Trust: The Secret Sauce of High Performing Leadership Teams

Wherever there is an effective organization, there is a high performing leadership team. They go together.

What distinguishes high performing leadership teams from average teams is an intense focus on results, a norm of holding each other accountable, and the habit of responding quickly and effectively to challenges.

Patrick Lencioni (see The Five Dysfunctions of a Team below) knows that high performing teams are only possible when there is a high level of INTERPERSONAL TRUST. As Lencioni points out, this is not just any kind of trust, however. He distinguishes between PREDICTIVE TRUST and VULNERABILITY TRUST.

PREDICTIVE TRUST is the kind that allows you to be confident people will do what they say they are going to do. VULNERABILITY TRUST, on the other hand, is the type you have when you are confident others will accept you as you are—warts and all.

In a team setting, VULNERABILITY TRUST means being able to say, “I need help” or “I screwed up” without fear that other team members will react with criticism, overt or covert ridicule, shaming tactics or other demoralizing behaviors.

It also means people are “real” with each other and genuine in their expression of their thoughts and emotions. We all have limitations and hopefully have learned to have compassion for our own limitations as well as the limitations of others. After all, it is limitations that high performing teams overcome…together.

VULNERABILITY TRUST further entails people being able to lower the “mask” they wear to protect themselves from criticism and fear of rejection. We all wear this mask and it serves us well because the world is full of people who will criticize and otherwise try to exploit weakness. But in a team environment, to optimize performance, we must be able to drop the mask and feel we belong and are appreciated despite any limitations.

This is the case because it takes a lot of energy and time to maintain a mask. Excuses, blaming others, ignoring deadlines, sweeping things under the rug, and white-lies all help maintain the mask but cost both energy and time that would be better spent working toward the organization’s goals.

There is no faking being “mask-free” or “genuine,” either. We all know the difference between someone who is being genuine and someone who is being phony. It’s easy to discern the real message when the words are “I’m sorry” but the tone is “I’m not sorry.”

The team without VULNERABILITY TRUST is rife with workplace politics, has minimal fun, exhibits poor engagement and has little claim on positive results. The team with VULNERABILITY TRUST, in contrast, has fun, lacks ambiguity and asserts their ownership of positive results without dispute. People who are members of such a team FEEL the difference—which is often the greatest reward.

It is not easy to establish VULNERABILITY TRUST. Like most trust, it builds slowly and needs constant nurturing if it is to grow. It’s hard but rewarding work…kind of like gardening or farming.

You can accelerate the build-up of VULNERABILITY TRUST by being intentional about it and vigilant when the inevitable lapses occur. Tone of voice and sideways glances alone can send the wrong message and erode hard-earned gains. Shaming and other demoralizing behavior are even more devastating to VULNERABILITY TRUST.

Leaders can leverage their position and model trust-building, mask-free behaviors. The only leadership behavior more important than modeling genuineness is “crushing” anyone who acts in a demoralizing way toward others. The saying “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” is very apt when it comes to demoralizing behavior within teams.

This is not to say teams need to walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting anyone. Quite the opposite. But until proven otherwise, problems are shared among team members and individual limitations are seen as an opportunity to pitch in or contribute extra attention in those areas for the sake of the organization. What’s best for the team and the organization trumps everything and team members contribute to the best of their ability to everyone’s gain.

Start to build VULNERABILITY TRUST today.