Drive Innovation through a Culture of Trust
Countless management books, seminars and programs offer insights into how leaders can develop trust within their organizations. Their consistent theme—“It begins with you”—is certainly valid, as leaders must model trust and set an example for their people. Success depends on a personal campaign of inner reflection, values assessment and emotional intelligence. Training can be effective and rewarding, but much of the focus, and effectiveness, often stops there.
Leaders develop trust in their team to enable them to rely on others to do the right thing. They do this by observing people’s character and behavior over time and gaining confidence in them. They earn trust by consistently displaying personal integrity, accountability and concern for others.
Trust, in fact, is the most potent tool in a leader’s arsenal, asserts JetBlue Airways Chairman Joel Peterson in The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great. Trusted leaders are more productive, profitable and prosperous. Their people are more engaged, passion and loyalty soar, and the overall work ethic is enviable. The organization sees lower turnover, waste and inefficiency.
Trust is not just for the C suite
While we’re often led to believe that trustworthy behavior will permeate the work environment like ripples in a pond, this trickle-down theory is overly simplistic. As Gallup studies reveal, employees trust their coworkers even less than their leaders. Organizations cannot reach their full potential until leaders establish a culture where employees trust their coworkers. Leaders may require assistance from a professional executive coach to achieve this goal.
When there is distrust throughout an organization, creativity and innovation are greatly diminished. Brain science shows that when people distrust their co-workers, the amygdala – the part of our brain associated with the “fight or flight” response, gets triggered. When the amygdala is triggered, it puts our prefrontal cortex – the “executive” part of the brain associated with rational thinking and creativity, on lock down. From an evolutionary stand point, this response makes sense. When we are out hunting or gathering, and a shadow passes overhead, survival dictates that we respond immediately, without stopping to analyze whether it was a predator or simply a fast moving cloud.
To make matters worse, once our amygdala goes into high gear, it activates the limbic area of the brain – where all those past memories of similar situations are stored. Once that has happened, it dredges up similar threats and weaves them into the movie we are producing about the person in front of us whom we don’t trust. Once that has happened, we go into protection mode, and it’s nearly impossible to have an open, engaging, free flowing conversation about anything, much less be able to come up with new ideas and innovations.
What can we do to begin to re-establish trust?
The first steps are to look at ourselves, and work to increase awareness of when we are experiencing what Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence calls an amygdala hijack. She suggests the following ideas to help sideline signals from the amygdala:
- Notice how you respond to threats – fight, flight, freeze or appease
- Notice patterns, do we always choose the same response?
- Choose an alternative behavior at the triggering moment (ie; deep breathing..)
- Become more aware of our responses and realize we have choices (journaling helps)
- Recognize the patterns before they happen, and interrupt the pattern.
Ultimately, we want to work to actively transform the fear into trust. Transforming a company culture from one of fear and distrust to one of openness, collaboration and deep trust, has transformative impact on the overall success of the business.