Reveal Intentions to Gain Trust

There are a couple of sides to trust and fostering trust, one being management competence—both operationally and politically—and another being character.

Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, authors of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader (HBR Press, 2011), have written about the trust aspects of leadership for the HBR Blog Network. In their most recent post, on the character component of trust, they take a somewhat different approach.

“Think of the most chilling villain you’ve seen in the movies, the one who shows up in your nightmares, the one you would avoid at all cost if he really existed, the one, in short, you absolutely cannot trust,” they write. Memorable villains they mention include Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs, Professor Moriarity—the super-criminal and arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes—and of course Darth Vader of Star Wars. These villains are frightening, smart, highly competent, but what sets them apart from the normal run of villainy is the clarity of their evil intentions.

Hill and Lineback note “their purpose is to do harm.” For master criminals like Lector and Darth Vader their intentions in this regard are clear and single-minded: they focus their intelligence and competence for evil doings above all else; there’s no ambiguity about it.

“Our visceral reactions to villains illustrate an important point—that our feelings about someone, whether we fear or trust them, are largely determined by their intentions,” they write. “By divining what they want, we answer the question we all instinctively ask about someone new: ally or enemy? Intentions are how we distinguish a villain from someone whose influence we accept, whom we move toward. Competence may be appealing, but intentions are what attract or repel us and foster trust or mistrust.”

Intentions are where the Vested business and outsourcing model begins—a Statement of Intentions between the parties is a necessary step to align them for the job, and helps define their Desired Outcomes. Trust and collaboration follow once all the parties in an enterprise are in alignment; they understand the business at hand and what they want from the relationship to achieve the win-win.

Everyone has to be on the same page with regard to intentions for the Vested partnership to work—no guesswork and no second-guessing, and especially no ambiguity from the top echelons of leadership.

As Hill and Lineback say, “If you want to lead and influence others, you must reveal your intentions. People won’t believe you will do the right thing unless they’re convinced you genuinely want to do it.”

But they add that there is another element to establishing trust beyond simply revealing intentions, it’s also demonstrating the correct motives and values driving the intentions—the real character of the people and the relationship.

This is done through communication, integrity and consistency – these traits establish the true character of a trusting, win-win collaboration, the hallmark of the Vested model.

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