Our Experts | Anna Hermann
Last month I attended the Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio (WLCNEO) at the Intercontinental Cleveland. This was the conference’s second year and it did not disappoint for the nearly 500 attendees that came to network, collaborate and learn through experience-sharing.
The conference, founded by Robin Doerschuk, Director of Training & Development at TalentLaunch, is intended to bring women together from all industries, backgrounds, ages and professional levels.
This year’s conference was phenomenal. Every single session had me personally either in tears of sadness or in tears of laughter – the speakers hit every emotional cord throughout the day. While all of the sessions were great, there is one I really want to reflect upon that affects everyone in the workplace and at home.
Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper, senior managing partner and Chief Improvement Officer of Improve Consulting and Training Group, led a session called Trust, Credibility & Value: The Superpowers for Exceptionally Inspirational Leaders. The session largely covered how to build and protect your credibility in the workplace by becoming a trustworthy leader (and kept us laughing the whole hour through!).
“…trust is like oxygen: you don’t really think about breathing, but once you don’t have it, you notice immediately.”
The way she introduced feeling the level of trust on a team was a great metaphor that stuck with me. She said that trust is like oxygen: you don’t really think about breathing, but once you don’t have it, you notice immediately. If you walk into a room with a team that doesn’t trust each other, it’s like having the air sucked out of the room and you can immediately feel the tension and lack of trust.
Trust is a foundation of relationships that holds teams together and promotes effective communication and productivity. It is imperative for leaders to instill trust and credibility within their team.
So where does trust come from on a team, anyway? Dr. Burts-Cooper broke it into a five-point diagram:
- Competence. This is knowing your area of expertise, and being knowledgeable based on your level and job role.
- Communication. Simple enough: Do what you say. Be transparent with information and respect confidentiality.
- Contractual. Do what you promise; deliver the established goal.
- Social Interactions/Relationships. Establish a point of connection by engaging with others beyond work.
- Decision Making. Consider the impact to stakeholders and multiple others.
Putting these five points into practice is pretty self-explanatory, however it does take discipline to keep yourself and others accountable. Qualities such as accountability, hitting deadlines, delivering your best work and knowing your area of expertise are skills that can be acquired through planning, task management and collaboration with mentors, team members and managers.
Communication and relationships are softer skills that can take more time to build. One great example Dr. Burts-Cooper brought up was when she was on her way into a meeting. A coworker she considers a friend stopped her outside the conference room to try to warn her of what was to come – a heads-up about the not-so-positive experience she was about to encounter.
“Your interaction style explains you, but it does not excuse you. Authenticity is not an excuse for bad behavior.”
Dr. Burts-Cooper told her coworker that she did not want to know anything until she was told face-to-face by the person she was meeting with. In this way, she protected her own trust and credibility by not engaging in “insider information.” It doesn’t make you trustworthy or credible to obtain information through the rumor mill before it’s been officially released.
She also warned against partaking in office gossip. If you are ever the person trying to slyly pull information out of someone else, you won’t build credibility. If someone does trust you with confidential information, it is never a good idea to go to your best office friend and say “So and so told me not to tell anyone, but…” – it just won’t end well. This is representative of respecting confidentiality, building good relationships with others by not sharing their information and also by considering the impact of others when sharing information.
Another fatal error? Letting your personality and attitude get the best of you. Dr. Burts-Cooper brought it into perspective when she said “Your interaction style explains you, but it does not excuse you.” This is to say that you can be your authentic self, and speak your mind and have an opinion, but not in a way that demeans others. She added, “Authenticity is not an excuse for bad behavior.”
“How others treat you is their karma. How you respond is yours.”
She wrapped up her presentation with this piece of wisdom (from an unknown author): “How others treat you is their karma. How you respond is yours.” Always treat others the way you want to be treated, even if they don’t act deserving of it. Take the high road and know that your actions and perceived actions are always building or breaking trust and credibility with those around you.