider an idea -- and the person giving it -- with respect. And don’t disrespect anyone brave enough to give you the honest feedback you’ve asked for.
For example, how do you respond when presenting what you think is a great idea only to have it shot down by people you trust? Sure, it’s frustrating when we fail to sell an idea that we were so confident about. When that happens -- and it can be painful -- I try to make an honest assessment and admit that I failed to make the case. I try to “own the no.” Maybe the timing was wrong, and they weren’t ready to listen to my idea. It’s not their fault. If you want them to trust you, then you need to trust that maybe you’re wrong.
So, trust inspired, trust given and trust demonstrated not only promotes a “workable” workplace. Trust also binds people toward common goals and purpose. It’s reciprocal. Or, in another nod to the boys from Liverpool, we can sum it up this way: “And in the end, the trust you take is equal to the trust you make.”