Posts

Trust & Leadership

Lisa McArthur, one of our esteemed consultants, tackles the topic of Trust & Leadership and provides practical, actionable steps you can take today to start improving both.

Into every leadership journey a little rain must fall. At some point, numbers start to head south; that key project begins to miss critical milestones. It happens to all of us. And when that rain does fall, remember that as a leader, you are defined not by your challenges – but by your response to them.

For many, missed targets or milestones trigger the instinct to micro-manage. After all, the only way to make sure you’re on top of everything is to put it all under a microscope and leave no stone unturned. Only a clear command-and-control style of leadership can help right the ship. Right?

So tempting; and yet so wrong!

The solution is not to overrule your team, it’s to get it working. Trust improves teamwork. Full stop. More reports and checkpoints will may provide more data, but chances are it is breakthrough ideas and approaches that will get you back on course. You need your team to focus on new possibilities and collectively take calculated risks.

To put it simply, they need to trust each other. Sounds simple, but as a leader, what does this mean? How can you build trust within your team? The trust equation, normally a descriptor of personal attributes, has something to add to team analysis:

1. Start with Intimacy

For those not familiar with the trust equation, intimacy is about creating safety and building a safe environment. Put yourself in a team member’s shoes. They have an idea that could help bring things back on track. Should they take a risk and offer the idea up to the group? What kind of reaction will they face? In a safe environment, new ideas are welcomed and become the seeds that can germinate true breakthough thinking.

Be honest. How does your team measure up? Are new ideas welcomed and used as building blocks or are they generally dismissed? If suggestions are met with a “we’ve tried that before” or “It’ll never work”, ideas will slowly stop coming.

As a leader, how are you building a “safe” environment to ensure that your team’s ideas are heard? At your next team meeting, try starting from a place of vulnerability. Talk about the issues at hand and your role in them. By taking a risk and being vulnerable you are showing your team that it is safe for them to take risks too!

Next, ask for help. We often resist asking for help for fear of appearing weak – but paradoxically, asking for help shows vulnerability, equality and a desire for collaboration. You’ve taken a risk (again) and shown your team that it is okay to do.

The plus – most of us are hard-wired to respond to honest requests for help. Get the brainstorming started and then listen. Really listen! Ask engaging questions, clarify and let the team build on each other’s ideas. New and innovative solutions are far more likely when everyone is fully engaged and feels safe to contribute.

2. “Check your S”

The “S” in the denominator of the trust equation is self-orientation – and a high number is not good. As a leader, you have to model low self-orientation. Are you focused on what YOU need – to report on a project’s progress or the latest operational results – or are you focused on what the TEAM needs? Even those leaders with the best intentions can find this difficult.

Acting as an “I”, we start directing and stop listening. How often have you asked for the latest sales results or project update only to then provide clear and specific direction on what you think is required?

Change your focus to “we”. Instead of the “I”, ask what the team needs to be successful – and then whatever it is, do it quickly. By changing your focus to the team, your actions will show your commitment to their success. Your commitment to the team’s success, and only the team’s success, lower’s your self-orientation. Done authentically, your team will respond in kind, re-committing themselves personally to the task at hand.

3. Build positive momentum with reliability

The biggest part of Reliability is, simply stated, do what you say you are going to do. We are all familiar with Newton’s first law of motion; “An object at rest, stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force.” How can you, as a leader, get the ball rolling?

Start small. Have the team set small, incremental targets. It’s important that the targets are set on the team’s terms, not yours. Make sure the targets are attainable and then celebrate each success. Suddenly, you have shifted the focus from what the team can’t do to what they can accomplish. With each small win, the team builds positive momentum and once you’re moving, no one will want to be the reason things come to a halt.

At the same time, resist encouraging sandbagging, or in its more polite form, “under-promising and over-delivering.” It’s just another form of lying to your clients, and it undercuts reliability, since it literally trains your clients to expect a disconnect between what you say and what you do. Which was the whole point in the first place.

4. Be honest

As a leader, your words have power. Now is the time to focus on clear, concise messages that your team will understand and take to heart. Now is not the time for nuanced explanations.

Words matter. If you are not sure of an answer – say so (in fact, “I don’t know” is one of the most credibility-enhancing things you can say – no one will suspect you of lying about that!). You can always go get the answer, but you won’t always get another chance to prove your honesty.

In environments where things get tough or are moving quickly, even tiny errors in facts or judgments can create large ripples in the team and create that ominous “spin” that suddenly brings all activity to an abrupt halt.

Life is full of ups and downs and rainy days; leadership is no different. Strong leaders understand how to build trust and foster an environment that encourages each team member to contribute to their fullest potential. The next time your team struggles, remember – don’t take over the job yourself – instead, lead with trust!

DON’T Always Exceed Expectations

Many of us go around repeating a mantra that we think is self-evidently correct: Under-promise and over-deliver, we say. Always exceed expectations.

There is a website ExceedAllExpectations.  Another website, HowTo.gov, tells governmental agencies to use metrics to exceed expectations. And as you well know, it’s a common mantra in business.

Not so fast.

Why Always Exceeding Expectations is a Bad Idea

Think this through. If you intentionally exceed a customer’s expectations, then you intentionally misled your customer about what to expect. If you make that a habit, then frankly, you’re a habitual liar.

Think that’s too strong? Think it through the next step. When a customer habitually gets more than they were promised, what’s such a customer to think?  That’s easy – that you’re constantly sandbagging the quote to make yourself look good. And they will naturally start to bargain with you about the expected results and/or the price.

When you make a habit of exceeding expectations, you are training your customers. You are training them to expect you to under-promise and over-deliver. And they are not dumb, they learn quickly.

You have trained them to doubt you, to suspect your motives, and to disbelieve what you tell them in the future.

Proof from the Market

In yesterday’s bi-weekly newsletter TrustedAdvice, I included a link to a video clip about this idea. (By the way, if you’d like to get TrustedAdvice via email, click here to subscribe).

Within minutes, I heard from two readers, with very interesting comments.

From Reader 1
I have learned this time and time again, but I want to please my clients, so I repeatedly try to exceed client expectations – only to find the clients coming back and demanding more and more.  The fact is, I set myself up for failure, as you cannot give more than 100%. I end up getting frustrated because then clients generally speaking don’t appreciate it when you do give them 100%, they just expect more and more of you and your time.

and Reader 2 adds another wrinkle
My company has exceeding expectations built into its DNA, a by-product of yours truly (though I am so much better now than I used to be). It has created more damage than you’d ever think. Not just in terms of clients expecting more for less, but in a shop that can never truly feel good about itself just for doing a good job, always feeling we could/should have done more.

“Always exceed expectations,” despite frequently coming from good motives, actually succeeds in destroying trust, with customers and employees alike.

So – don’t do that.

Instead, do what builds trust. Tell people exactly what to expect, and then deliver that. Period. After all, that’s how you develop a track record or being credible and reliable. That way your motives are never in doubt. That way you get known for being not only a straight shooter, but a particularly good estimator.

Basically, tell the truth. It’s always a better policy.

Lying is to Trust as Kryptonite is to Superman

That may sound self-evident. But lying isn’t the only way to kill trust. It’s useful to review the bidding, in order to realize just how potent lying is.

Then too, there are green kryptonite and red kryptonite forms of lying.

Read on.

Four Ways to Destroy Trust

Using the trust equation as a checklist suggests at least four generic ways to destroy someone’s trust in you:

  • Develop an erratic track record. That leads to a reputation for being flakey, undependable, that you can’t be counted on. Soon enough you’re losing the big jobs, then the little ones. All because you’re unreliable.
  • Abuse others’ confidences. Develop loose lips. Tell secrets. Make hay on inside information. Laugh at others’ misfortunes, or just be emotionally tone-deaf. The invitations will stop soon enough.
  • Use others for your own ends. Do unto others before they do unto you. Always be closing. Find the competitive advantage at every turn. Don’t let your guard down, and don’t be a chump. It’s better to receive than to give.
  • Put distance between yourself and the truth. There are white lies, bald-faced lies, lies of omission, half-truths, partial truths, packs of lies, and lies of convenience. They’re all kryptonite.

Which is the worst?  It’s hardly a walk-away, but I say the last one–lying.

Cold, Flat-Out, Straight-up Lies

Robert Whipple told me of the experience of being lied to, to his face, with full eye contact. That degree of trust destruction is strong enough to take effect instantly. Let’s examine why.

Obviously, if someone lies to you, you can’t believe what they’ve told you. Which means the next thing they tell you has to be suspect as well. Being lied to immediately ruins the speaker’s credibility.

But that’s just a start. Lying also infects reliability. Because if you tell me you’ll do something, but you’ve lied to me before, then I don’t know if I can trust you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do.

Lying also affects intimacy and confidences. If you’ve lied to me, your motives are suspect. I’m not about to share confidential information with someone who’s been dishonest with me about their motives.

Finally, that same issue of motives makes me profoundly suspicious of your intentions. We do not assume people have lied to us for our own good, but rather for their good. And we do not like that.

Green and Red Kryptonite Lies

As is well known, krytponite of all forms is debilitating or lethal to Superman, but red kryptonite is more harmful. To extend the metaphor, which is more lethal to trust: a bald-faced lie, or a series of veiled, half-truths? I suggest that the latter is worse.

A flat out lie has two elements of truth: transparency and completeness. It’s all out there, right away. When Shaggy sings It Wasn’t Me, it’s such an in-your-face lie you have to laugh. The band-aid is ripped off the scab all at once. If you trust after that, it’s entirely your own fault. That’s green kryptonite.

Then there’s the really bad stuff – red kryptonite lying.

Red kryptonite lying consists of half-truths, incomplete truths, truths not told at the right time. It is often justified on the grounds that it isn’t green kryptonite: “I didn’t actually say anything that wasn’t true.”

Red kryptonite lying is riddled with layers of bad faith. It leaves the receiver with nagging doubt. Why did he not tell me the whole truth? Why did she not bring this to my attention earlier? What about all the other questions this raises?

One trouble with red kryptonite truth is the nagging doubt it leaves you with – the lack of resolution about the issue at hand.

But perhaps the worst nagging doubt is about the nature of the liar himself. Is the liar incompetent? Or is he dishonest? Does the liar even know the difference? Finally – does the liar even know he is lying?

It is sometimes said that the best salespeople are those who can first sell themselves. Indeed, some high-selling salespeople have that ability; but I wouldn’t trust them.

When Failure is an Option–and an Opportunity

“Park the car,” the officer said to my 17 year old son who was taking his driving test.  He had put the car in drive and was about to make a left turn out of the parking space as the officer instructed.  He’d gone all of about 2 feet.  But he did not look to the right, an offense that will require retesting.

I’d practiced with my son the day before.  He is a good driver.  Obeys the rules of the road religiously.  Always goes the speed limit.  Stops completely at stop signs and for pedestrians.  Signals before turning.  I was sure he would get his license on his first try.

No Need for Blame or Shame

Was he upset?  His answer was a clear “no.”  He wasn’t embarrassed either.  “It just is,” he said.

What he didn’t do:

  • Make excuses or try to justify what happened
  • Blame the officer, me, my wife or even himself
  • Get angry

What he did do:

  • Respected the officer for calling him on the mistake
  • Resolved to pay more attention
  • Accepted the fact that he would have to retake the test and looked on the bright side — he would get to drive more for additional practice

Lessons Learned From a Failed Driving Test

We broadened our discussion about what could be learned from his experience:

  • Rules for driving are important.

He came up with that one.  If we did not follow those rules, the roads would be chaos and dangerous.  To me, that sounds a lot like reliability, a Trust Equation component.  Knowing that people stop for red lights and stop signs creates some degree of reliability.

  • Civilized society requires rules.

He mentioned that we need rules to survive as a society, so we know what is expected of us and what to expect.  Again, reliability on a more global, rather than individual scale.  Interestingly, I think he picked that up in 8th grade where the students created their own rules.

  • Failing the test was the right consequence of the mistake he made.

I was impressed by the matter-of-fact way he accepted the situation.  He realized he’d made a mistake and that he should not blame others for it.   That shows a low self-orientation, another Trust Equation component.

Intimacy Trumps Failure

After the officer terminated my son’s driving test less than a minute after it started, he told my son that he had made the same mistake a couple of years before.  The officer turned left without looking right and almost hit someone in a wheel chair.   The officer exposed his own vulnerability and he connected with my son in that moment.  The truth is, that moment of intimacy made my son’s respect and admiration for the officer grow a little and I think my son grew a little too.

My son learned a lot about failure and success.  And about living.

Think Before Sending

What would you do?

That’s what my daughter’s 8th grade class was asked last year. The subject: texting secrets.

One girl had texted to a friend another friend’s embarrassing secret. But she didn’t just send it to one BFF— the text went out to everyone in the class—including, of course, the hapless girl whose secret was no longer.

Sound familiar? I recently received a message sent from one educator to a couple of colleagues regarding a student.  It also went to the institution’s entire mailing list.  This happens a lot in business too.  “Reply all” inadvertently pressed sends messages to the wrong person or people, or to entire lists.  Sometimes those slipped messages lead to a career and/or personal life hurt or destroyed.

The cause: carelessness, haste, anger? Doesn’t really matter. Who would think a simple button on a screen marked “send” could cause so much havoc?

Not Just Another Reply-All Horror Story

We could talk about how to recover from the gaffe via an apology. We could talk about how to use email properly.

Or–we could discuss how these types of issues affect trust.  And they do.  Think of this from the perspective of the Trust Equation.  Sending to the wrong person or group of people reduces Credibility and Reliability.  What gets inadvertently shared decreases Intimacy–after all sharing a secret shows a lack of discretion, even if done by mistake.

Here’s what my daughter learned as a result of this exercise with her class:

  • Double check everything before sending any electronic message (email, text, Facebook, IM)
  • Consider the medium–should the message be sent electronically, or is it better delivered in person or by phone
  • Should it be sent at all, by any medium (is it gossip or otherwise inappropriate to share)
  • Be prepared to do the right thing in the event things don’t work out.

The Big LessonLess Is More

As I thought about it, I think the third point—“should it be sent at all”—is by far the more powerful lesson my daughter learned that day.  Think it through.  Take a deep breath.  Count to ten. What’s your role in the situation?  What will the consequences be? Will saying anything really matter in a positive way?

These are profound lessons for all of us.  Adults suffer all the time from not having learned these lessons earlier in life.  How often do we act out and regret later?  How often do we say hurtful things even when we don’t mean to and suffer remorse?  How often do we hurt those we love?

Some time ago I learned from a lawyer colleague I respect and trust, that when it comes to the written and spoken word, less is more.  Shouldn’t we at least think about this before we hit Send?

I think my daughter learned a few rules of email etiquette that day—and one massive lesson about living life as a human being.

I’m pleased it was a topic for an 8th grade class, and it’s not the first time her school addressed real world issues.  I just hope we don’t have to wait for this generation to grow up before these valuable lessons are commonly used in the business community.

Asking for Fees and Root Canals

When my coaching client Craig returned from the dentist following his unexpected root canal, he didn’t complain about the pain. It was the sign in the reception area that got him: “Payment Expected at the Time Services are Provided.”

“I was wondering why the dentist doesn’t have any trouble insisting I pay him now,” he told me. What he didn’t understand is why some lawyers and consultants, including him, feel they have to tip-toe around the issue of discussing and collecting fees.

There are plenty of other professionals who don’t have trouble asking for fees. Think about those in medicine, and people like the snow plower, your car mechanic, real estate broker, plumber and your electrician.

What’s So Hard About Asking?

Why is it that lawyers, consultants and others often have so much difficulty talking about fees? Why is it that with us, we act like we’d rather get a root canal than discuss fees? Clients expect us to be assertive when helping them – so why do we dance around when it comes to talking about fees?

How To Make it Easier

Here are three tips that just might help you ask for and collect client fees:

  • Believe in yourself. Acknowledge that you are good at what you do, and that your fees reflect the value of your work in the marketplace in which you are working. If they are not, you’ll find out soon enough. And if you want some ideas on pricing your services, here’s a great compendium of short articles, thanks to Rain Today via Michael McLaughlin.
  • Deal with the topic sooner rather than later. Transparency helps. Don’t hesitate early on in the conversation to discuss your fees with a prospective client. Waiting too long may appear as if you’re hiding something, and certainly makes it more awkward. Try saying something like: “I’m delighted to talk more about this. Let me give you an idea of costs so we’re on the same page.”
  • Get personal. When you send a bill, don’t hide behind your firm’s invoicing systems. If the bill seems higher than expected, let the client know in a separate note or call – that reduces surprises and increases your reliability. If it’s lower than expected, that’s worth a call as well. Good news is appreciated. And, the personal touch will go a long way toward growing trust in the relationship.

Meanwhile, Back in the Dentist’s Chair

We all need to take our cue from those who don’t mind asking for fees. As for Craig, he’ll get another lesson when his dentist, without hesitation, tells him the cost for the cap to cover that root canal.

What Costs More Than a $1,000 Per Hour Lawyer?

Beginning just three years ago, some large firm legal fees reached that amount – about $17/minute – providing fodder for legal bloggers, and Internet articles on a variety of topics, including new marketing opportunities and excessive fees for bankruptcy matters to name just a couple. Only senior lawyers in the largest firms actually charge that much, and that’s to large companies on non-commoditized work. What about the rest of us? What makes a service worth that much to us? On my daily walks with Sam, we have a lot of epiphanies. Here’s one we came up with just before a Nor’Easter looming on the horizon. And no, this isn’t a rant about lawyers and their fees.

This is about snowplowing. I can only talk about the Boston area. Here, snowplowing costs anywhere between $35-50 per 3 inches of snow per driveway (the rest of you can fill in your own numbers). The average time per driveway – 3-5 minutes.

Here’s what’s interesting to me. Why is a homeowner willing to pay about $10/minute to anyone with a snowplow, yet would complain about that rate for most other services. I applied the Trust Equation to this question.?

  • Credibility: We’d prefer they not wreck the lawn or dig up the driveway, but if they do, well, things happen. We do want them to actually clean up the snow though.
  • Reliability: Jackpot. We’re paying for them to show up. Fast, and often if needed. If they show up relatively on time, they’re worth it. If they don’t, they’re not. Simple as that.
  • Intimacy: No need to empathize with us or share. Just do what is a straightforward job.
  • Self-orientation: If they want to tell us how great they are, it’s fine–just do the job.

This is a transaction, so Intimacy and low Self-orientation just don’t matter. However, Reliability is so important that we’re willing to pay more per minute than just about any other service we get. Credibility is important only in that the job be done reasonably well.

This made us think–where else is Reliability and Credibility so important that we’re willing to pay extraordinarily high rates so we can get it? Here’s our very short list:

a. Ambulance services. This is way out of line on a per minute basis. We’re paying for the competency to be available when we need it. Imagine if the costs were less, and they were only available at certain times. We have to pay more so they’re ready when we need them.

b. Travel–last minute. When you have to get home fast, you’ll pay multiples of the regular cost. I was in Dallas, and was required to stay 4 hours later than my flight. My round trip was about $350. My return flight 8 hours later on the same day was $1800. I wasn’t happy but I was willing to pay it. While air travel is not incredibly reliable, it’s more reliable than alternatives to travel long distances. I knew I’d get home.

Conclusion? Time sensitive needs merit higher rates, particularly where there are limited resources (like snowplows during a storm, planes to a specific destination, ambulance services), knowing you can use the service and it’s reliable is worth whatever it costs up to a point. What that point is depends on our need at the time.

How To Prove You’re Reliable

Trust takes time. It’s one of those things we say without examination. Turns out it’s largely a myth.

Credibility. Reliability. Intimacy. Self-orientation. These are the four factors in the Trust Equation. Of these, we usually say that only Reliability takes time. Reliability lives in the realm of action, and because of that, repeated, consistent, predictable actions over the passage of time are required to show reliability.

But even that, on closer examination, isn’t always true.

On a recent trip I had a chance to see that Reliability can be demonstrated in a moment or two and needn’t always take time to prove. It was a taxi driver (why is it always taxi drivers who teach us so much?) who brought this point home.

A colleague and I were in Washington delivering a workshop and staying at a hotel “just across the parking lot” from the corporate center where the training was being held. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, the parking lot was several football fields across and there were half a dozen different buildings to choose from. We knocked on the window of a waiting cab and asked if the driver would take us such a short distance, got an affirmative yes, and jumped in. And given the address, he knew exactly which building was our destination.

During the few minutes it took to get to the other building, the driver had a (hands-free) cell conversation with someone who had clearly ridden with him often and was booking an airport trip for the following day. When we got out and offered to pay, he wouldn’t take any fare but gave us his business card instead and suggested that we call him for our return trips out of Washington.

When we walked in the door, it turned out we had to go to yet another nearby address; this time an employee gave us a lift. To top it off, getting home had gotten a little more complicated: one of us was going to the airport, another to Union Station, both at different times and we weren’t 100% sure just where we needed to be picked up.

But when we were ready to organize our trips home, of course we called this driver. He’d already demonstrated his reliability. How?

It didn’t hurt that we were predisposed to like thim when he volunteered to run us across the football fields. It proved he wasn’t hungry for money or trying to take advantage of a couple of people who would have paid plenty to stay dry.

We heard him talking to someone who was clearly a long-time client. Must be reliable if a frequent traveler from the Washington area counted on him to help her make her flights on time. A big "R" there.

Finally, the business card. It suggested that he was serious about his work and made it easy for us to find him when we were ready to go.

Indeed, he found us at the new building at the right time, took my colleague to the airport and made it back in plenty of time to pick me up and get me to my train. 

All of which reminded me: even Reliability doesn’t always take time.

Becoming trusted is less about logging more hours—and more about the quality of our relationships.

Trust on the Toll Road

A good friend of mine, Bob, recently lost his mother.  Following the funeral, disheveled and still in mourning he took to the road to return to Boston.  Approaching the tolls at the New York Thruway, he tried to slow down and discovered he had no brakes. 

In the split second Bob had to choose what to do, he examined his options.  Hit the cement barrier and risk getting hit from behind or go through the toll and hope the car in front of him was moving away thereby minimizing the risk of injuring someone.  He decided to put the car in park–which only slowed the car a little–and go through the toll. 

Unfortunately the car in front didn’t move away.  Luckily no one was hurt. 

When the police officer showed up, he too had a choice.  He had to determine whether it was, in fact, an accident and that Bob was telling the truth about his brakes failing, or if he was simply telling a tale to get out of a ticket by swaying responsibility. 

The officer chose a third option–he assumed Bob was trying to avoid the $1.25 toll.  What made this officer ignore the more likely choices and go for dishonesty of the third kind?  Was it Bob’s disheveled look?  Did he sound drunk? 

I can understand if the officer thought Bob was lying to avoid a ticket. He’s probably seen many people run through tolls.  What baffles me is why he would think Bob would run a toll when there was a car at the toll booth.   What made him select the most improbable scenario?

The implications for trust are profound.   We can influence our own trustworthiness by reducing our self-orientation, and increasing our credibility, reliability and intimacy. 

Yet those factors don’t operate in a rational vacuum when we consider whether to trust others.   Our upbringing, general experience, specific experiences, psychological makeup and even job responsibilities go into the mix. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the police officer.  Perhaps something similar happened in the past.  Maybe he’s heard so many excuses, that everything sounds like a variation on the theme.  Maybe he was just having a difficult day. 

Maybe he trusted someone’s story that turned out to be a lie once too often.  We want to be trusted, and we would like ourselves and others to be trusting.  We have to recognize when our own issues get in the way of trusting others.  And hope that our own hard work to be trustworthy will be enough for others to trust us. 

What happened to Bob?  The tow truck driver confirmed that the brakes failed.  

And the officer made my friend pay the toll, just in case.

Old Faithful and Reliability

Old Faithful is a geyser located in Yellowstone National Park, USA. It gets its name because it regularly shoots steam and water to great heights. In fact, with a margin of error of 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt either every 65 or every 91 minutes, depending on the length of the previous eruption. It’s been doing this since 1870.

While most of us who endeavor to be Trusted Advisors would probably prefer not to be associated with a “geyser” (myself included), there’s something we can all learn from this phenomenon of nature.

Reliability: The Good News/Bad News

Of the 12,000+ people who have completed our online Trust Quotient™ survey to date, Reliability comes out 16 percentage points higher than any of the other three elements of the Trust Equation. This isn’t really surprising, given that Reliability is the easiest to grasp and execute. Reliability is logical, concrete, and action-oriented.

The bad news is we’re not as good as we think.

Case in point: I’m always interested to see how participants in our programs handle the pre-work assignment we send via email a couple of weeks before the program begins. Responses are due to be emailed back within a week. It takes 10 – 20 minutes to complete the work. People generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Turn it in late with no acknowledgement (slightly more than half)
  • Never turn it in (some)
  • Turn it in on time (very few)

So while Reliability seems like a “slam dunk” in the world of trustworthiness, there’s room for us all to improve. (And by the way, I am no exception, witness how I’ve been doing lately on my goal of writing one blog post per week.)

The Road to Being More Reliably Reliable

Generally, people experience you as reliable when:

  •  You feel familiar to them. They’re at ease with you. They have a good sense of who you are and feel they know you. You use their terminology and templates. You establish routines in your relationships (regular meetings, emails, etc.). You dress appropriately.
  • You are consistent and predictable. People know what to expect from you, and they get it. You set expectations up front and report on them regularly. You are rigorous about using good business practices, such as meeting agenda and notes. You make lots of small promises and consistently follow through. They can count on you to be the same person at all times, and the same to all people.
  • You work to make sure there are no surprises when you’re around. You use others’ vocabulary and respect and reflect their norms and environment. You make sure that their expectations of you are consistent. You produce documentation of consistent quality and create deliverables with a consistent look and feel.
  • You do what you say you will do. You keep and deliver on your promises, and see keeping your word as a matter of personal integrity. When you are unable to fulfill on a promise, you immediately get in communication to acknowledge the impact and reset expectations.

Reliability is Reliability is Reliability

Here’s the rub: Consistency matters. If you apply these best practices more with your clients and less with, say, your Trusted Advisor instructor … then your reliability score suffers.

Perfection is not the goal here; impeccability is (See Impeccability vs. Perfection: Who’s Got Your Back?). There’s always room for error and for our humanity. When it comes to trust, what matters is being rigorously self-aware, transparent about our strengths and weaknesses, and willing to hold ourselves to higher and higher standards of execution.

Writing this post was one action I chose to boost my own Reliability today. What’s yours?