Building Trust

Are you a back seat driver?

I’m staying with my sister and brother in law for a few days which means that for once, I am not doing the driving. It wasn’t until I got in the car sitting behind Alec that I remembered what a terrible passenger I am. I found myself looking over his shoulder, focusing intently on the road and the traffic, the voice in my head saying things like:

“I hope he’s seen that traffic build up ahead……

Alec, show me a sign that you have seen the brake lights going on……..


Oh thank god………… you’re braking………..

You brake a lot later than I do………”

Alec is a very competent driver; he just drives differently from me. It doesn’t matter whether I am with the best driver in the world, I find it difficult to hand over control. I have a burning desire to see signs that re-assure me that the driver is aware of any hazards and is ready to take action.

It can be a similar experience for managers who need to take a step back and let staff perform at their best and deliver the desired results, their own way. If you don’t, you’ll only make yourself nervous and create anxiety in them too.

I had a number of choices today. I could have continued to be hyper-vigilant, anxious and sweaty palmed and not say anything. I could have done what I’ve done in the past and told my brother in law I was feeling anxious and asked him to slow down, leave more space between cars etc., or I could do what I did which was to sit back and take in the scenery or focus my energy on something more productive like dealing with my emails.

As a manager, once you have allocated work, agreed deadlines, standards, reporting guidelines and everything else you need to put in place, how do you stop yourself being a back seat driver and hovering over the shoulder of your staff?

Respect – Used to build trust or drive a wedge between people?

As I work with many individuals and teams to establish trusting relationships with those around them, I often have conversations around which behaviours and attitudes build or destroy trust. The characteristics that consistently come up include:

  • Communicating clearly
  • Showing respect
  • Demonstrating loyalty
  • Being honest and open

Today I want to look at respect as a foundation for building trust. By respect, people usually mean kindness, warmth, regard for the feelings of others and plain, old fashioned civility. When there is a lack of respect at work it’s often experienced as fake concern, insincere flattery or respect that is only shown to people who can be useful or influential.

Who would argue against having respect in relationships? It’s always seen as a good thing and appears in many corporate values statements, but what does it mean really? And how can you show genuine respect when you just don’t feel genuine respect for someone?

Is respect a judgement or an action?

When you say you respect someone, you’re usually looking at, and assessing the other person in a particular way. You’re saying you are open to listening to them and honouring their views even when you disagree. When you don’t respect someone you are usually closed to their views, and therefore closed to the possibilities that conversations with them could bring. Both of those positions are based on making judgements about them and deciding whether they are worthy of your respect. So what are the implications for leaders?

If respect is a judgment, it becomes a source of separation and conflict between people rather than a way of bringing people closer and building trust. Rather than respect being a judgement it needs to be an action – a demonstration of your own commitment to relating effectively to the other person, staying open to them, and listening to them regardless of any judgements you might have about their behaviour or values.

If you truly feel that respect is a fundamental characteristic of leadership then you need to take a stand for respecting everyone not only the people with whom you agree or whose values align with yours.

I look forward to hearing your views and will commit to staying open and respecting them, and you, even when they clash with mine.