Trust Calls for Competence and Connection

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn

Less is more

Less is more. We hear this phrase a lot—when writing emails, disciplining our kids or preparing a presentation. When it comes to leadership, these same three words ring true.

But two truisms intersect to make “less is more” difficult in practice: The first is, we have access to more information than ever before; the second is, the human brain’s capacity for information has stayed the same. In fact, the human brain hasn’t evolved all that much in 30,000 years. So, what happens when information goes up, but our finite ability to collect and contain it stays the same? Well, we need some help curating.

The importance of trust

Our primary mode of doing this for generations has been social. We turn to our friends and people we trust to help navigate a complex world.

Trust is, in fact, the foundation of every healthy, thriving relationship.

In my work, helping organizations get the most out of their people, and people get the most out of their jobs, trust is a linchpin that undergirds productivity, engagement, and advancement. When that pin is pulled, we quickly see the most beautifully designed brands, carefully crafted technical strategies, and well-researched consumer insights fail.

Trust can be, as a former team member once said, “The elusive keystone of engagement: Most say they want it, but aren’t sure how to get it,” even though we all agree on its importance.

“Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance,” writes Paul Zak in “The Neuroscience of Trust.”

The less is more approach

If you’re just starting your leadership journey, here’s a “less is more” approach to building more trust: Imagine that achieving trust hinges on two key factors—competence and connection.

A relationship that’s high on connection but low on competence falls into a category we call affection.

This is the “bless his/her heart” quadrant—someone who cares deeply for his/her people but isn’t that great at the job.

A relationship that’s high on technical competence but low on connection is what we call respect.

This person is great at doing the work, but not so great at connecting with his/her people.

Both miss the mark. Leaders need BOTH technical competence and connection with their people to achieve true trust.

Often, great technical skills are what get folks promoted into roles with managerial responsibilities (whether or not they have the skills to lead). But most companies’ leaders have room to grow in driving true connection with their people.

Drive meaningful connection

So, how do we start driving these meaningful connections? Less is more.

Zak outlines eight management behaviors in “The Trust Factor” (don’t worry, Karaoke Friday and trust falls aren’t among them):

  • Recognize excellence—immediately, tangibly, and personally.
  • Induce “challenge stress”—assigning a difficult, but achievable, task releases the important chemicals in the brain that increase focus and social connectivity.
  • Give people discretion in how they do their work—autonomy promotes innovation.
  • Enable job crafting, allowing people to put their energy into what means the most to them.
  • Share information broadly. Uncertainty leads to stress; openness is the antidote.
  • Intentionally build relationships—we are social creatures, all of us.
  • Show vulnerability.

Develop the “whole person.” Developing talent goes beyond professional skills, and into line of sight, meaning, and purpose on a personal level.

To improve connection, be sure to engage with your team members in ways meaningful to them. If you already have some psychographic data on your people to understand what matters to them, use it. If you don’t, get it. Within each of the eight behaviors, it’s critical to nuance communication and coaching to the unique individual contributor.

For more on this approach, dive into Zak’s “The Trust Factor,” and start driving up the technical competence and connection among your leaders.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal on June 28, 2019.