Building trust

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For this discussion, consider the eight practices for building trust as outlined in Chapter 9 of  Mastering the Challenge of Leading Change (linked in Resources) and respond to the following:

  • Identify specifically which tactics would be most effective in your organization.
  • Identify which tactics would be ineffective or even counterproductive.
  • Explain what is missing from the list of practices. What additions would you recommend to the list?

A buzz went through my organization, but it was my mother who first said to my face what
everyone was chattering about: “Don’t too many black people go to those races,” she said,
incredulous when I told her. I then let on that the race was in Richmond, Virginia. “I’ll be
prayin’ for you,” she added. In the weeks before the race, she wasn’t the only one, white or
black, to say something similar.

The track at Richmond was enormous, boasting 90,000 seats, all of which were full the day of
our race. From where we entered, we had to walk halfway around the perimeter to get to our
seats. After we passed about 30,000 people, Dan turned to me and said, “James, I think that
you may be the only African American here.” I smiled. “That’s true, but consider this. Anyone
who looks twice at me isn’t thinking, ‘What’s he doing here?’ they’re thinking, ‘Who the hell
brought him?’”

The look on Dan’s face was priceless. We both broke out into grins. When we got to our seats,
our customers were already there. There were about 15 of them, and I sat next to our biggest
customer in that region. He was about 65 years old, the owner of the company, and he had his
son with him. He had been a racing enthusiast since he was a boy. When I told him that this
was my first race, he became my passionate tutor. He told me everything to look for and then
had me put on earphones that let me listen to the drivers communicating with their teams.

Watching and listeningduring the pit stops, I was in awe; I had never before seen real-time
precision teamwork on that level. After the race, the group asked me what I thought about it,
watching carefully as I responded. It was easy for me to be genuinely enthusiastic, especially
when I started talking about the teamwork. They all nodded their heads, smiling, and continued
the conversation. We were all leading companies, even if they were different sizes.
Appreciation for quality teamwork was common ground. If it was a test, I had passed with
flying colors. The event was a huge success, and I left knowing that I had cemented some
important relationships.

Word of the day’s events spread rapidly throughout the division. The question of whether I
could relate to customers had been answered, and the sales force looked at me with new eyes.
Within three months, a second region was added to my responsibilities.

I knew from the start that I could be a good leader for the organization. Once I demonstrated
that I was willing and able to step into their world with both feet, everyone else knew it, too.

Eight Practices for Building Trust
You don’t have to go as far as NASCAR to step outside of your boundaries. You can do it
within your company’s walls. You could spend an afternoon having a call center employee train
you to work the phones. You could take time during a group meeting to share a time you made a
mistake. You could organize an evening event, or simply join employees for lunch. These are
all opportunities to let people see beyond your job title.

Remember Ernie, my boss at Pepperidge Farm? I told you earlier that he won our trust by
letting us know how valuable our work was, and serving us steak dinners to prove it. He was

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-21 23:21:13.

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the top boss, yet he did even the janitors’ onboarding personally. That meant something to me. I
believed him when he said doing our jobs to the letter was important—so much so that when a
fellow janitor failed to clean the bins on his shift and I didn’t have time to clean them myself, I
let Ernie know. Keeping standards high was more important to me than taking heat for ratting
out a peer. Without Ernie’s leadership, I probably would have let it slip. Point being, trust is
more than a “warm fuzzy”—it has real influence on how people behave.

What follows is a list of the eight practices I repeat again and again to keep the boundaries
between me and my teams as fluid as possible. Over time and with sincere attention, they lead
to high levels of trust and mutual respect.

1. Ask a hub to introduce you.

This creates a halo effect, predisposing people to give you the benefit of the doubt. Of
course, in order for this to work, you’ve got to gain the hub’s trust first—otherwise he or
she will be reading from your bio, which gets you nowhere. Build that relationship first, so
that when the hub is introducing you, he or she is also vouching for you with a statement
like, “I’m getting to know James personally, but what I’ve seen so far tells me that he learns,
engages, and does the right thing.”

2. Break bread on their turf.

I’ve touched on this several times already. Initial meetings with the people who will be
your partners—leaders, hubs, mavericks, and so on—should always take place over meals.
Have them pick the restaurant. If you’re in a region that’s new to you, you can even have
them order. Often you’ll find there’s a story or significance to the dish that they choose.
Note: Unless you’re allergic, eat as much as you can. Being tepid about their favorite food
isn’t the best way to start!

I will always remember a meal I had when I was meeting with our team in China. We were
at a manufacturing location far away from any major city. There were at least five local
people from the site at the table. I told them that I would eat whatever they did. In the local
custom, the food was placed on a lazy Susan turntable. There was some type of chicken in
a very big pot that they had ordered. When it came around for my second helping, the
chicken’s feet popped out of the pot. All eyes turned on me to see how I would react. In my
mind, I said, “Damn! Those are chicken feet!” However, I immediately put them on my
plate and asked casually, “Do I use my chopsticks to eat them?” Everyone just smiled and
looked at each other in approval.

3. Speak their language.

This goes for traveling to foreign offices, but also for the unique cultures within your
company. Certain words carry significance. For example, at Medtronic, invoking our
mission of “improving lives” got people’s attention. At Georgia Pacific, any words related
to safety had weight. Listen to people and you’ll learn their buzzwords quickly—or ask a
hub to bring you up to speed.

4. Acknowledge people, especially front-line employees.

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-21 23:21:13.

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It means a lot to people when senior-level leaders greet and meet them. In doing so, you’re
offering two of the three things people value most: security and significance. That means
that when you lead them through change, those things are protected. Believe it or not, a
simple “hello” with a smile can make people feel that you value them.

Leaders sometimes don’t realize that their acknowledgment makes a real impact. People
don’t just notice how they are greeted, but also how the leaders are greeting others. If you
only smile and glad hand with certain people when you come into a room, they see that. If
they aren’t among them, their senses of significance take a hit.

Always acknowledging people is easier said than done. Always means always, not just
when you have time. When walking the halls, you can’t get so caught up in your thinking that
you ignore people as they walk by. Nothing gets in the way of building trust more than
being hot then cold in your behavior. I remember one IT director during my programming
days who walked by me every single morning without saying hello. When he finally stuck
his head into my office one day and said, “Hello, my name is XXX, what’s yours?” it
scared the living hell out of me. Far from building trust, his appearance made me think,
“What was that about?” I wasn’t surprised when a couple of weeks later his “resignation”
was announced. It was too little too late.

5. Engage people.

Schedule time dedicated to asking people what they feel and think. Hold structured
sessions and listen, listen, listen. The most important aspect of getting this right comes after
the sessions end. You have to follow up and let them know what you are doing with their
suggestions. Even if the answer is “nothing,” they need to understand why. Otherwise
you’re just patronizing them, which destroys trust.

6. Share your weaknesses.

This can be surprisingly difficult; leadership can create self-consciousness. After all,
people are watching your every move. But what I’ve learned is that failing to acknowledge
my weaknesses—for example, times I’ve made mistakes—diminishes their trust. We’re all
human, and if people don’t see the signs of that, they just assume you’re hiding them, which
is the opposite of trust. Instead, open up to them. You’ll find that they respond in kind.

7. Create safety to discuss mistakes.

The fact that I acknowledge my own mistakes goes a long way toward teaching people that
mistakes are a normal part of the business of change. But when I am in charge of a new
group, I always make sure to let them know what will happen if they come to me with a
mistake. I won’t chew them out or hang them out to dry. (Do that, and there won’t be a next
time.) Instead, I’ll ask how they’re going to fix it and what I can do to help. I never fault
someone for a mistake, only for the failure to then learn from it.

I once ignored the recommendation of an e-commerce expert, Gabe, when I tried to
implement a data-gathering technology that he flat out told me wouldn’t work. He was right,
but he never said, “I told you so” or used my mistake against me. Instead, he helped me fix

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
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it, and in doing so he created a lifetime ally in me. That’s the power of mercy.

8. Be transparent about the change that’s coming.

You won’t make people feel safe by hiding the truth; you’ll do it by setting a precedent of
sharing as much information as you can. You’re not just doing it to build trust, but because
you’re counting on them to help you figure out a course forward. Make sure you let them
know that.

9. There are four things in particular you should share to ease their anxiety:

1. The process that will be used to determine exactly what will change, and how.

2. The people who will be involved in the process. (Make sure that at some point that
includes them, even if it’s just in the form of a feedback meeting.)

3. The timing of this process.

4. When the next update will be.

Again, people fear uncertainty more than anything, so give them things that they can be
certain about within the broader environment of change.

Put Your Pride to the Side
“Pride is the only known disease that makes everyone sick except the person who has it” is a
favorite quote of mine. Pride is anathema to leadership. Actually, I would take that a step
further to say that more than not being prideful, a leader needs to leave his or her ego at home
to be most effective.

As the leader, you don’t get to be the hero. Your job is to make heroes out of others, not by
“giving” them credit, but by giving them enough responsibility so that when things go right, they
actually deserve that credit. Another CEO once told me that his “make or break” question when
interviewing senior executives was, “How many people who have worked for you have gone
on to higher positions in the organization?” If they can’t name several, they’re out of the running
because it suggests they’ve failed to nurture their teams, failed to share credit for wins, or in all
likelihood, both.

When you shine the spotlight on your team, you win their trust, but the effect goes beyond that.
When others in the organization see that you’re motivated to help others succeed, not to burnish
your own reputation, they start to trust you, too.

Putting your pride to the side means giving others not only credit, but also exposure. When you
announce good news, don’t hog the stage. Let others involved communicate the win. I know
plenty of people who let others speak, but only when it’s bad news being shared!

In fact, bad news is when it’s your turn to grab the mic. I remember one project in particular
that I had been brought in to turn around. Shortly after I came on, the VP of the business unit
requested a status update, with the project leader in the room. Before the meeting, I asked the
leader to let me do the talking. He must’ve been afraid I would throw him under the bus,

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-21 23:22:25.

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because when we got in the room, he immediately launched into a nervous, rambling
explanation of why things had gone wrong. He looked like he was dodging responsibility, as
was clear from the concerned faces of the executive team. I kicked the corner of his chair,
once, twice, three times, trying to get him to stop—until finally I hit it so hard the chair rocked!
That finally did it.

Once I started talking, my approach wasn’t to blame him, or anybody. Instead, I led with the
fact that I had run into similar problems on some of my own projects in the past. I highlighted
the fact that though we were in the ditch, we were course correcting early enough that we
wouldn’t have to spend too much money getting back on track. We were doing what was needed
to assess the situation and develop a plan. I told them we’d come back to them in two weeks
with a report on the steps we’d taken.

The VP was happy with the report and even told us he appreciated our candor. The project
leader was visibly and audibly relieved. (He actually let out a sigh.) After the meeting, he
turned to me and said, “James, how did I do?”

Always honest, I responded, “If I would have had a gun, I would have shot you right between
the eyes to get you to stop talking!”

We both laughed, and from then on, he trusted me 100 percent.

In that situation, it was enough not to point a finger. There are other times when I’ve actually
taken the fall for someone else’s mistake. The fact is, a leader can usually afford to take a few
hits. Your reputation is already established, and the loyalty and trust you win by shouldering
someone else’s responsibility far outweighs any damage.

Finally, a leader needs the humility to acknowledge his blind spots. At GP, they called me
“Hurricane James,” and the nickname followed me to Medtronic. It was mostly a compliment,
but it had a little bite. My winds of change blew hard and fast, and every so often they left
destruction in their wake. For example, Hurricane James sometimes moved so fast that we
failed to ask all the right people the right questions to prepare ourselves. Some of my biggest
early successes were followed by some of my biggest failures, as a result. I have been very
thankful for the times that employees trusted me enough to point out oversights before we got
started and stood their ground those times I tried to blow right past. That, combined with
increased discipline around holding risk assessment sessions with, well, everybody, has saved
me from uprooting more than a few trees and houses over the years.

By definition, blind spots can only be pointed out by others. A leader needs to encourage
others, particularly subordinates, to have the courage to speak up when they see blind spots. If
you don’t ask people to be proactive, they’re likely not to say anything, at least not to your face.
Once they do bring a blind spot to your attention, listen and learn. If you think they might be off
base, ask a couple other folks. Nine times out of 10, you’ll find they were right on the money.
Find a way to solve the problem—with their help. In doing so, you’re not only improving your
leadership ability, you’re also creating a more trusting relationship.

As you lead change, there will be challenges that knock you off balance, times when things are
breaking so fast that you see the despair in team members’ faces and feel that you’ve let them

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-21 23:22:25.

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down. At that point, it will be trust that saves you. Trust that no matter how bad things are,
you’ll be able to lead the team back on track. Trust that you’ll do everything it takes.

Even more important, you’ll need trust in yourself to push past self-doubt that will inevitably
flare up. The greater the positive difference a change initiative will make, especially a
transformational one, the more moments of doubt a leader will have.

The next and final part of the book covers what a leader needs to do to persevere and press on.

Dallas, H. J. (2015). Mastering the challenges of leading change : Inspire the people and succeed where others fail. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
Created from capella on 2022-02-21 23:22:25.

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