Responsibility: the Top Facet of the Cornerstone of Trust

Leaders develop trust by demonstrating they are responsible. They do what they say they will do and account for the people and property entrusted to their care. The best way to build trust is to accomplish those things your promise others you will do. Responsible leaders understand it is important to know their people in order to provide appropriate, challenging work for them. They know they must keep track of property and other resources in their charge to ensure their team has the resources necessary to accomplish assigned tasks and accomplish their mission. Responsibility is the top facet of the cornerstone of trust because it covers all the other aspects of trust. The top facet is hidden until it fails to hold the load over it. Likewise responsible leadership actions are done out of the sight of others and only become apparent they are not being done well when things fall apart.

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Taking Responsibility for Yourself

You demonstrate responsibility by doing what you say you will do. When you promise to do something, others count on you to do it. For many, simply developing discipline to attend to personal tasks is a challenge. Think about the people around you that are late, fail to return calls as promised, show up for meeting unprepared, or fail to complete simple tasks well. Now think about people who push back on tasks yet consistently complete tasks well, are prepared for meetings, keep everyone informed about their progress, and complete things on time. Who is trusted more? People who cannot lead themselves are rarely selected to lead others. Learn how to improve your personal responsibility before seeking leadership responsibility.

A leader was assigned to present to a senior leader in the organization. She researched long and worked hard to prepare. She often backed up her work. A few days before the presentation, her computer crashed. Nothing on the hard drive could be recovered. Her supervisor thought she was sunk until she asked for a computer and some workspace. He thought she was going to pull some all-nighters. Instead, she pulled out a thumb drive, inserted it into a USB port and opened older copies of her work. She completed the presentation, on time, as promised because she anticipated total computer failure.

Taking Responsibility for the People in Your Team

Tracking and taking care of your people is an important leadership responsibility. You are only a leader if other people follow you so it is important to track and care for them. Tracking people is not a creepy internet stalking thing. Rather, it means you track things like where your people are during working hours, what their working hours are, what projects and activities they are working on during work hours, what training they have and require, any family issues distracting them during their work, and that they are being paid for the work they are doing. That is a long sentence. When you lead people, there is much to keep track of to ensure people continue to follow you.

There was a time that knowing where people were during working hours and what they were doing was pretty easy. Since the pandemic, it has become a little harder to do. Remote workers could choose to work on a different country. Many decide to break up their work day around person activities. Given you cannot stick your head in their office or cubical, it is hard to know what things they do while they are working. Just because it is hard does not absolve you of your responsibility to know these things. Develop practices that allow you to be able to check in with your workers during their work day. Find out what is going on in their work and personal lives. You can only help them be successful if you understand what hurdles stand in their way.

Want to find out how good a leader is? Find out how many people have pay problems and then ask the leader about them. If people are working for you, they deserve the pay promised them. Nothing builds trust more than asking your new employee if they received their first paycheck and that it was correct. You maintain trust by asking newly promoted employees if finance provided the correct pay increase. People know you care about them when you ask about their pay.

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Training is an under used tool to improve performance and provide motivation. In many organizations, people dread being selected to attend training because it means someone thinks they are failing to measure up to expectations, therefore, they are in trouble. You should never let your people step so far into the pool that they are that far over their head to be in trouble. You avoid such situations by providing people training, so they are better prepared to face and overcome the challenges they will likely face. Training is something every one of your followers should look forward to, not suffered through. If you do not ensure your people are well-trained in all aspects of their work, you are not entitled to expect quality results! Quality results come from workers who are educated, trained, and motivated to a better job than they do now. They understand their shortcomings and have a plan to fix them. They can answer their own questions because they were trained to solve problems related to their job.

Engage your employees about their lives for the purpose of understanding them. Many employees enjoy talking about aspects of their lives. Asking about those things shows you care. Listening well in their happy times and asking appropriate questions develops trust. When bad things happen, employees are more likely to share those stories as well. You have the opportunity to help them in these hard times and increase your trustworthiness with all your followers.

Tracking Resources

If you do not keep track of the resources under your control, you may find you and your people no longer have what you need to what you need to do. Resources includes time, property, etc. Of these, time is the most important because once lost is it impossible to create more. Books and articles are plentiful on controlling and managing time. Many focus on efficiently using time. Efficiency is important but effectiveness is more important.

In the small non-profit I run, we often discuss finding the balance of efficiency and effectiveness creating social media posts. As an unsavvy social media person, I can create a post in 60 seconds or less.. It is efficient but not effective. The person that does our posts invests more time than I did, ensuring we have a captivating image that aligns with our mission and values, and supports the words in the message. Her posts generate more attention. The result is more engagement compared to my 60-second sentence.

Tracking property is an important leaderships task. In the past, property tracking was considered a management issue, not something for leaders. Leadership is a task of management, not the other way around. Traditionally, tracking property involves doing inventory to ensure everything you are expected to have is present. There is more to this task than counting. For example, you have ten employees and ten computers, it seems like life is good. If five of those computers are running Windows 3.0, five of your people probably are not working on their computers (note, at the time this was written, Windows 3.0 was nearing its 30th anniversary as an operating system). From this example, we see that tracking property means ensuring you have all the property you are supposed have, AND that it is in proper working order.

When I first started identifying the elements of trust, I originally called this side accountability because I focused on property. As I reflected more on what leaders track, I realized responsibility is a better word for this facet of the Cornerstone of Trust. Responsibility reaches beyond physical property and includes caring for people and other non-tangeable recourses such as time, bandwidth, people, your personal actions, and reputations. You start developing trust in the area of responsibility by creating the discipline to do the things you say you are going to do. Once you can control yourself, you begin to develop influence over others and start the leadership journey. As others follow you, you become responsible to ensure they are trained, paid, and complete important, meaningful work. You know where they are and the things they do. Of course without resources, the right resources that work, people can do nothing. Learning to act responsibly as a leader covers many of the other aspects of creating trust. It all begins by doing what you say you will do.

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