Effective leadership, and in fact all relationships, must be built upon a foundation of trust. If we have real trust, we can do many things wrong and still succeed. If we lack trust, we can do almost everything right and still fail.
Trust creates confidence, daring, communication, and patience. It reduces stress, anxiety, resentment, and risk-aversion.
What makes it difficult is that trust is not something that we can just decide to have. We can’t simply institute a policy of trust. We can’t print trust on banners and hang them around the office.
Trust must be built. And while it generally takes time and effort to establish, it can be lost in a moment.
If you want to have real trust, you simply need to CARE.
Candor – Candor is proactive honesty. It is the ability to have difficult conversations. It is the willingness to proactively communicate. It requires that we place the relationship ahead of our own personal comfort. Candor leaves no room for half-truths or lies of omission. It allows us to address and resolve concerns, misunderstandings, and misgivings before they become major issues. Being candid is the best way to avoid building those small bits of resentment that can aggregate to create contempt.
Authenticity – Authenticity is about understanding and owning who we are. Authenticity allows us to have a real personality, not a persona. When our thoughts, words, and actions are aligned, we are expressing our authentic self. Living authentically reduces judgment toward ourselves and gives others permission to do the same.
Reliability – Reliability is more than being dependable. When someone relies on you, they know that you will not only make good on your word, but that you will actively look out for them. This is an often-overlooked component of trust. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we cannot trust until we answer this question: Can I rely on you?
Empathy – Empathy is so important to understanding. It is the ability and willingness to see things through the eyes of others and to feel what they are feeling. Shame and hate cannot exist in the presence of empathy. If we believe that our leaders and partners truly appreciate and account for our perspective, we can trust.
Showing that you CARE is crucial to building trust and rebuilding trust when it is lost. I learned a lot about trust during my time in the military, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until after I left.
When I first left the Army I started working as a field sales rep at Ameripath, a subdivision of Quest Diagnostics. I was tasked to lead a $15 million territory and grow the business. I was new to this line of work and my base of knowledge was really thin. I knew I couldn’t just go out and take business from my more experienced competitors, so I went to the laboratory and asked them if we had a list of recently lost clients. Customer service had really suffered since the territory had been abandoned for six months, and I hoped that I might be able to go earn back some business.
In pathology testing, trust is paramount. A medical provider sends a tissue sample from a patient in the office after conducting an uncomfortable (or downright painful) process. An elderly patient fearful of cancer may have just had their hip bone penetrated by a needle to extract a bone marrow sample. That sample cannot get “lost in the shuffle.” But sometimes those things happen, and it’s an unpleasant conversation when they do. If you want to see a really mad doctor (and patient), just lose a Pap smear sample.
Fortunately for me, we had several clients whose trust we’d lost because they felt a lack of care and competence. Trust had to be reestablished with the lab while I built it from scratch.
Trying to earn trust as the “New Guy” was going to be a process, especially coming from a totally different life background and not really knowing how to navigate the space. During my first attempts to go out and sell, I would do what I had learned in sales academy. I would run the sales scripts from Professional Selling Skills, wear the navy blue suit (with my white shirt and red tie), and hand out marketing sheets. But I didn’t feel very much like myself.
I wasn’t comfortable projecting this persona and I knew that they wouldn’t be able to trust me unless I changed my approach. So, one sticky Tampa day, I took off my damp suit coat and tie and rolled up my sleeves and tried a totally different approach.
First, I spoke to customers with candor. I walked in and started over. “Hi, my name is Blayne and I’m the new guy. I just want to make sure you know who I am. I would love to meet someone here. I understand there have been problems and I want to do what I can to be helpful. Here’s my card, please let me know if you need anything.”
Being candid includes being proactively honest. I wasn’t trying to be slick, I was being authentic.
Speaking with authenticity, I was also transitioning from “Blayne the Green Beret” to “Blayne the Sales Rep,” which was very difficult. And I told them that. My kindness and honesty disarmed them and their guards began to drop. I told the truth (generally the best approach to life as it turns out). I didn’t try to dazzle them with war stories or act like I knew all their pathology answers; I didn’t, but I could get them the answers.
And they began to realize that what I lacked in technical knowledge, I could make up for with my reliability. I would give them my card and say, “Call my number, and my number only, when you have a problem. I will answer and I will help you.” Some days I had to drive to the lab in Orlando to get pathology kits and then drive out to Clearwater Beach to drop them off. Those extra miles cost something from me, but I showed them that I was responsive to their needs, and they responded with appreciation … and more business.
Reliability isn’t always about putting out fires; it’s also consistency on the front end. Being dependable and predictable provides a level of comfort, so that when the problems arise, you can solve them together. Truth be told, sometimes I messed up, but with some cachet built up, they were willing to cut me some slack and forgive my mistakes with empathy.
Empathy was the last part of the recipe. Seeing people not as customers, or potential customers, but as people. As leaders, we all have to see people as people first, not headcount or employees. People. I would aim to see doctors from their perspective. Especially when they weren’t very kind to me.
No one likes being treated poorly, but I took a step back and thought, He’s got a hundred guys like me coming in all the time trying to be slick and pitch him on a sale. Meanwhile he’s been up since 5 a.m. to do his rounds at the hospital, then conducted 21 colonoscopies, then saw a full caseload of patients in his clinic. And maybe he’ll get to have dinner with his family tonight — if he’s not on call, that is.
Multiply that by 20 doctors, each with a nurse and a medical assistant, plus an office manager and a receptionist, and I could appreciate the moments those front-desk windows would slam in my face. Or the five minutes the doc would give me at lunch. So yeah, sometimes these people were mean to me, but I learned to give them some grace.
Some days, at a presentation lunch, I’d sit down and simply ask the staff how they were doing. Then I’d listen as they talked. And as I’d suspected, they were all just people.
People require CARE. Caring for people offers a pathway to trust, and trust makes all the difference. I’ve never been the smartest or strongest or most capable leader, but my clients and my teams have always been able to trust me. And I think that comes down to this fact: the people I serve know that I CARE.