Legendary Silicon Valley leader Bill Campbell believed that the most valuable currency in a relationship is trust. As someone widely recognized for his ability to connect with others, Campbell is certainly credible enough for us to listen to this suggestion.
This makes sense to us. Our best relationships – with a significant other, a family member, a boss – are grounded in trust. The kind of trust that allows you to be vulnerable. The level of trust that’s necessary for your heart, your wellbeing, your job and your livelihood to thrive.
Equally, we’ve all had relationships formed around distrust. That’s why you’re double-checking your employee’s work. That’s why you’re scrolling through your boyfriend’s phone while he’s in the bathroom to see who he’s texting. If there’s no trust, any relationship is doomed to fail.
So this begs the question – how do we earn trust?
I recently came across a speech where legendary college football coach Urban Meyer attempts to break down this timeless question. Meyer coached Florida and Ohio State to three national championships in the past fifteen years and is widely recognized as one of the all-time great coaches.
So you can imagine my excitement when I was sent an under-the-radar video from Meyer with only 20,000 views on YouTube (full video at the bottom of this post).
In this speech that Meyer gives at a coaching clinic at Mississippi State University in 2015, he shares his philosophy for building trust: character, competence, and connection.
Meyer defines character as “the repeated experience of doing the right thing over and over again”.
It’s not about being in the office early each day. It’s not about telling the truth. It’s not about choosing what’s right for the team over what’s right for yourself.
It’s all of those things. All of the time.
Aristotle once said:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
As leaders, we’re not judged by a single action. We can’t just do something right once in a while. It has to be a consistent theme.
If your team doesn’t think you have character – if they don’t see you doing the right things repeatedly – you might as well pack up and quit now.
Meyer’s second tenant, competence, is defined as a “repeated experience of doing your job well over and over again.”
People want to work for someone that knows how to do the job. Humans naturally want to learn, they want to improve. And the only way that can happen is if they’re working with someone who can actually teach them something.
To gain trust, you have to prove your competence to the team. This means you show up prepared for meetings, you have 1:1s with your direct reports, you offer advice and guidance when it’s needed.
Do you think any New England Patriots coach shows up unprepared for a meeting with Tom Brady?
No chance – at least if they expect to keep their job.
If you’re not with the team with your body, mind, and spirit, you’re toast.
Finally, Meyer defines connection as “repeated experiences of showing you care.”
Connection isn’t about grabbing a post-work beer. It isn’t about pretending to listen after you ask how someone’s weekend was.
It’s about showing you care. Showing that you give a shit about the person you’re talking to.
Oftentimes this goes past a sales deal or a marketing project. It’s about the people. What’s their ‘why’, how is their mental space, what are they struggling with?
One of the biggest surprises to me in my first year of management is around how many of the most productive conversations I’ve had with the team aren’t about work at all. They’re about family or finances or, just life.
People don’t have a “work” self and a “home” self. They bring their whole selves everywhere they go and if you don’t show that you care about that, you’ve lost trust.
You probably noticed that all of Meyer’s definitions started with the words “repeated experiences”. This highlights that trust-building and leadership are perpetual wheels in motion.
I guess that Aristotle guy knew what he was talking about.