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Respect = Trust, Or Trust = Respect, Or What?

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In all of the years that I have been doing leader development people assume that when you have a leader title, like manager or director you are granted immediate respect. Often that is not true and there are some times that it is.

In my post titled Leader or Not to Lead… Ability or Motivation? I asked how you want to be seen, especially as a leader. There is a theory called the recency effect. The recency effect in short refers to the ability to recall information or actions. For instance, if someone reads off a sequence of numbers most likely you will only remember the last few numbers you heard. The longer the sequence the better the chance you will not be able to recall any numbers except for the last few in the sequence. 

 I tell people when they announce that someday they want a leadership position within the company, I tell them their interview has now begun. Their actions, interactions, and how they treat people will be under scrutiny by everyone. 

The day comes when you are granted an interview. Several weeks before the interview, unbeknown to you, you were overheard by one of the hiring managers having a rather pointed discussion with another employee about pouring the last cup of coffee and walking away leaving you no coffee this is not the first time this has happened.

The recency effect

You walk into your leader interview and here sits the manager who witnessed the interaction between you and the coffee thief. Thinking of the recency effect, what does the manager remember the most about you, and what is their impression of you? 

So what does this have to do with respect and trust? Well, everything. The work I do with independent contributors, and non-leaders, involves work in understanding how to develop trust. I ask the question, “Is trust earned or granted?” You can ask the same question using respect instead of trust. Inevitably, I get two answers, trust or respect is either earned or granted. 

Are trust and respect earned or granted?

Usually, people who tell me trust needs to be earned are people who somewhere in their past life experiences have had trust broken with them in a big way and therefore don’t trust leaders or anyone until trust is earned, the same with respect. 

 The other group who grants trust does so until trust is broken then trust needs to be earned back. The recency effect is at work in both cases, the biggest impression made on people is what happened to them the last time the incident occurred. If you are not seen as a trusted or respected person, you will not be seen as a trusted or respected leader.

Frances  Frei in her YouTube video, How to Build and Rebuild Trust, does a brilliant job of identifying three crucial components that help build trust. Those components are:

  • Authenticity
  • Logic
  • Empathy

Each component is an independent crucial leadership skill and when used together they create an environment where trust can grow and flourish. 

What now?

If you are a leader or want to be a leader start practicing the behaviors of a trusted and respected leader. If you are sitting there wondering what those behaviors are, I’m going to help you find out what they are for you and then how to build trust with a team.

Let’s start with you. You need to remember your perception of what trust looks like is going to be different from other people’s perception because of their past experiences. 

Think of people you trust or respect. In your journal, if you don’t have one get one, and write down the characteristics those trusted and respected people display. Those characteristics could be:

  • They respect my opinions
  • They ask for my ideas
  • They have clear expectations of me
  • They are firm and fair
  • They are a person of their word
  • They have my back
  • I have never heard them speak ill of others 
  • When I talk to them they listen to understand
  • They are authentic, they are who they are
  • They are always available to help
  • They are always present when they show up

Target the top three or four behaviors that are the most important to you. Don’t try to bite off more work than you are willing to do. Now deliberately practice those three or four behaviors you chose in every action you have with other people. When these behaviors become a habit, add a few more to work on, and keep improving yourself.  

Keep track of your day-to-day interactions and be honest with yourself about how well you did. If you discover a reoccurring interaction that challenges your ability to be trustworthy or respected, work on improving your behavior or managing the challenge. If you are consistent in demonstrating that you can be trusted or respected you don’t have to worry about the recency effect because your last interaction with always be of you being a trusted and respected person. 

Exercise | Deliberate practicefour steps

You now have a team to lead or you discover that there is a trust problem with your team. You could be a new leader for the team and your staff doesn’t trust you yet. If you are known for being a trusted and respected person, your work will be slightly easier. You could be a new leader of a team where no one trusts each other and they don’t care who you are. No matter what the situation, when you want to build or develop trust in a team you can take this same approach. Here are four steps to help.

I suggest you do this together as a team because, in the end, you will need a consensus from everyone on the team. 

Step one

Do what you did for yourself. Have everyone on the team think of people they trust and write down those characteristics. Have your team members do this step independently of each other. This is where you will see many different responses and many of them may be different from your list because everyone has had a unique experience when it comes to trust. 

Then have each person explain why they chose those specific characteristics. This is a chance for you to find out what you don’t know about each person on your team. It also helps you to start building trust by working towards understanding their viewpoints, fears, and concerns.

Step two

Have everyone pick the top three or four characteristics that are most important to them from their list. You need to write down all of the important characteristics on a whiteboard, or on a document where everyone can see the list if you are doing this virtually. You could have quite a list going but don’t worry.

Step three

Highlight the top six to eight common characteristics on the list. These are characteristics that keep showing up on everyone’s lists. Let’s say this is the team’s list of their top trust responses:

  • They respect my opinions
  • They ask for my ideas
  • They are a person of their word
  • They have my back
  • They are accountable to their word
  • I have never heard them speak ill of others 
  • When I talk to them they listen to understand
  • They are authentic, they are who they are
  • They are always available to help

This is where consensus-based decision-making comes in. You ask the team if we all practiced these behaviors can we begin to build trust? Everyone needs to agree, this is not a voting exercise. If there are a few holdouts, you need to ask them to tell you more about their concerns and what would have to be added to the list so they would agree. Again, you are practicing building trust as a leader, you are listening to their opinions and viewpoints.

Step four

This could be the hardest step. I have discovered by doing this with teams that it is important to try to reduce the list to four or five behaviors that everyone can agree on. It’s okay to add one or two more behaviors if that’s what it takes for a consensus agreement. This makes it easier for you as a leader to make trust and respect happen. You can tell the team that behavior is an action that is specific, observable, and repeatable. This way you can tell for sure everyone is practicing these four important behaviors. It will also tell you if there are areas where everyone needs to do some work. 

Again, consensus needs to happen, this is not a vote. Let’s say these are the four behaviors, you will notice there are some edits and that’s okay to do.

  • Everyone respects each other’s opinions and ideas
  • Everyone is a person of their word, they keep their promises
  • We have each other’s back, we are accountable for our work and we don’t throw each other under the bus
  • No one speaks ill of others (no gossiping) 

Ask the team if all four of these behaviors are specific, observable, and repeatable. If they agree you now become responsible for demonstrating these behaviors as a leader, even if they are different from your own ideas about trust or respect. This is about the team, not just you, and everyone needs to be accountable to themselves and each other to demonstrate these behaviors. 

As a team, you need to all agree on how to hold each other accountable. If you have a healthy space for dialogue, you can talk about it. If you notice something going sideways, and there is an opportunity to improve, never start the dialogue with you, he, she, they, or them, it always should be we. I have observed an area where we can improve. The team agreed on these behaviors, the team worked together on these behaviors. This will take time and is well worth it.

Word of advice. When doing this try to keep the teams small. I have done this with groups of four up to 16 people. The more people, the longer it takes to get to a consensus. 

Being a trusted and respected leader takes work and deliberate practice not only for yourself but also for your team. As with most leadership skills, this takes time, patience, and work. This is part of being a life-long leader. The development of skills never reaches a point where everything runs automatically. As soon as you think you know it all… you will be tested again.

Another benefit for you and the team is this list can become the values of the team environment and could improve the culture of the team as well. 

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

More To Explore


The Rational Leader – Exercise | Deliberate practice

From the Post: The Rational Leader: Cultivating Self-Awareness, Critical Examination, and Determination Start with one of the five areas listed below to practice self-awareness, self-examination,

The 5 Content Pillars:
The Exercises: