Leadership Lesson 6 – Trust is built over months, not seconds

It took me quite a while to realise this, but the relationship between a dog and its owner is all about trust. There are certain things that I expect Jake to do, and there are certain things that he expects of me. When those expectations are met and not broken, we have started to build trust. For me, trust is a fairly simple thing to define:

 Trust – the knowledge that someone is going to do what they say they are going to do.

Jake has certain expectations of us as a family. He expects to be fed in the morning, he expects to get a pat when he comes over to you, and he expects to go for a walk every day. There are plenty of others, but this is a blog post, not a novel. In return, we expect certain behaviour from Jake; not doing his business in the house, not jumping on people, not chewing things.

During particularly busy weeks, it is easy to forget that I have an obligation to Jake to maintain his trust. The last thing I want to do when I get back from a difficult day of training is go for a walk with the dog. Often there is not enough light, and there are requirements for the rest of the family. On days when I have haven’t taken Jake for a walk, you expect to see the consequences – a shoe could be chewed, paper is taken out of the bin and chewed, or worse, he does his business on the rug. He is expressing his displeasure in the only ways that he knows how. I can look at the results as his bad behaviour, but it has stemmed from my lack of meeting his (not unreasonable) expectations.

So many of the teams that I work with have trust issues caused by Managers / supervisors failing to meet the trust expectations that they have with their staff. It can start with the smallest of things:

a.         Stating that you will have a catch up once a week with your staff. It lasts for the first few weeks, then slowly becomes once a month or whenever you feel like.

b.         Promising to speak to your boss about the great job your staff member did, but never quite finding the opportunity.

c.        Saying that you will be somewhere or do something, but doing it far later than you expected.

d.      The celebration for a task well done that never happens.

e.      The ‘time in lieu’ for working overtime, or the ‘extra leave day’ for the same that never materialises.

f.      Dumping a late notice task on the desk of a team member because you forgot to do it days ago.

g.      The annual performance appraisal discussion with a staff member being moved several times due to a ‘crisis’, then taking less time than allocated with a report that has obviously been cut and pasted from last year.

If any of the examples above ring true – trust has been broken (it was for the clients that mentioned each and every example listed above). Each time you complete one of these actions, you break the trust that you have with the people that work for you. Yet, we are surprised when those same people don’t meet our deadlines or expectations. Their behaviour is blamed on poor attitude or ‘they are just difficult to get along with’ – if only Managers could see that their staff members are mirroring their own behaviour.


Consider your own team. What do your staff expect of you as a Manager / supervisor? If you don’t know, why don’t you ask?

Is the negative behaviour that you see from certain team members due to their lack of drive or passion, or are they just mirroring the lack of trust you have demonstrated to them?

Lesson 5 was all about consistency. Lesson 6 is following through with what you have said that you would do. Meeting your obligations to the team consistently every day; quite simply, is how trust is built.

What do you do each day to maintain the trust of your team? Do you know what your team expects you to do to maintain their trust? Are you seeing the effects of not meeting your trust obligations?

Learning on the Lead: Lesson 6 of 21 Leadership Lessons Learnt with my Dog

The other lessons are:

  1. Everyone Needs to Know the Rules.
  2. You need to protect your team from outside forces.
  3. Listening and being present are important to your team.
  4. Greet your team members like you are meeting them for the first time every day.
  5. Consistency is crucial to trust and understanding.
  6. Trust is built over months, not seconds.
  7. Learn the things that you shouldn’t do in the team.
  8. Remember that each team has different rules to live by.
  9. Show respect for your team in ways that they appreciate.
  10. Understand the unique behaviour and skill set you bring to the team.
  11. Look after your team and they will look after you / You have to meet the needs of your team.
  12. Breaks in discipline / performance can’t wait until later to fix.
  13. Leading the team is not a half-hearted, part time responsibility.
  14. The leader needs to guide the team clearly and precisely.
  15. The leadership hierarchy needs to be understood by all of the team.
  16. Genuine Acts of Kindness are worth the effort.
  17. You have to be prepared for a sudden change in direction.
  18. A steady voice is more effective than an erratic one.
  19. You don’t have to bark at every noise in the external environment.
  20. Sometimes you need to ask for help.
  21. You have to decide what you are going to fight for.