DR. DARRYL STICKEL is an executive coach and an internationally recognized expert in trust. His book, Building Trust: Exceptional Leadership in an Uncertain World, outlines a blueprint for building trust. Darryl has devoted his career to understanding trust, what it is, how it functions, and how to increase it. He holds a PhD in Business from Duke University and wrote his doctoral thesis on building trust in hostile environments.

After leaving Mckinsey & Company in 2001, Darryl founded Trust Unlimited. His clients have included financial services, telecoms, tech, families, and the Canadian Military in Afghanistan. He is also a professor at the Luxembourg School of Business teaching in the MBA program and in their executive education program. Building Trust: Exceptional Leadership in an Uncertain World is his first book.

Darryl, who is legally blind, lives in Victoria, Canada with his two sons and his “trusty” sidekick, his seeing-eye dog, Drake.

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How leaders can build trust

95% of people believe that they are more trustworthy than average. So when we see a trust problem, we assume it’s someone else’s problem to deal with.

Dr. Darryl Stickel developed a model where he defines trust to be a combination of uncertainty (how likely is it that I will be harmed) and vulnerability (how much it will hurt). In a high-trust environment, we are more likely to experiment and take risks. We are more likely to be more generous and go ‘above and beyond’. This is the behavior that drives efficiency and innovation.

Most remote teams operate in an environment of higher uncertainty than if they were in person. We don’t really know what others are doing – or if the output will be good or bad. We simply have less information to deal with.

The more uncertainty there is in an environment, the less vulnerability; therefore, less trust. And in a low-trust environment, we are less likely to share and collaborate together.

Symptoms of a low-trust environment

According to the book, a lack of trust can manifest in the following observable symptoms:

  • Lack of feedback—between employees, customers, suppliers
  • Massive bureaucracy (lots of inefficiency)
  • Lack of risk-taking
  • Fear of change
  • Passive management group
  • High employee turnover rates
  • Unstable customer base
  • Volatile (or depressed) stock price

We can all recognize that there are different kinds of trust. We trust our doctors in a different way than we trust our spouses. In order to build trust in our organizations, we need to understand the various components of trust so that we know where to focus our attention.

Darryl’s model offers twelve “levers” that one can push on. For example, a common lever is the “Ability lever” where we use our credentials and experience to build trust (like a speaker giving a presentation). Another example is the “Benevolence lever”. This means having someone’s best interest at heart. Part of benevolence is having empathy: trying to understand where the other person is coming from.Good leaders have several levers that they rely on. Great leaders have several levers and know when to use them.


Barriers to building trust

Building trust is a skill that we can build. No matter how good we are, we can be better.

In his book, Darryl describes four primary barriers to building trust:

  1. overestimation of one’s own trustworthiness;
  2. a feeling that trust is too complicated to do anything about;
  3. being “too busy” for trust-building; and
  4. the assumption that trust takes too long to build.


How to start building trust today

An easy way to start building trust on a team is to “go first” and focus on being helpful. Going first means pro-actively starting conversations and building relationships with people. There is a reciprocal nature to care and concern: If I engage and invest in your success then you feel engaged and interested in my success. Start small and practice often.

One template to use when starting a conversation: “I just listened to a podcast about trust and I’d like to be more intentional about my relationships. And I’d like to think more about how to strengthen them.”

Having even slight changes as a leader will have profound impacts on your team.”

Podcast production by Podcast Monster

Graphic design by Alfred Boland

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