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If You Build Trust, They Will Come

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It doesn't take too long to come across a scandal when you scroll down a news website like the Huffington Post. We find these stories on the front page (just think Penn State) and on the business page with investment bankers stretching the rules or major media companies hacking private information of movie stars and politicians. We will also find plenty of stories about an increasingly unproductive Congress who can't partner past ideological divides even if the nation might suffer. In an age when there are many reasons to be increasingly skeptical of the intentions of others, how do we get people to trust us? Charles Green believes it's by first trusting them.

Green is the founder of Trusted Advisors Associates, a firm built upon a theory he wrote with colleagues in The Trusted Advisor, a book published in 2000, which argues that trust is the key to successful business relationships. He expanded on this idea with the 2011 co-authored book The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Recently, I had a chat with him about his theories.

Green told me trust happens when we offer it to others. "We are built to respond in a reciprocal way to people who trust us and, similarly, people who don't trust us," he says. If people allow fear and suspicion to rule their approach to business, he says, they will suffer from their own skepticism:

What you fear is what you're going to get. You empower what you fear. You are the cause of your own demise. If you start worrying about trusting people, guess what, they won't trust you. But, if you do trust, they will trust back.

This spirit of reciprocity creates the opportunity to build enduring business relationships with trust as a core foundation of interaction. Trusted advisors are those who:

  • Avoid self-centeredness by focusing on the needs of their clients,
  • Collaborate on solutions in partnership with others,
  • Engage in a transparent manner, and
  • Embrace a commitment to long term relationships rather than transactional wins.

While Green's work has included teaching many consultants how to be trusted advisors, he has recently applied his model to help leaders become more effective in what they do. Green made this move because he believes that leadership has changed since he developed his theories 11 years ago.

Leaders no longer have vertical command and control. Everything has become about influence and persuasion. No one is in charge of anybody. The things that get people to follow or get your attention or take your advice are all about things like trust. Suddenly, the way to become a leader these days really is to become good at being trustworthy.

The key to being trustworthy is a unique combination Green calls the "trust quotient," which is understood as credibility plus reliability plus intimacy, divided by self-orientation. Beyond the importance of moving to less ego-centered concerns in their leadership, Green feels intimacy is the real key for leaders to gain trust. This requires leaders to break down walls, increase transparency with their people, and disband any tendency towards aloofness.

While Green thinks leaders have increased their ability to expand networks, deepen connections and share information, they still need to be less shallow in the way they relate to others. They need to be willing to "have a real heart to heart, dive deep into what's happening here" conversation with others.

He points out the technology keeps us more connected and informed, but it may create a world so focused on multi-tasking that "it makes us stupid" on the things which are really important. We can too easily become "broad and shallow" in a way which makes trust suffer. While our world continues to change because of technology, the need for intimacy stays the same. And, a willingness to demonstrate intimacy builds the trust that creates workable partnerships that reach high levels of success.

Trust, it turns out, is deeply emotional. "This cerebral stuff is a myth," Green argues. He fully endorses the move toward valuing emotional intelligence over IQ that business has adopted in the last decade. He believes the evidence for this is the way people buy services from consultants. While they may value good ideas and a track record, they often want to choose to work with consultants that they like. It is the connection with the consultant that is truly valued.

While Green promotes trusting and being more trustworthy, he acknowledges that trust is often about risk. We limit ourselves from real opportunities if we are overly skeptical and unwilling to take the risks that trust involves. "The art of trust is partially to get rid of the instinct not to trust. You miss a lot of opportunities," he says.

Most consultants have a variety of offerings to the market. Green is "all in" when it comes to trust demonstrating intense passion and emotional commitment to the topic. His consulting work is 100% focused on helping individuals and companies to develop the skills of a trusted advisor. In a real sense, Green challenges people to be "all in" as well believing that trust is the core to business success, if not human success.

As a leadership development professional, Green has helped me think through the ways I can help executives be more effective in managing their roles. I trust his ideas and concepts will help you as well.