The Trust Factor: Tale of Two Managers

The Trust Factor

Susan HitchcockBy Susan Hitchcock

Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership This is a hypothetical tale but with real examples of how trust can be built or torn down. Since trust is gender neutral, Managers 1 & 2 could be male or female. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is this: they both begin their careers with equivalent credentials, skill sets, and potential and they have similar roles. What’s different are the behaviors, decisions, and interactions of each individual as they carry out their responsibilities as managers and, ultimately, as leaders.

On Results & Performance: Both M1 and M2 understand how their results will be measured by their supervisors.

  • M1 is determined to be the best and keeps track of all his good results and makes sure the boss knows. When he fails to meet his numbers, he makes an excuse and minimizes the impact. Then he looks for weak links on his team, where he feels the real blame belongs. Then he says, “You’re the problem, fix it.
  • M2 focuses on providing excellent service to her customers and knows if she does, the results will follow. However, when her results fail to meet the objective, she acknowledges it. She then rallies the team, examines what they need to do to get back on track, and helps the poorer performers with additional training if needed. She holds herself and her team accountable for improvement while balancing positive motivation with constructive feedback.

Developing People: Both managers know that this is a stated objective within their company

  • M1 vocalizes support but spends very little time on development plans. He believes it’s primarily the individual’s responsibility, supported by some company provided programs. He mainly gives negative feedback and often waits until formal appraisal time. When one of his best performers is offered a lateral position that could lead to a promotion in another unit, he sits on the request because “it’s just a lateral” and because it could hurt his When M1 meets with his boss, he requests to go to the Assessment Center for himself because he thinks it would increase his visibility outside the department as well as promotional opportunities.
  • M2 believes that recognizing and nurturing talent is the most rewarding part of her job, along with providing excellent customer service. Despite her hectic schedule, she sets aside time for individual meetings with her people at least once a year to discuss strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for development. That involves listening and responding authentically to the employee and his/her interests. On an ongoing basis, M2 provides feedback, both positive and negative as deserved. She knows that her top performers and highest rated people are being looked at for other opportunities. When a lateral or promotion is offered, she looks at what’s best for the person, even if it means taking a short term “hit” in her own group. When she meets with her boss, she updates him on progress made by her people, advocating for / championing any who are “ready now” for more responsibility. She also discusses her own development, asks for feedback and lets her boss know she’s interested in advancement.

On Relationships and Interpersonal Behaviors:

  • M1 works on building his personal network internally and externally, especially with executives and others he sees as VIPS and influencers. He doesn’t worry too much about his direct reports or peers, because they don’t make decisions on promotions. In fact, he ignores most of his 360 feedback except that which comes from his superiors and he definitely manages up very well. On occasions, a peer might share something in confidence with him, but he “forgets” and mentions it to the boss. He thinks, “Well if it’s about the business, then he should know anyway.” On another day, he’s overheard making an insensitive and inappropriate remark about a colleague – someone of a different ethnicity. When he was confronted about it, he denied the remark and said he was misquoted.

Moving Forward:

  • M1 is pursuing a new job in a different company and has an interview coming up on a typical work day. He told his current boss that he has a death in the family and needs time off. Even though he could have taken a vacation day or two, he prefers to keep those for later. During the interview, he tells the recruiter that the main reason he’s considering a move is for the opportunity to build a new team in which DEI principles are part of the strategy from day one. He insinuates that it is not the case with his current organization. When the recruiter asks about his weaknesses or areas for development, he can’t think of any.
  • M2 is contacted by an external recruiter regarding an unexpected but incredible opportunity that’s opening up in a different city. It’s a role she’s been envisioning for herself, one that would challenge her in a completely new industry. She knows this may not work out and therefore doesn’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it with her boss at this time. However she doesn’t want to make up something or straight out lie. So she schedules a couple personal or vacation days and delegates her responsibilities to a high potential direct report. In the interview, she’s prepared to share what she thinks are her greatest strengths and areas for further development.

Conclusion of the Tale of Two Managers:

Based on these somewhat extreme but nonetheless illustrative scenarios, I think it’s clear how M1 was a “trust buster” while M2 was a “trust builder.” In my own experience over many years in leadership roles, I have observed every one of these behaviors on the part of different managers

Final Takeaways:

  • Trust is built on your words and your actions. It stands for timeless qualities of honesty, transparency, humility and yes, courage.
  • Building and sustaining trust requires consistency over time.
  • Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that trust is fragile and constantly challenged. It must be protected at all costs.