Restoring Trust During the Pandemic

Trust is the foundation of success, and the pandemic is putting enormous pressure on it.

COVID has created a historic amount of stress and anxiety, which is testing the bonds of trust we have with each other. Making things more difficult is how seldom leaders and team members meet face to face these days, combined with how often the nature of technology causes us to misinterpret each other’s intentions. All this makes us liable to arrive at incorrect conclusions about trustworthiness.

Trusted leaders who have quality relationships with their team members are thriving. But leaders who have a trust deficit with their people are having a rough ride—and any chinks in their armor are being magnified.

Trust Comes from Behaviors

The challenge with trust is that most of us don’t think about it until it’s been broken. Trust is based on experiences—our interactions with individuals and leaders in an organization. It’s personal and fluid. We have to pay attention to it.

As a leader, consider whether you could be inspiring trust or eroding it. Now, take into account how the pandemic has made trust even more essential—and more fragile.

Four Ways to Build and Restore Trust

How can leaders diagnose their relationships and improve them? We teach the four elements of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable (ABCD).

  • Able: Can you do what you say you can do? Do you demonstrate competence? Do you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise to be good at what you do? Do you have a track record of success? Does your performance inspire trust in others?
  • Believable: Do you act with integrity? Do you walk your talk? Do your behaviors align with your values? Do your values mirror your organization’s values?
  • Connected: Do you really care about your people? How much care do you demonstrate in your relationships? Do you have your people’s best interests in mind? Or do you have a hidden agenda? One of the simple truths of leadership Ken Blanchard and I discuss in our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, speaks to the importance of connection in building trust: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Our level of interpersonal connection with others is what fans the flames of trust in those relationships.
  • Dependable: Do you honor your commitments? Are you reliable? Will you do what you say you’re going to do?

Leaders who study these four elements are able to build and restore trust. It’s common sense, but not common practice.

Here’s what I tell leaders when I give talks and run workshops: Keep it simple. Start with the basics. Demonstrate behaviors that align with the ABCDs. You’ll build trust and be viewed as trustworthy. It’s not complicated.

Trust, Psychological Safety, and the Extraordinary

Trust and psychological safety go hand in hand. Psychological safety is feeling safe enough to speak up, take a risk, or share ideas without fear of the consequences. And psychological safety translates into improved employee engagement, increased productivity, more collaboration, and behaviors that are required for corporate success.

The ABCDs of trust create an environment where people feel comfortable being vulnerable. That’s essentially what psychological safety is. Do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable in expressing ideas, sharing information, and speaking your truth without fear of punishment?

When people feel trusted and safe, the extraordinary can happen.

Look at it this way. There’s no need for trust if there’s no risk involved. We’re certain the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. That’s a sure thing; a guarantee. Trust isn’t required. 

But what if I’m in a group meeting with my boss, who says something that I know is wrong? It might be risky for me to speak up and tell the boss that they’re incorrect. Do I trust my boss to hear the feedback dispassionately? Are contrary opinions welcome? Or even encouraged?

Trust and psychological safety create a virtuous cycle. They foster safe environments, which allow people to flourish and accomplish the remarkable.

The ABCDs: Guideposts for a Tumultuous Time

The pandemic is a great trust experiment. It is forcing organizations and leaders to extend massive amounts of trust in new and different ways.

Just think back to March 2020, when organizations were rushing to get their people set up to work remotely and were scrambling to keep the lights on. Literally overnight, organizations extended massive amounts of trust to their employees to do whatever it took to keep the business afloat. In 2021 we started to settle into a weird new normal of hybrid work as some organizations started bringing people back to the office. The new COVID variants in 2022 are the latest gut-punch to trust between leaders and their people. But no matter what the pandemic throws at us, we have to continue building and restoring trust.

The pandemic is running its chaotic course and the great trust experiment continues. But there is good news in the midst of the tumult. The ABCDs of trust are lampposts that light the way to a brighter tomorrow. Use them and you’ll be better prepared to meet any challenges in your path.

Editor’s Note: Interested in learning more? Join Randy Conley and Ken Blanchard for a free webinar on January 26. Randy and Ken will be sharing key concepts from their new book, Simple Truths of Leadership. Use this link to register!

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