This is the second in a five-part series about Demonstrating BOLD leadership during a pandemic transformation. Each entry in the series focuses on the characteristics of BOLD leadership that can help move organizations from reacting to COVID-19 to proactively anticipating and preparing for the opportunities that lie ahead.
At all times, but no greater than times of crisis, people look to leaders they trust to guide them through and build their own courage to face uncertainty. As we are individually and collectively living the news about the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has continued to pop up: who people trust is shifting*. Friends and family always rank high, but medical professionals, the CDC and other experts are rising as confidence in governments fall. In a recently published Pew Research article about trust levels, they conclude from their research that “high trusters are more likely to say others are doing an excellent or good job responding to the outbreak” while “low trusters are more likely to feel nervous, depressed, lonely.”
So, what about business leadership through this COVID-19 period? Edelman, who studies trust in business on an ongoing basis, recently published a “Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19.” (It is worth reading the whole special report!) Their #1 conclusion is seen here:
Business leadership trust ratings vary depending on the source, but the challenge for us is clear: Our organizations will do better, get through this pandemic more effectively, and create and capture more opportunities if we lead with trust and build the ability for people to be “high trusters” even in this time of uncertainty.
BOLD leaders know this and actively, consciously, both give trust and earn trust as a powerful basis for the difficult things they will ask people to do and endure as they navigate their way through COVID-19.
The “B” in BOLD stands for BELIEVE. BOLD leaders believe that better options and opportunities lie beyond the status quo of their organization today. By definition:
A BOLD leader is someone who thinks and acts beyond the existing organizational limits, is imaginative, and is willing to take risks to get rewarding results.
How do they do this? How can you do this? By giving and receiving trust.
In a conversation with Jan Berger, MD, MJ, CEO of Health Intelligence Partners, and Medecision Advisory Board Member, she called this “trust reciprocity.” You can’t have trust if it doesn’t go both ways!
At Aveus, long ago we created a simple trust model that we have used in many settings – crisis and not – and refined over the years. There are many trust models in the world. We like this one because it is easy to understand, powerful, and allows people to move beyond their emotional reactions to “I don’t trust…” or “I do trust…” towards a clearer understanding of what is truly driving their emotion.
Trust is built or diminished by a continuous series of conscious and unconscious assessments we make about someone’s competence, reliability and motive. All three are required and must work together to earn and give trust.
Let’s briefly explore the building blocks of trust and how you as a leader can apply them to build your team of “high trusters” colleagues. You need these believers to join you in creating better outcomes for your organization during and post COVID-19, shaping the “new normal” that we are all thinking about.
Competence: Just as it sounds, when a person is qualified to take on an assignment, if they have the capability, capacity, knowledge and experience to do what is asked of them, it is easy to see trust build. If an assignment is a stretch for them, trust wavers until they prove themselves worthy – competent. Unfortunately, too often when you hear “I don’t trust him/her,” what is really being judged is a person’s competence. Another way this is sadly expressed is, “I never thought he/she could do that job!” That is a failure of leadership. Someone set that person up to fail. And if that happens a lot in a culture, trust is destroyed. People observe. They hear. They withhold. No trust is provided initially, and no trust is reciprocated.
BOLD leaders knowingly move people into assignments with a clear-eyed view of their competence. Great if the person is fully ready and you can demonstrate your trust in their competence immediately. Totally fine if they are developing. Just recognize the assignment for what it is and be prepared to invest in their development. With that understanding, competence grows. Trust grows.
In the case of COVID-19, competence is a rare commodity. We are all – even “the experts” – learning new information, juggling, trying our best, working differently. Competence in this unusual situation requires a high degree of collaboration. Learning how to work from home, “alone together” is a great example right now. We also need to actively share what works. That requires openness, candor at higher levels than typical, and yes, taking a leap of faith to trust in and support competence growing and spreading.
Reliability: This is a tricky one. Here trust fails because someone is disappointing you, their team, their boss, or customers directly. The question is, “Why are they being unreliable?” This can be especially vexing when someone is highly competent but not performing. Non-performance relationships can fall into distrust quickly without understanding the root cause. And there may be many sources of failure that will go undetected if not identified and resolved. Maybe there are technical, process, or operational constraints that are not obvious. Maybe the person has been tasked with two jobs – do your “day job” and then get the “extra job” done on the side. (Sound familiar?!) They are competent, but not able to pack 36 hours of work in a 24-hour day. And maybe it has nothing to do with work. It might be personal. In COVID-19 it might be juggling the need to home school their children at the same time they must meet work deadlines. Or, perhaps their spouse just lost their job, or a parent or friend fell ill and needs help. Or the person, themselves, is not well and is afraid to let anyone know for fear of losing their job. Or a million other personal challenges that might inhibit their ability to be their old reliable self.
In the case that loss of trust in the person happens often, it breeds the “low trusters” across an organization that the Pew research describes. These are folks who may not understand the circumstances but grow wary and reticent. All they see are competent people who “fail,” and organizational trust fails with them.
If you know a person to be competent and typically, by history and experience, reliable, you owe it to them to understand what is in the way and help them if you can. This is especially true during this COVID-19 period. I’ve seen, within our own Medecision employee base, many acts of collaboration, relief, work sharing, and kindness to help each other juggle and perform.
As a leader, you may need to do more prioritizing or shifting work. Maybe it is providing support or assistance. Maybe a team member needs help or space to solve their personal issue. Letting reliability decline into distrust is a huge loss for the person and for the organization at a time when we can least afford that loss. Supporting the ability of individuals on your teams to be reliable is certainly important to them, and paramount for your organization.
Motive: Too often when I hear, “I don’t trust so-and-so,” the person is making a quick assessment of motive when it may not be a person’s intention at all. It could, and often is, one of the other two factors – they are out over their skis from a competence standpoint, or something has happened, and their reliability is lacking.
The way we think about motive is simply: Is the person more “other” oriented or “self” oriented? Let me explain.
At all times but particularly in times of great uncertainly and disruption, as a BOLD leader, you need the key influencers, “high-trusters,” around you who are more concerned about others than themselves. And you, through your decisions and actions, need to demonstrate that you’re thinking about the greater good. Is what we’re doing right for our customers? If I create a short-term or medium-term hardship on my organization, in the long run is this the right thing for our organization, employees, community? Closing and deferring all but essential services during the COVID-19 quarantine are examples of these difficult questions. Courageous leaders in every corner of the economy are balancing these difficult decisions every day. And, their motive is clear – their decisions to comply and scramble to do what is best in the moment is selfless. Empathy is the underlying orientation that allows these leaders to make the hard calls and then implement them effectively.
You’ve all seen selfish leaders, people who worry first about how they will look and how they will benefit or lose in a decision. They are not the BOLD leaders who will find the path through COVID-19 and beyond. Their motive is all about them and not the others they will impact. BOLD leaders do the opposite. They start from an “other” motivation. They use strong empathy skills to connect with others in ways that can shift ideas and actions.
Navigating COVID-19 and moving from reactive to proactive developments requires a foundation of trust given and received. Competence, reliability and motive are all being tested in this environment. As leaders, when we bring these trust basics to every challenge, we create opportunity. Which brings me back to my conversation with Jan Berger.
“In the Garden of Crisis, Change Blooms”
I called Jan because I had recently heard her give a presentation that she titled, “In the Garden of Crisis, Change Blooms.” The title alone is a fantastic example of a true BOLD believer! I also know she’s in the final stages of completing research and writing a book about trust in healthcare with her colleague, Julie Slezak. Their book is titled, “Re-engaging in Trust.”
Jan mentioned a few ideas I want to share as you think about how you can focus on opportunities to believe in during this COVID-19 period and make decisions that build trust in your organizations.
First, her point that building trust requires reciprocity. Remember, trust is a two-way street. Citing one of her book interview subjects, she described it this way, “It’s like dancing alone. You can do it but it’s not as effective and certainly not as much fun!”
Second, trusting – giving trust and earning trust requires a level of vulnerability. That is how others will see the motives behind your ideas in positive ways. Let them experience your emotion, your empathy, and invite them into your thinking.
Finally, crisis is the perfect time to lift old ideas that now have new meaning and advance ideas that have been percolating but have not moved into action. Telemedicine is a great current example. Before this pandemic, telemedicine was inching forward, but there were always reasons to easily defer it. That ended with the quarantine orders. Suddenly lots of energy and momentum have moved into telehealth. Healthcare professionals are now seeing and experiencing, real time, that it can work. They also see that it can and must be greatly improved.
Building trust helps others believe
Out of necessity, we are all acting beyond our organizations as they exist today. Whether shifting from traditional care management practices to new telehealth and digital health methods, stopping some services so that we can dedicate resources to others, or testing new ways to protect the vulnerable and treat the sick, we are finding ways to build trust and bring others along with us. Done well, our actions breed trust and confidence to try more new things. People are engaging in new, exciting ways.
By identifying, acting on and demonstrating our belief in the good things to come from this shared experience, we help others trust us and each other. We help them be believers, too.
A couple questions for you:
How can you fuel belief in opportunities beyond surviving COVID-19 and “returning to normal”?
Who are the trust builders in your organization, and how can you together actively engage in accelerating changes that will be important as we emerge from this pandemic?
For over 20 years, Aveus, a division of Medecision has been committed to making change rewarding for our clients and their customers. We’ve done it in good times and bad, through opportunity and crisis. If you need someone to react to an idea you’re thinking about or help problem-solve a challenge you’re facing, call us at (952)-681-7143 or send an email to Ellie.Sjordal@Medecision.com.
Chris LaVictoire Mahai
President, Aveus, a division of Medecision