“It would be so healthy for all of us if we thought that our leaders were advocating for us. And, that’s an opportunity every leader, every manager, at every level in the organization has. Are you an advocate for your people and do they feel that?”
Don: [00:00:18] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don: [00:00:27] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.
Don: [00:00:45] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly: [00:01:06] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns Vice President of Client Experiences at E3 Solutions. As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem.
Kelly: [00:01:21] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don: [00:01:24] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly: [00:01:26] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is building trust in connection with your employees.
Kelly: [00:01:32] This is a really interesting topic. We talk about trust and hear this and it can feel like a buzzword, but what does trust really look like? What does that mean?
Don: [00:01:40] Trust is a buzzword, certainly in the leadership field. What does it mean it’s a great question?
Don: [00:01:45] For me that answer is, what creates it? When does the brain start to think that someone is trustworthy or a process is trustworthy?
Don: [00:01:54] Social neuroscientists would have a very clear answer to that. It would be around something that you know how it’s going to unfold. You know what’s next. You’re not going to be blindsided by something that appears to be random. Randomness is a really hard thing for the brain to deal with because it can’t prepare for it. We want things to roll out in a way that’s predictable and consistent, so that employees know what’s going to happen.
Don: [00:02:20] This is also true, not just for processes and work schedules, but for the leader themselves. So, if I have to go to my leader and I’ve made a mistake, for example, I really messed something up, my bad. I mean I’m going to own it. I’m going to go to my leader and am I more likely to go to the leader with my mistake if that leader is predictable and consistent in the way they deal with it? That is, not shaming, not blaming. Or, if that leader is mercurial in how they respond, one minute you’re chastised for making a mistake and they treat you like an idiot, and the other time they say, no it’s ok, don’t worry about it. The less consistent that leader is, the harder it is for that leader to be seen as trustworthy by the employee.
Kelly: [00:02:58] Trust seems to have a lot of overlap with the fact that we are social creatures, that we need to be in connection with one another, and trust is what fosters that sense of connection. Do you think that’s true?
Don: [00:03:08] It is true and it’s part because we’re herd animals. And, when you’re very survival for hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years, has depended upon you being in a group where the people’s behavior is going to be consistent and aligned, your chances of survival go way, way up.
“Our whole brain is focused around, who’s around me that can help? Do I have people that I can rely on? Neuroscience refer to it as reliable, social resources. Social meaning other people. Are the people around me reliable and when that happens and I talk about this in my TEDx talk.”
Don: [00:03:45] So, let’s say I come to work with 100 units of energy every day, but I come to work with Rebecca. And, I’ve been working with Rebecca now for six months and one of the things I’ve realized about working with Rebecca is that she’s got my back.
Don: [00:03:59] Not only is she just wicked smart but she also responds to issues in a way that’s consistently positive, proactive. Consciously, what I’m starting to think and I might call her a trustworthy individual, but the origin of that in the brain is, hey, this person is a reliable social resource. You can count on them, reliably, you know what they’re going to do and you know they’re going to do the right thing for you and for them.
Don: [00:04:23] Now what happens then, I’ve start off at a default position of 100 units of energy but now that I’ve been working with Rebecca for six months, I’m now one hundred and fifty units of energy. I actually have more capacity because I get to work with this reliable, social resource. And, if I’m providing the same reliable behavior to Becca as she is to me she’s at 150. This is a case of where one plus one equals three and this is the synergy of trust and connection. It’s not just that it feels better, we actually can perform and do more.
“We know what it feels like in the heart when we’re in a trustworthy environment. But there’s also something happening in the brain when we’re in a trustworthy environment, our limbic system can essentially stand down because it feels safe in this predictable environment when we’re with somebody else that we can trust. That way we’re not looking for the nearest exit. We’re not hunkering down in survival mode when we’re working alongside people, especially leaders that we trust.”
Kelly: [00:04:55] Right. We know what it feels like in the gut. We know what it feels like in the heart when we’re in a trustworthy environment. But there’s also something happening in the brain when we’re in a trustworthy environment, our limbic system can essentially stand down because it feels safe in this predictable environment when we’re with somebody else that we can trust. That way we’re not looking for the nearest exit. We’re not hunkering down in survival mode when we’re working alongside people, especially leaders that we trust.
Don: [00:05:20] There’s research here that’s fascinating. So you take volunteers, you self-select. So you look for volunteers, this is literally done on university campuses. You look for as a student who’s walking alone and you ask them to participate in this study and they say sure. You put a backpack on them and you take them to the bottom of a hill and you say, we need you to climb that hill.
Don: [00:05:39] And, then you ask them to assess the weight of the pack and the steepness of the hill. And they give you a number for the weight of the pack and the steepest of the hill.
Don: [00:05:46] Then, you go back and you’re watching on campus and you’re looking for two people walking together that are clearly friends. They’ve got a healthy relationship and then you also assess it with some questions. And you ask them to put on the backpack and you put them at the bottom of the hill.
Don: [00:05:59] Individuals that had a connection and we’re walking with them and had those connections in their life, viewed the hill as less steep and the pack felt lighter.
Don: [00:06:08] Then another university in Europe decides to replicate this but do it slightly differently. You bring individuals in and you ask them to think about a particular kind of person. One person they think about is someone who’s what would be called a safe and secure connection and then you put the pack on them and you do the assessment.
Don: [00:06:23] Then you kind of do a neutral one. You ask the person, hey, think about someone that you don’t really know that well but you see them all the time like a grocery store clerk or just someone in your life that you don’t know really well they’re just kind of neutral and then you put the pack on them and you test the weight of the hill.
Don: [00:06:37] Then you bring people and you say think about the person that really just burned you, that just let you down, that just wasn’t there for you and you put the pack on that person you ask and assess the steepness of the hill. And the person that’s been burned and they’re thinking about the person that was unreliable untrustworthy. The pack is the heaviest and the hill is the steepest. The neutral is right in the middle and then the person that was thinking about a safe and secure connection, the park was lighter and the hill was less steep.
Don: [00:07:01] We’re just hard-wired that work feels easier when we can do it with trusted others.
Kelly: [00:07:09] So what do we do with a situation where we have violated trust?
Kelly: [00:07:12] If you’re saying that the pack is heavier and the hill is steeper when we’re in an environment with somebody who’s violated that trust that we can’t count on, that happens all the time we’re human we mess up and leaders mess up all the time.
Kelly: [00:07:28] How did they come back from that? How do they come back from violating trust in a way that makes work feel and operate better?
Don: [00:07:34] In the world of adult attachment, they talk about attachment injuries, that is you had a relationship with someone there was a strong, healthy attachment and then something happened that just blew that up.
Don: [00:07:45] One of the most severe devastating attachment injuries to someone is when someone that they thought was there for them. It’s often a spouse. They thought was there for them their whole life was essentially focused around this person and what they were going to do for them now and in the future and then they realized everything they thought was untrue, they couldn’t count on that person. That’s devastating. Like you say it happens to all of us maybe not in huge increments or instances but it is going to happen.
Don: [00:08:12] What I want to talk about here is some of the research around couples therapy because it’s interesting I think.
Don: [00:08:16] It used to be assumed, for example, that if a couple argued a lot that was seen as unhealthy. And, therapists would try to help them with all their arguing.
Don: [00:08:25] But now we know something different. Both healthy and unhealthy couples argue. It’s not an automatic litmus test of relational health. What is important, ultimately in the end, is not the argument, but it’s the ability to repair.
Don: [00:08:40] Can the couple repair after the argument? And, the couple that can repair, is the healthiest, the most resilient and the most likely to endure.
Don: [00:08:47] What does this mean for us inside the workplace? Because it’s the same limbic system. The limbic system doesn’t know if it’s at work or at home. It just knows what’s going on with the relationships around it.
“If you, as a manager as a listener, if you’ve done something where you’ve inadvertently or regrettably violated this trust, the best thing to do is repair.”
Don: [00:08:55] If you, as a manager as a listener, if you’ve done something where you’ve inadvertently or regrettably violated this trust, the best thing to do is repair.
Don: [00:09:05] And when you go into repair, it’s not just an apology. Let’s say I said something to you Kelly and it was it was devastating.
Kelly: [00:09:12] How dare you.
Don: [00:09:13] I need to come back and I need to say, Kelly, I’m really sorry about what I did. Now, that’s good and that’s certainly better than nothing. But what I really want to be able to do, is to go into emotionally what was happening for me. Because I got triggered to do something and I need to understand that trigger.
Don: [00:09:29] So I might come to you and say, Kelly, really sorry about the fact that I yelled at you the other day in the office and by the way listeners I’ve never done that.
Don: [00:09:37] You need to do more than nod your head.
Kelly: [00:09:38] That’s true you have never done that.
Don: [00:09:39] I appreciate that.
Don: [00:09:40] Trying to figure out why was I yelling. There was nothing that you did that justified that kind of response in my behavior. I think I was scared. I think I was scared about this customer, this client may leave us as a result of what happened. I just need to go to my own emotional experience about why I did that and I’m just really sorry it happened. And, I’m learning more about why that happened and not only was it not right but I needed to understand my own triggers better.
Don: [00:10:06] That’s one of the most effective ways to repair. That is, I had to express some vulnerability in the repair process.
Kelly: [00:10:13] Don, that’s asking a lot of leaders. Not only in being vulnerable, which is already hard for many people to do, but also in understanding themselves, to spend some time in self-reflection to spend time in emotional regulation, to figure out why they were triggered, why they did act the way that they did. That’s a lot to ask of people. You’re not wrong but it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to many many people.
Don: [00:10:37] Well and it doesn’t. And it didn’t come naturally to me either, I had to learn and practice this and just do it day in and day out.
Don: [00:10:43] We’ve identified something here that I think is very important about the leadership journey. We’ve had to two and a half decades of books on leadership. I mean they’re more than 1,000 books and leadership in print today. And yet, after two and a half decades of books on leadership, the needle has barely moved on how engaged employees are when they come to work.
Don: [00:11:03] We do need to think of leadership differently. And, is this journey going to be harder than what we’ve done in the past? Yes it will. But that’s going to be the heavy lifting that’s necessary to create this future of work, where employees have strong healthy relationships, where they’re less likely to quit and we can allow them to thrive closer to their full capacity.
Kelly: [00:11:23] Let’s talk just very specifically about maybe two or three things that really foster, that really facilitate trust in a workplace environment. A couple I can think of offhand are that you’re a person of integrity and that you are a person of accountability, which is something that we see come up in our surveys all the time.
Don: [00:11:41] This is another hard one for me and let me give an example.
Don: [00:11:46] I’m very aspirational, I’m an optimist. So someone asks me to do something I say, sure, I’ll do that. But then because of the press of life or business or whatever happens, I don’t get it done on time.
Don: [00:11:56] Now, my intent was positive and real but I didn’t deliver. For the employee that’s counting on me to deliver, they’re not counting on my intent. They’re counting on me actually doing it so that they can go on and get their thing done. So what I’ve seen in leaders is their head is in the right place, they want to do the right thing, but there’s a lack of delivery. And, that gets in the way of our intent. I mean I could be the most positive person in the world, but if I’m not delivering for the people around me they don’t see me as a person of integrity. I struggle with that.
Kelly: [00:12:28] The follow through is such a critical component of being a trustworthy person you’re right. And, that’s where I think the ability to repair comes in very, very handy for leaders because we all have something that we struggle with. Hopefully, it’s not critical levels of integrity or accountability, those are very important components to being a strong leader. But, wherever we do fall short that we have that ability to repair, to take some time to look inside ourselves and figure out where we need to course correct, and then be vocal about that is such an important way to build trust.
Don: [00:12:56] There’s a flip side to this coin. I’m going to come back to my example of how I was apologizing to you for something I said.
Don: [00:13:03] The reciprocation is really important. You being able to see the repair and have a sense of grace around accepting it because not everyone, as you said, is going to say it in the way that I did. You know that they’re trying to say something like that.
Don: [00:13:18] If you have something that’s let you down and they’re clearly trying to apologize or make up for it. Extend some grace to allow this process to happen, thank them for their apology, thank them for their repair. So a little grace here is going to help this process a lot.
Kelly: [00:13:34] Yeah absolutely. The other side of the coin to trust might be considered connection. I think this is an important one because the stronger a connection you have with somebody. The much more likely you are to trust them. And the reverse is also very true.
Don: [00:13:48] This is something that happens in organizations all the time. We try to design processes and procedures to get things done in the company but there’s always something that happens. And when things go wrong, procedurally process wise in the organization, what solves the problem nine out of 10 times in my experience, are the personal connections that people have.
Don: [00:14:08] The head of production will call inventory manager and they’ll have a conversation and work it out and get something done. The resiliency that comes in an organization when they have these connections is remarkable. Easier to repair, easier to trust much more resilient, flexible, adaptable, when we have these healthy connections.
Kelly: [00:14:27] And that’s why transactional cultures, transactional leadership will never be the most effective way to succeed in business. And it really does come back to the bottom line of an organization. Forget about the relationship piece that’s what fosters all of this. If you want a company that is going to succeed and thrive and do well and be around for the long term, a transactional leadership that does not have this connection will also not have the trust that helps people move through problems that will they will naturally face all the time in business.
Don: [00:14:59] Organizations don’t thrive on spreadsheets.
Kelly: [00:15:01] Correct.
Don: [00:15:02] They thrive in relationships. And you’re absolutely right. Now having said that and I’ve talked about relational cultures versus transactional cultures before. I’m not against metrics I’m not against measuring and having those things. But if it’s all you have, then that’s not enough.
Don: [00:15:18] We want to have the data so we’re making smart decisions but we also want to have strong relationships in the organization so we can push ahead especially amidst adversity or challenge or shift.
“Trust comes from connection, trust comes from people being full of integrity, full of accountability. And more often than not and maybe this is uncomfortable for many leaders to take on but trust comes from vulnerability and the ability to repair with those around them on a regular basis.”
Kelly: [00:15:29] Trust comes from connection, trust comes from people being full of integrity, full of accountability. And more often than not and maybe this is uncomfortable for many leaders to take on but trust comes from vulnerability and the ability to repair with those around them on a regular basis.
Don: [00:15:47] This is why organizational leaders should be doing things like, for example, the company picnic. Now someone in accounting may just see that as an unnecessary expense, but the head of HR may know that hey that’s a great way for the tribe to come together, people to interact. In fact, we see employees asking for those things, especially if it was done at one time, and they stopped doing it. They say bring back the company picnic, bring back the holiday party. We need to do team building activities, we need to go out and do something as a team outside of the office. These are very natural requests from homo sapiens hardwired to do things together. And, the limbic system not distinguishing between work and non-work.
Kelly: [00:16:28] Why is trust in your leader such an important component from a brain-based perspective?
Don: [00:16:37] So we’ve talked about load sharing before and the importance of load sharing, the fact that I don’t have to do this all of this alone.
Don: [00:16:44] There’s another aspect of load sharing. I don’t have to make all the decisions myself.
Don: [00:16:49] One of the reasons that hierarchy is the most enduring form of leadership human beings have ever created, isn’t because we like being told what to do. It’s because we like knowing that there’s someone above us who can make the tough decisions and I’m not going to have to do it.
“When I have a trustworthy leader, it’s not just about consistency and predictability that I’ve talked about before. But do I trust in that leader to be setting us on the right course? Can I count on them to do the right thing both for the organization but also for me?”
Don: [00:17:04] When I have a trustworthy leader, it’s not just about consistency and predictability that I’ve talked about before. But do I trust in that leader to be setting us on the right course? Can I count on them to do the right thing both for the organization but also for me?
Kelly: [00:17:18] For me is such an important component for individual employees because they care. Obviously, you’re going to care about where an organization is going but you’re going to have a true personal investment in where you’re going. And, if you trust your leader to be advocating for you, to be thinking on your behalf about where you’re going within the organization, where you’re growing in your career that’s going to give an employee a sense of ease that they are going to be walking alongside and growing with this leader because they can trust them.
Don: [00:17:48] One of the things I’ve done occasionally in our workshops is I’ve asked managers just pause for a second. Close your eyes if you need to think about the best manager you ever had. Doesn’t have to be in your current organization. Just think about that and then they think about it. And, I say please write it down and I have them write it down to one of the pages in our workbook. And then we ask them, anybody willing to share what that was. And it’s just remarkable, it’s almost always about trust and also being challenged, they push me they told me I could do it.
Don: [00:18:15] But I can still remember this one woman. She just said it so emphatically, “He advocated for me. He was my advocate in the organization.”
Don: [00:18:24] And the sense of trust that she had about that manager because she knew he had her best interests in mind to the point she didn’t have to worry about it. She didn’t have to wonder is anyone thinking about me? Does anyone care about my future? Is anybody thinking about me tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, in five years? And she just said I never had to worry about that.
Kelly: [00:18:45] That’s the kind of leader everybody wants to work for.
Don: [00:18:48] It would be so healthy for all of us if we thought that our leaders were advocating for us. And, that’s an opportunity every leader, every manager at every level in the organization has. Are you an advocate for your people and do they feel?
Kelly: [00:19:02] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns, and thank you for listening.
Kelly: [00:19:09] Tune in to next week’s episode, creating a felt sense of safety.
Kelly: [00:19:14] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t Wait. Check out e3solutions.com right now. Be sure to subscribe, rate and review the show.
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Kelly: [00:19:38] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from melodyloops.com.
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