In the SEALs, we said that one “ahh shit” wipes out a thousand “atta boys.” It is the team that wipes them out for you. The team is always watching, always evaluating you, ready to hold you accountable for the sins that will impact their ability to perform or meet the mission. If you reject that accountability (advice, corrective measures, tongue lashing), or you simply do not learn from your mistakes, then they will lose trust in you.
You will always be given an honest opportunity to learn from a mistake and prove to your teammates that you could be trusted. But if you make the same mistake twice, then you had to work ten times harder to earn that trust back. And if you did it a third time, then “shame on you” and you were likely off the team. Trust is the glue that holds an elite team together, and when trust is broken, it takes a lot of work to bond a team back together. Some breaches you might never recover from, which is when you have to make the hardest choices as a leader.
When my teammate “Q” compromised a mission on a coal-black night under the hull of the ship, it was not the screw-up that wiped out his career. It was that he lost our trust. After a few warnings, we could no longer trust that he would fix the problem, so he was invited to leave the team.
Trust Impacts Operational Effectiveness
A breach in trust can compromise the mission, add friction to team processes, and reduce morale and team and organizational effectiveness. Stephen M.R. Covey, the author of The Speed of Trust, offers us this formula regarding the impact of trust in the marketplace:
Increased Trust = Increased Speed and Decreased Cost
Decreased Trust = Decreased Speed and Increased Cost
The formula is a simple proof of how the level of trust will speed up or slow down information flow between individuals and organizations. High performing teams can act immediately on information and trust that information they pass on will be guarded and used appropriately by other trustworthy teammates. When that trust is breached, then things slow down or come to a halt. In an elite team, a breach of trust can get people killed, jeopardize the mission, or damage the reputation of the offending person. In a business deal, a lack of trust can cause the transaction to fail and/or increase costs to all parties. So how do we ensure this glue is present and sticks?
For trust to exist, one must be “trustworthy” of course. The big question is how does one become trustworthy?
Rules for Developing Trust
- Demand integrity in all actions, and demonstrate it yourself.
- Follow through on every commitment, and expect it from the team.
- Do not avoid the challenging work… lead the way and challenge others.
- Ask for help, even if you don’t think you need it. Encourage this from all players.
- Ask questions, and encourage questions… even if you think you know the answers.
- Always show unwavering support for your team and the mission.
- Create the space to talk straight, disdain gossip, and avoid spin, double talk, and flattery.
- Be transparent and reward transparency in others.
- Own your faults and screw ups, but commit to closing your gap. Don’t lose control when others fail… help them recover and learn.
- Allow time and space for your teammates to close the gaps on their own faults.
- Brief and de-brief every important project so the team can evolve vertically (capacities) and horizontally (skills).
These rules are developed through the many principles, tactics, and tools you’ve learned in this course. The point is to see it from the perspective of the team and your teammates. Cultivate trustworthiness one action at a time. When you have your team’s trust, you’ll have the humbling opportunity to actually lead them.