I had a group of executive trainees recently and during a spirited discussion about employee engagement, the topic shifted to leadership credibility. Someone brought up the ‘Bank of Trust’, which is an old Steven Covey concept.  Essentially, it’s about your behaviour and actions either making direct deposits or direct ‘withdrawals’ in and out of the Emotional Bank Account that exists between you and others. Covey takes an optimistic view. When trust has been broken, Covey believes that it can be restored:

Like a financial bank account, you can make deposits and take withdrawals from the account. When you make consistent deposits, out of your integrity and out of your empathy—that means your understanding of what deposits and withdrawals are to other people—those two things—empathy and integrity— little by little you can restore trust.

While there were a few in the group who subscribed to this view, the more cynical argued that a leader didn’t really need to care about employees, only needed to ‘pretend to care’ and that that was enough.

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I admit, I was taken aback. We know from neuroscience that there is a lot of empirical data now that confirms what we’ve ‘known’ for years: people can spot a fake a mile away.

“It’s always been my belief that if you genuinely don’t find some reason to care about your employees, or at least some part of their life outside of work, then why should they care about being productive, engaged, or trusting?” I argued.

I took an informal poll. Unsurprisingly, the ones that felt that certain people in their workplace were untrustworthy, also had that lack of trust reciprocated. They were experiencing all kinds of engagement issues because of it.

Covey suggests the following five principles if you want to increase the number of deposits into the bank of trust rather than withdrawals:

1. Apologise sincerely.  Really mean it when you’re wrong.
2. Attend to the little things.  It’s about knowing your employees’ kids names or something about their life that’s important to them.
3. Clarify expectations. How clear are you in your instructions?
4. Keep your commitments.  How good are you at following through with what you say you are going to do?
5. Demonstrate personal integrity.  This one speaks for itself.

Then, I gave them a homework assignment: Choose a person within your life that you think doesn’t trust you and rate yourself on these five areas.  You might just think of some ways to subtly change your actions and behaviours and increase your trust balance.