I heard a man years ago say that we judge ourselves by our intentions while the world judges us by our actions. While driving to work the other morning and thinking about the tension that exists between a couple of departments in my organization, I was thinking about what I could do to start to bring that tension down and create ways to build trust between the teams. As I was thinking about it, I found myself making mental excuses for not doing it. I had thoughts about how busy I am and when this would fit in. Is it really my responsibility? (duh, yes it is as the leader.) My intentions were really sincere and the need to bridge this chasm is really important to me and to the organization. However, each moment and day that goes by where I take no action to reduce this tension or create opportunities to build trust, others are forming onions based upon my inaction that it is not important to me. I can “think” about it as much as I want, but until I act on it, there is no value.

Do you feel that as the leader in your organization that creating opportunities for others to trust you, your team, and each other is on you? There is no way that you have made it to a leadership role if someone did not trust you. There is certainly no way you have reached the level you have of a great leader without trust. The trust cannot stop with your boss (we all have one) or peers trusting you – those who work for you must trust you. Recently, I have found myself guilty of judging others actions against how I would have handled the situation. We had several high level decisions that needed to be made and I was not the final decision maker. The outcome would either have required the leader to admit that a major project had been under estimated or required the leader to rob Peter to pay Paul and take money from other projects to cover costs meaning someone’s project would not get done this fiscal year. From my view it was clear what needed to happen, but that was not the path we were proceeding down. How should I have handled it? I should have asked why and been willing to listen to the “rest of the information”. However, what I did was make judgmental statements about why I thought this was the wrong decision. My intentions were not to demean this person or to get the troops up in arms, my intentions were to get someone to say “time out” let’s rethink this. However, referring back to my opening statement, we judge ourselves by our intentions while the world judges us by our actions. My actions looked like I thought I knew better than the other person. No matter my intentions, the way I went about it was poor.

I use this as an example because in a fast paced environment like most of us work in, similar actions like the one I described can happen several times a day without that ever being our intention. The outcome is distrust. I know that is what has occurred over time with the two departments I referenced in the start of this post. Over time they have judged each other on actions and not their intentions. It has eroded trust and that results in decreased productivity. In our case it directly impacts our ability to meet our customers’ needs in a timely manner. So what can we do to prevent this erosion? After all I would rather prevent something from breaking then spend my time repairing it.

Here are some action items that I have found to be helpful.

  1. Set a goal to over communicate. I bet you can’t do it. As a leader we are always looked upon as having all the information. No matter how much you share, those who you lead will suspect you know more. So BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT YOUR INTENTIONS.
      • Make time to tell people what you are thinking. Never assume.
      • Communicate frequently by various methods, but seek to have one standard way folks can always count on hearing from you (and don’t make that email).
      • I remember in the 80’s before email was so accepted we would get voicemail broadcast messages to our desk phones. It does not replace in person conversations but there is still something more intimate about hearing a person’s voice over reading their email. Be creative, how about today’s modern day version of broadcast messages, send a video. Whatever, your comfort zone be predictable and frequent in your communication. Honest and frequent communication decreases judgement.
  2. If others have judged you (and they have) without fully knowing what you were thinking then realize that you are also guilty of this. Before you jump to conclusions ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS.
      • Asking closed ended questions puts others on the defensive.
      • In other words you yourself can never see the situation from all the different perspectives at once. Your thoughts/conclusions are always limited.
      • I have been seen writing AMTIP (All my thinking is provisional) at the top of my notes when at meeting or discussion starts just to keep myself in check. It also provokes some interesting dialog when someone ask me what that stands for.

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