There are ways to change walls of mistrust into open doors of communication. (iStock Photo)
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
This is the third in a series of articles on trust within the ranks of law enforcement agencies. We’ve previously looked at:
- Some real examples of what can happen when the brass and officers don’t trust each other.
- What the brass does to bust trust and warning signs that trust may be lacking in your agency.
Now we’re going to look at how to build trust.
Trust Must be Earned
Some managers think you can negotiate or buy trust. Such leveraging may get you compliance but it won’t get you trust. And it will only maintain compliance to the extent you keep expending energy leveraging. Trust must be earned. But how?
Development Dimensions International [DDI] provides some answers in their monograph Trust in the Workplace. They draw on their management consulting work with countless organizations around the world. Here are some of their tips that have equal application to law enforcement agencies.
You Have to Give Trust to Get Trust
In The Healing Manager, authors William and Kathleen Lundin argue that for every ounce of trust leaders give people they’ll get a pound in return. So why don’t leaders give it? They fear losing control.
Also, they don’t trust people. If you care about accomplishing the mission but don’t trust your officers, you can become a fearful control freak.
Last month we looked at distrusting managers. Douglas McGregor called these folks Theory X leaders in his book The Human Side of Enterprise.
In contrast, Theory Y leaders build trust by showing they believe:
- People have a deep-rooted need to do a good job.
- People are honest and can be trusted.
- People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
- People become committed when they are involved.
- People closest to the work know it best.
- Teamwork works better than competition.
Which kind of leader are you? Do you trust the officers and staff you lead enough to ask them?
Open, Honest Communication
In a survey on trust in the workplace, DDI found that the number one trust builder was communicates openly and honestly.
I deeply respect the physical courage of America’s law enforcement officers. Leadership requires other kinds of courage as well—the courage to exemplify open, honest communication. An extraordinary example of such courage is Pfizer’s chairman and CEO Henry McKinnell.
As reported by DDI, McKinnell decided to post parts of his performance review—good and bad—on the company internet. The 25 executives reporting to him—and assessing him through 360-degree feedback—said he needed to:
- Give them more coaching.
- Work with them more frequently to solve problems.
- Choose his words more carefully when critiquing work.
McKinnell then drew up a personal development plan to improve his performance. A consultant who has worked with Pfizer stated, “He’s demonstrating the behaviors he wants from his people. He’s living the values of openness and leadership.”
That’s walking a leader’s trust-building walk. Who among you has the courage—and trusts your people enough—to do likewise?
Quit Shooting the Messenger
Open communication dies when leaders shoot the messenger. The bearer of bad news isn’t necessarily the cause. Shooting the messenger weakens trust between brass and officers. Shooting the messenger will also shut down information quickly, leaving leaders to wonder why no one will share what they know about events or issues.
DDI has noted a difference between how American and Japanese leaders respond to problems. Many American managers want to determine who’s at fault and place blame.
In contrast, Japanese business leaders make clear that when a problem arises the goal is to fix the problem and prevent it from occurring again.
Accountability is a good thing, but assigning blame isn’t the only way to get it. Once you determine who’s responsible for the problem you can instead enlist them to help solve it. Most intra-agency work problems don’t require an IA investigation. And enlisting those responsible to help solve the problem will make it much easier to determine responsibility in the future.
Leaders can build mutual trust by encouraging officers to share news—good and bad—in the spirit of problem solving and constant improvement. When messengers don’t have to take cover, more messengers will come forward.
Dr. Marvin Marshall offers two other tips of particular application to law enforcement agencies.
Ask, Don’t Tell
I realize that suggesting to brass in a paramilitary organization that they not tell people what to do so much may be met with skepticism. I’m not talking about critical incidents in which someone must be in decisive, authoritative control. I’m talking about the relationship and communication between brass and officers the rest of the time, which is most of it.
Lecturing and telling officers what to do all the time tells them you don’t trust their decision-making. This can lead to defensiveness and resistance. Telling also takes away officers’ initiative.
Jack Welch gets this. Credited, along with other senior leaders, for transforming General Electric from a bureaucracy with little involvement or trust to a successful competitive company with committed workers, Welch said, “We used to tell people what to do, and they did what they were told and not one other thing. Now we are constantly amazed by how much people will do when they are not told what to do by management.”
Instead of telling officers what to do, consider asking them:
- "What do you think about...?"
- "Have you thought of...?"
- "Would you consider...?"
This communicates you trust them. Remember: You have to give trust to get trust.
Listen to Learn
I’m going to practice some open, honest communication here. I have a confession. I don’t listen to learn very well. I tend to listen to respond. Our listening motive makes a big difference in what we communicate, nonverbally as well as verbally.
Listening to learn means not interrupting, not inserting our opinion and not judging what the person says while he’s speaking. It communicates we value people’s opinions even if we don’t agree with them. That’s a guaranteed trust builder.
To develop this is skill, consistently ask yourself, “Will I be more effective if I listen first?”
I’m going to work on this one. If you find me slipping, call me on it.
Next month we’ll conclude this series with The Thick Blue Wall, Part 4: Rebuilding Broken Trust. Broken trust is one of the toughest challenges a leader can face, but it can be rebuilt. And officers won’t be the only ones better for it, so will the leader.