Trust is Not a Behavior

Trust is Not a Behavior

Let's call it a concept. A concept that means something very different from one person to the next. However, I frequently see "imbues trust" as a "behavior" in an organization's "Ten expected behaviors of leaders." A behavior is an act—something that you can see in your minds-eye. It is a movement, a facial expression, a message, an action. If I ask you to write down what you see when you envision "trust," it will be completely different than the next person I ask.

However, organizations regularly conduct surveys about a leader and ask people to rate them on a five-point scale on trust, logic, vision, planning, interpersonal savvy (gotta like a word with two "v's" in a row), executive presence, strategic agility, etc. Then, we expect the leader to understand what they can or should do to raise their average score from a 4.1 to a 4.4. Here's what's wrong with that process:


None of these are behaviors. They're concepts.


No one knows what the difference is between a 3 and a 4 on a five-point scale. (Ha, yes, I just heard you say "one point." That's funny.)


Behaviors don't have averages. If I'm an outstanding communicator with my team (they gave me a 5) and pretty bad with the board (rated me a 2), what am I? A 3.5?


It's anonymous! Who said what? Who gave me a 2 and who gave me a 5? Why? Now, I'm just wandering around wondering what's behind the number (or who's behind the number)?


Reading it makes my reptilian brain go off like fireworks—fight, flight, freeze! It doesn't matter if I experience loud footsteps behind me in a dark alley or a surprise rating on a survey, my (and your) brain reacts the same—it scans and sees potential threats and acts! Good luck stopping it! "Oh, but feedback is a gift…" Sorry, our brain doesn't work that way.


I still don't know what to do to move the needle! You've made it abundantly clear that there is a gap. Perhaps even letting me know, "If you can close that gap, becoming a VP is within your reach!" So, I start throwing out behaviors like a puppy in training yearning to hear the "click" followed by treat.

...I'm stopping with 6.

What can we do?

Stop with the numbers.

Teach the people taking the survey to identify what they want rather than what they don't (yes, this sounds easy but actually takes a lot of hard work...the first time).

Get rid of confidentiality—be open and transparent with who said what. Context matters—every employee, peer, boss or board member sees that leader differently—through their own lenses. Don't take that away.

Communicate what to do—what the person would say. What's the smallest step you'd notice the person taking? Here's the key—if the person being asked can't name an actual behavior, they won't see it even if the leader starts to show that behavior (look up inattentional blindness and change blindness).

Stop communicating what is broken—what sucks. It doesn't help. Really, it doesn't. Maybe it feels good (for a second) to rate someone you don't like a 2 or say, "lacks presence," but it doesn't help in the least.

The amazing thing...

When you teach people to identify what they want rather than what they don't, they're fine sharing it with the person directly or through the Shift Positive 360®. They don't need confidentiality; but can be transparent in sharing feedback. They can bring context.

They can be specific that trust means, "When you ask me to take on a project and I accept it with a due date by Friday, it'll be done by Friday." What I'd like you to say is, "Tell me your understanding of what needs to be done." Then, to ask, "Do you need anything from me?"