By Allen Haynes April 8, 2024

Listen to REVERB 9: Being a Trustworthy Leader.

Suzy Gray (00:05):
Welcome to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast reverb, a conversation that digs deeper into this month’s podcast topic, all designed to help leaders go even further faster. I’m your host, Susie Gray. This month we’re continuing our conversation from last week on the importance of trust in organizational life. Last week, we focused on the leader and the benefits to the organization of building a culture characterized by trust. But in our reverb, we’d like to drill down on the other side of that coin, which is trust worthiness. Andy, when I’ve heard you talk about this, you’ve said, not only do we have to give the gift of trust, we have to give the gift of trustworthiness. What do you mean by that?

Andy Stanley (00:48):
Well, this is the other side of the coin, and let me just start by saying what it’s not trustworthy is not the equivalent of being flawless in terms of our character or our performance. It’s not about being perfect to be trustworthy, and I know this isn’t a surprise, but to be trustworthy is to conduct yourself in a way that earns and retains the trust of other people. You become somebody who’s worthy of trust, which isn’t perfection. That’s different. So we’re going to tease out the difference. So the bar is high, but it’s not a bar that all of us can’t reach. And again, this is a way of just simply doing for the people who work with me, what I’ve asked them to do. For me, it’s reciprocal. And again, anybody who’s had a long-term friendship or a long-term romantic relationship or marriage, you get this. This is something you expect and it’s something you give in return. And when there’s that cycle, it’s actually an upward spiral that builds on itself, that creates a sense of resilience in a relationship that allows a relationship, either personal relationship or at work to handle the bumps and the bruises and the failures and the setbacks that every relationship is going to experience. So I’m expecting people to be trustworthy, so I have to give the gift of being trustworthy as well.

Suzy Gray (02:03):
So practically in organizational life, what does that look like?

Andy Stanley (02:07):
Well, it goes back to something we talked about last week. We have to address the gaps that we’ve created. When you know that your behavior has created a gap between you and somebody that you work with, you have to admit it, you have to deal with it. You have to prove that you are trustworthy again, and we’re all going to create gaps between what people expect and what they actually experience. It’s saying, Hey, I’m committed to doing what I say I’ll do. And when I don’t, I’ll tell you, it’s that simple. I’m committed to doing what I say I’ll do, but when I don’t, I’m going to tell you, for me as an employer, the worst thing somebody can do is try to hide it when they mess up. That’s the worst thing. And as leaders, we have to understand that trust is not a one one-time deposit, right?

It’s a continual investment. And suspicion is starved when leaders communicate openly and address concerns proactively. So again, it’s just giving to others what I them to give to me. I’ll give you a great example. We had Charlie Renfro on the podcast some years ago. Charlie is a mentor. I’ve known him for many years. He just turned 81. I met Charlie because I was working for my dad with high school students in my dad’s church, and Charlie had two kids in the youth group, and he wanted to know who’s this guy that’s responsible for my kids and taking ’em on trips and all that kind of stuff. So he took me to breakfast and we became lifelong friends. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known Sandra. So we’re talking about 35, 36, 37 years ago. So I would have breakfast with Charlie and I would ask him questions, and he would always answer questions with a story.

And Charlie recognized in me early on as a leader that I had a tendency to avoid people when there was a problem. And so I came to him one day and I was talking about this thing going on at work, and he said, well, have you talked to them? I’m like, well, no. I would rather talk to you, talk about them. I would rather talk about them to you, and I’m just hoping they’re going to fix this thing if they’ll just fix this thing. And he told me the story. He taught me what he calls the 500 pound gorilla illustration. And at that time, he had this really large business that he ended up selling and doing well, but he was a little bit sideways with his bankers in New York and in his language, they had turned his account over to the black hats. That meant he was in real trouble with these big banks in New York.

He said, when this happened, he said, the first thing I did is I bought myself an airline ticket and I flew to New York and I sat there until they would meet with me. He said, here’s what I told ’em. I said, you are not going to have to look for me. I’m going to be here so often with so much information. You are never going to have to come to Atlanta. You’re never going to have a phone call that’s not returned immediately. Here’s all my personal information that any bit of it they didn’t have. He said, I drove them crazy to the point where it’s like, okay, okay, okay, you can go home now. You can go home now. But his point was, this is a situation where people tend to hide, be hard to be found, hard to get to. And he decided, no.

He said, Andy, there’s that 500 pound gorilla and it’s in the cage and you need to walk up to the cage and open the door and invite it into the room. God, it’s so hard to do. Sometimes it’s so hard to do because I’d rather go in the other room and leave it locked away until I have to deal with it. But he says, no, you got it, and you got to invite it into the room. This was a huge leadership lesson for me to not avoid, but to invite the situation in or to address it. The point of the story is you create suspicion. If you hide from things, if you hide from people, if you avoid people, you create trust when you walk in and you initiate the difficult conversation instead of forcing somebody else to initiate it. So I’ve never forgotten the story, and when I find myself wanting to avoid or talk about rather than two, I just picture Charlie walking up to the cage and inviting the bankers into the room and saying, Hey, I’m never going to be hard to find. Here I am.

Suzy Gray (06:03):
Wow. Well, I’m guessing there’s probably a few people listening to the podcast who are thinking that admitting you failed to follow through. Sounds like a really risky move.

Andy Stanley (06:13):
Well, in some cases it is, but it is still the best thing to do because in fact, you have failed. In fact, ultimately, not initially, but ultimately it’s more risky not to because in most cases our failures are found out anyway. Right? And who is the best person for the person you report to find out about your failure? It’s you. And the sooner the better. It’s better to speak up than to be found out. I guess you could say it that way. Plus, you sleep better at night. Secrets and guilt get telegraphed anyway, and all of us are probably guilty of this. The energy that we expend, hiding, worrying, covering, and in some cases lying, all that energy is better spent moving forward. So the sooner I can acknowledge what I’ve done and own it, the sooner I can get back to fixing it. And again, to the question you just asked, how risky is it?

Well, that depends on my manager. That depends on my boss, that depends on the person I’m confessing to. But that’s their issue. And sometimes when I’m counseling people on this and they’re assuming outcomes, well, what if this happens? What if this happens? What if he says this or she does this? I say, wait, wait, wait, wait. That’s up to them. You need to trust them to do the right thing by doing the right thing. So honor them by admitting what you’ve done. Let them decide how they’re going to respond. That is not up to you. As long as you’re trying to control outcomes. As long as you’re trying to predict outcomes, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. So you trust them to do what they need to do by doing what you need to do. And again, you just sleep better at night. And again, most of the times we don’t predict outcomes correctly anyway.

Suzy Gray (07:57):
Anyway. So this is all assuming, like you said, that you are a mature leader and you don’t overreact. But should there still be consequences when someone is underdelivering on what they promised?

Andy Stanley (08:09):
Maybe, but probably not. I mean, if you’ve hired, well, this person has made an honest mistake, or they’ve made the same honest mistake two or three times. So if you’ve hired, well, then you’ve asked, how can I help? What do you need? Is it a systems problem? Is there something I can do? Is there too much on you? So at least not, and especially not the first time, the right response is, thank you for telling me, thanks for coming to me instead of hoping I didn’t have to come to you. Thanks for being trustworthy. Now I know you’re willing to be open with your mistakes. Now let’s figure out how to go forward. In some ways, Susie Trust really is its own kind of pressure and accountability. So if I’m going to trust you with how you respond to my failure, that’s in way building trust.

And when you trust me to fix it or you give me another opportunity, there’s an upward spiral of accountability that builds a culture of trust between two people and ultimately in the organization. Because oftentimes a lot of people know, I made a mistake, right? And how you respond to my mistake says something to the whole organization that’s also telegraphed. That’s also telegraphed. What did he say? That’s right. What did she say? What’s going to happen? And every once in a while here in our organization, I’ll get an exit interview or I’ll read an exit interview and someone will say, well, the reason I didn’t do this, or the reason I didn’t handle this was because I was afraid I would lose my job. And our business administrator, Rick Holiday, and I and Brenda who handles hr, we always look at each other and think, honestly, it’s sort of a gut check is our reputation that if you mess up around here, you lose your job. And then we ask, when is the last time someone lost their job because of just an honest mistake or they missed

Suzy Gray (09:58):
Confessing an honest mistake,

Andy Stanley (09:59):
Confessing an honest mistake, or even making to our knowledge, that’s not part of our culture, but that’s always a gut check because we don’t want to have a culture where the perception is you better hide it or you better get your resume ready or hide it while you get your resume. Resume ready. I mean, again, if you’ve hired, well, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Suzy Gray (10:20):
Yeah, for sure. Are there any other factors a leader needs to remember when someone breaks their trust?

Andy Stanley (10:25):
Well, for sure, keep it one-on-one and keep it personal. And I say that because I was in an organization once that honestly, the policy handbook, the organizational handbook got bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s like anytime anybody messed up, they had to address it in the handbook like, Hey, we’re going to ensure nobody else messes up. We’re going to create a rule for that. We’re going to create a rule for that. So don’t do that. When you do that, you’re telling everybody else in the organization that you don’t trust them either that we had to add something to them, the handbook. So the handbook gets fat and the trust gets thin.

Suzy Gray (10:59):
Well, what about peers? Any advice on how you navigate this with coworkers?

Andy Stanley (11:03):
Yes. Someone long ago labeled it the Golden Rule. It’s just a matter of treating others the way you want to be treated. How do you want to be treated when you mess up? Well, you treat other people that way. So within the context of this conversation, you extend the trust you would want extended to you. You fill the gap with trust instead of suspicion. And then when necessary, you have the conversation with that person, not some other person, because again, that’s what you would want somebody to do for you. So I think it’s that simple.

Suzy Gray (11:35):
So one of the hallmarks of the podcast is offering practical ways to apply what we’re talking about. And you actually have seven questions we can ask ourselves to increase our trustworthiness quotient. What are they?

Andy Stanley (11:49):
Well, I’ll go through these quickly. These are seven questions really that I just came up with, and maybe as much as anything from my own personal benefit and accountability. Number one, who in your organization do you have a difficult time trusting? And if somebody comes to mind, log that away. Number two, is it your issue or theirs? And this is hard. Is it your issue or theirs, as we talked about last week, is this an issue of them reminding you of someone in your past and you have kind of laid over them an experience that wasn’t with them, but they just remind you, so is this your issue? Or sometimes we have a difficult time trusting certain people with certain temperaments or even people with certain personalities. The third question is, what can you do about you? This is a you issue, you got to address you.

But number four, do you need to address something with them? And again, as we said last week, they may be more aware than you think they are, that there’s something going on between the two of you, which again fuels more distrust. But the longer you wait, I would imagine. Yeah, and I think everybody listening has had a conversation where they finally had the conversation and the other person said, I could tell something was bothering you. I could tell something was wrong. And we’re like, really? Yeah. So they probably already know. So they may be surprised you initiate a conversation, but they’re probably not going to be surprised that a conversation needed to be initiated. Number five, who has a difficult time trusting you? Is there somebody that you sense you can tell something’s going on? Number six, what is your best guess as to why?

Again, is this something that I need to own up to? And the last one is, do you owe that person a conversation? So if I know there’s somebody who has a difficult time trusting me based on conversation, based on general communication, based on rumor, again, why? And do I need to initiate that conversation? Hey, I can tell there’s something going on between us. I don’t know what it is, but I really would like to get it right. If you’ll just let me know. That’s not an email, that’s not a voicemail, that’s not a text, that’s coffee. That’s a conversation. And for some people, those conversations are easy. For people who hate confrontation, their tendency is going to be to leave the gorilla in the cage and go have coffee by themselves. But you got to have that conversation. Is it easy for you? Yes. And part of it is I just don’t like unresolved anything.

I don’t like unresolved technology things at home. I don’t, I mean, it’s hard for me to focus on the next thing if there’s something kind of blowing in the wind behind me or in some other relationship to a fault. Because at times I can respond too quickly to try to get it resolved when I need to give myself time to think about it. Hey, don’t send the email today. Don’t make that call today. And I say confrontation. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just mean initiating those conversations. It’s gotten easier. It didn’t used to be. Like I said, I used to avoid ’em like crazy. And really those conversations with Charlie all those years ago really was a game changer for me as I began to realize I’m making it worse. I’m making it worse. I’m making it worse. I’m certainly not making it better. Making it better.

Suzy Gray (15:00):
Yeah. That’s good. That is such a helpful list and provides a gut check as a leader. As we wrap this month’s topic of trust, any final thoughts?

Andy Stanley (15:08):
Yeah, I guess I would say this when I’m transparent about, when I acknowledge my failure to follow through to meet expectations, it’s permission giving to the people around me because I’m the leader of the organization. So if I will model this and if I’ll be transparent about it, if there’s what sometimes is referred to as symbolic leadership, that is when I do this in a way that’s public enough for word to get around, again, I’m giving people permission both to mess up and to fess up, to acknowledge it. And I’m hopefully empowering people to extend trust to people that they wouldn’t necessarily trust or that they find difficult to trust and all that to say, these are opportunities as leaders, if we will remember that when we mess up, it is an opportunity. It’s not a secret. It’s not something to hide. It’s an opportunity.

And we shouldn’t miss the opportunities both to be trustworthy and to extend trust. When those opportunities come along, we should not miss them. They both build and reinforce a culture of trust. It reminds people the goal isn’t perfection. The goal is trust. So when we mess up, we fess up When it comes to trust, we as leaders set the standard either intentionally, and this is important, we set the standard when it comes to trust intentionally or unintentionally. But make no mistake, we are setting the standard. So if you find yourself surrounded by untrusting or untrustworthy people, you got to start with a look in the mirror. Do I hide my mistakes or do I leverage my mistakes? Do I excuse my mistakes or do I own my mistakes? Because at the end of the day, our response sets the tone for our entire organization.

Suzy Gray (16:54):
That’s so true. Well, Andy, that’s all the time we have for this episode of Reverb. Thanks so much for digging deeper into this topic of trust and providing a few more insights. And to all our listeners, we want to thank you for joining us. Be sure to visit Andy where you’ll find more resources to help you go further, faster.

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