S1:E8 – Busting the Charisma Myth

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In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine debunk the assumption that charisma is essential to effective leadership and explore two other characteristics that are far more important to a leader’s success.


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Don’t forget to check out my You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


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Irvine: Hello, everyone and welcome to The Resilient Leadership Podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction, even in anxious times. Bridgette, how are you?

Bridgette: I am doing great, Irvine. It’s so nice to see you. How are you doing?

Irvine: I’m doing great as well, thank you so much, enjoying a little bit of the spring weather, so I am, and it’s a great time of year.

Bridgette: We can be hopeful, at any rate, it’s a bit chilly out today, but we are ever hopeful.

Irvine: Absolutely, absolutely. So, today’s episode, it’s a really interesting episode, we’re going to talk about trust, but we’re going to talk about trust in a really interesting way, and that is broken trust. And how do you put the pieces of trust back together after it’s been broken? Now, stick around because at the end of the podcast we’re going to have a little bit of a trust audit to help you determine where your level of trust is in the relationships in your life. But first of all, Bridgette, why do you think trust is so important?

Bridgette: Well, gosh, where do I start? It is something that I’m sure the listeners feel affects their, pretty much every facet of their life, their leadership, their relationships, I know as a coach, and I bet this is true for you too. I often will be on calls with folks, and the issue is a breakdown of trust. And I think that while that’s a pretty universal experience, we don’t necessarily know how to repair it, so that’s why I’m excited about this podcast episode because I think we can all use reminders. We can all use help figuring out how to get on the other side of that. But here’s an interesting thing.

So, Professor Paul Zak has done quite a bit of research around looking at a comparison between companies that have high levels of trust and those that have low levels of trust, and how does that shake out? And what he found is that in companies with high trust, this, to me, doesn’t surprise me, but the statistics are pretty profound…in the high-trust companies, employees report the following: 75% less stress than their counterparts, 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement and 40% less burnout.

Irvine: Wow.

Bridgette: So, those numbers kind of speak for themselves, and we know this intuitively because the wear and tear of a breakdown in stress is significant, but maybe I guess the place to start, and I know that you love to ground everything in neuroscience. So, what about the brain, human brain, and trust, can you share with listeners that might give us some good insight?

Irvine: Yeah. Well, trust in many ways, predates human societies, you think about it, it’s the building glue of all relationships, and so if you just think back to evolution and how we survived as a species, trust was essential because it’s the building block really of human society and relationships just can’t prosper without them. And what’s interesting, you mentioned this professor, Paul Zak, he’s actually done some amazing research as well, neuroscientific research, and we have actually identified, believe it or not, the neurochemical that builds trust and it’s called oxytocin.

And oxytocin is the building block of trust, and so we know that when a person feels they’re in a safe and trusting environment, it produces higher levels of oxytocin. And what’s interesting as well is the part of the brain that floods because it’s in the prefrontal cortex, it’s not in the Amygdala where we think all the emotions are. And I think there could be a tie-in there to that statistic at the beginning because when our prefrontal cortex is working at its optimal level, then things like critical analysis, logical thinking, creative thinking, or verbal ability, all of those are increased. So, when we have greater trust, we have higher levels of oxytocin and our prefrontal cortex is working at a higher level, and so, therefore, that’s why it impacts our performance

Bridgette: Makes total sense. It helps us access, basically, trust helps us access our higher mind, our higher-level thinking.

Irvine: Absolutely.

Bridgette: Yeah. So, hugely important. That’s fascinating. So, I guess we have to talk about what trust is, although it seems you know it when you have it and you know when you don’t.

Irvine: Yep. How would you go about describing the ingredients of trust?

Bridgette: Well, I think the first thing we have to put on the table is to say that trust is an assessment. It’s not a fact, you and I might have a relationship with a colleague, and you might trust the colleague and I don’t, who’s right, who’s wrong. So, it’s an assessment and it’s an assessment around, do I have confidence in this person? Do I think this person has my back? If I do, I trust them and if I don’t, I don’t.

But it even gets more interesting than that. So, Charles Feldman in his really interesting book called ‘The Thin Book of Trust’, he paints a picture of when we make this assessment about whether somebody is a friend or foe, whether we trust them or not, we’re basing it on four different things, now we don’t know we’re doing this because it’s beneath conscious awareness. But what we’re looking at is the following four things; one, does this person care? Do they care about me? Do they have my interest at heart?

Because if they don’t, I’m not going to trust them. The second thing is sincerity; do they say what they mean? And do they mean what they say? Because I’m not going to trust somebody who speaks out of both sides of their mouth. And then it’s about competence, alright. If I’m working with them, I have to trust that you can get the job done and that you have the skills needed. And then the last one’s reliability; it’s not just about competence in a work setting, it’s, do you follow through on your commitments and your promises on a regular basis so that I can trust in your commitments.

And depending on how I assess you in those four areas, I may or may not trust you, I may partially trust you. I may say, Hey, I’m not going to trust you at all. And I think understanding that’s so helpful because sometimes we just go, you know what? I don’t trust this person. But we don’t explicitly know in what domains we’ve made that assessment.

Irvine: Yeah, I love that. That is, wow, that’s so powerful to be able to kind of break down trust into its granular levels and to really because you get that all the time, there are people who I think are the most caring people. However, I don’t quite trust them to get the job done, they’re not quite reliable, but I’ll have a beer with them anytime because they’re wonderful company, and it’s interesting there for the complexity of trust, therefore, isn’t, and at times you kind of feel, what is it we’ve reticence about this person? And it’s not that they’re not nice people, but it’s that trust requires a level of those four areas, which I think is fascinating.

Bridgette: Yeah, it really is. And that people are assessing us all the time, just like we’re assessing them. And I think sometimes we fail to recognize, particularly as leaders, it’s a two-way street, I might not trust somebody on my team or somebody I’m managing, but they might not find me trustworthy, and of course, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, today, I’m going to break trust, but it just happens. Sometimes even in our most intimate, close relationships. So, Irvine, speak a little bit about that, what happens when trust is broken?

Irvine: Yeah, it’s very interesting because I think it’s a little, just like the definition, a little complex as well, and I think we can pick up on different behaviors, which when you diagnose and go beneath the surface, really what we’re dealing with there is some form of a deficit of trust. So, one thing is the sharing of opinions, and people become reticent to share their opinions, and so what does tend to happen is that information is a one-way flow, it’s kind of top-down. And people don’t feel they can step in and give their opinion, part of that is, well, if I don’t trust how that’s going to be received if I don’t trust people to have their best interest for me.

Why would I do that? Why would I kind of step in and risk and remember, this is, its risk, trust is about risk and survival, it goes back to those primitive times, and so we feel risk, we’re not going to trust. So, you might have just one-way communication. And then the second thing is, which is interesting, I’ve seen this a lot in leadership, we’re just not walking the talk. So, there’s no congruence, and sometimes we find ourselves saying things and we feel it’s a harmless lie, but we do it for the best intentions and it breaks down trust, and where I’ve seen this in organizations is, I’ve had situations where decisions being made at the top.

But the person is afraid to tell his employees that this is being made, so he pretends, oh, I just would love your input in this, and then what happens, of course, is that people find out, wait a minute, that’s already being, the decision is being made, and, of course, trust is shattered.

Bridgette: Oh, I’ve seen that a lot.

Irvine: Yes. Yeah. And, of course, it’s done with a good intention, but because it’s incongruent really with the platform of trust, therefore it breaks trust down. And then the other one it’s interesting I think, what I’ve noticed is people will share their wins, but not their concerns. So, we create an atmosphere where it’s okay to say what’s working, but we’re afraid to say what might not be working, and, of course, history is replete with people, situations, where there were problems, and no one spoke up. And we all have a culture around mistakes and, of course, is it okay to make a mistake? Is it okay to talk about problems? And all of that really is based on trust.

Bridgette: Yeah.

Irvine: A platform of trust that I can actually speak up.

Bridgette: Part of, as I’m listening to you, Irvine, what I’m struck by is that to trust anyone is a risk. Because human beings are not perfect. And families are not perfect, and organizations are not perfect. So, I think that it’s interesting because, yes, we do have to be thoughtful and strategic about when and where and who we trust. On the other hand, we can carry that too far and basically not trust anybody because there’s risk involved. Maybe they’ll disappoint us, maybe we’ll delegate to somebody and trust that they have what it takes to get it done, and we find out and discover not yet, not really.

Irvine: Yeah. It’s so true. Do you have any examples of the kind of, we both coached a lot, but what comes to mind when you think of organizations that are dealing with broken trust?

Bridgette: Well, I completely resonate with your example about leaders who feel they have to act like they’re always seeking consensus and they aren’t and nor should they. But they present decisions and ideas as if they’re completely open, and they’re not. I think a lot of it’s about just being clear, sometimes we’re going so fast and furiously these days, we’ll get on a Zoom call or have a meeting, it’s about making a decision and we haven’t had time to really prepare and think our way through it, and we don’t even know where we are in the decision-making process.

And so, we just start talking about it, and maybe as a leader, we’re not being clear who’s going to make the decision. How is the decision going to be made? And when, and it’s not because we’re being duplicitous, we just haven’t figured that out yet, but that can break trust too, trust is broken in lots of small little ways that we are often unaware of.

Irvine: Yeah. That’s so true. There’s one other thing that struck me when you were talking as well, and this may seem kind of counter to what people would think, but I often think a lack of conflict is a sign of low trust. I think when people have really good conflict in the sense of really debating ideas and putting forward your position and when there’s a lack of trust, I find meetings are very boring. But no one really wants to stick their head out. And inherently when we’re willing to have a healthy conflict that’s a sign of trust, that’s a sign of a group of people that know that they’re not afraid to say things and they know each person has each other’s back and it’s okay to have a conflict.

Bridgette: Yeah. In fact, when there’s a high degree of trust, it is amazing what can be said. What kind of issues can actually be addressed between people, between couples, between colleagues, partners, or what have you, and, of course, the reverse is true, what you just said. So, what happens a lot is inadvertently we break trust, we say and do things that have that effect. We may or may not recognize it. And I guess I’m wondering about the notion of forgiveness, does forgiveness play a role in this?

Irvine: Oh, it does. For me, I think very often we feel that forgiveness is something that we give to another person. And I always like to look at forgiveness as the ultimate act of freedom for ourselves. That, basically, when we are trying to come to terms with moving on and in some way, accepting that trust is being broken, but I’m willing to repair it. Then in some way, forgiveness has to happen. And forgiveness doesn’t mean that we forget, it doesn’t mean that we’re not angry, but it does mean that I am not going to stew in resentment, the bitterness. That I’m choosing to move on and to begin to repair the trust that’s been broken.

And so, therefore, I think forgiveness; and forgiveness is not a single act. I think you were talking about trust being cut every day; forgiveness is a daily act as well, especially when we’re working or living with the person who’s violated our trust. Therefore, I think it’s an opportunity that we have to revisit that and revisit that decision to move on and to repair trust.

Bridgette: And you what this is reminding me of, it’s reminding me of a practice that we’ve talked about in a previous episode or two, and that is…to really grant forgiveness, we have to get on the balcony because we have to step back from the emotional intensity of maybe the disappointment, the breakdown, the frustration that we have in somebody, and we have to step back and get curious. And say, well, what’s that person up against? What pressures are they dealing with that might have led them to do X, Y, and Z? Doesn’t mean that we condone it, as you said, but sometimes people are doing the best they can, and it might not look particularly pretty.

But they’re doing the best they can. So, I guess we need to talk about this whole notion of repairing trust, what does that look like? How do we do that? Because the listeners are probably going, okay, get to the bottom line.

Irvine: And let me mention a few things that come to mind for me. Number one, and I think it’s really important, is to acknowledge the issue. Very often you are talking about if there is trust, it’s amazing the type of conversations you can have. But I think the first building block is to call out the elephant in the room; that trust has been broken and for whatever reason, it has been broken, it’s the acknowledgment that it has been broken. And the acknowledgment that, this is not just a click of the fingers, and everything will be okay again.

But the acknowledgment that depending on the type of trust that was broken, it may take a little bit of time. And we have to acknowledge that perhaps the hurt has run deeper and that we may have to work on this and to recommit ourselves to the fact that we really want a trusting relationship or a trusting situation. So, I think acknowledging that and it goes back to some of the things we’ve talked about in earlier episodes as well, about our self-awareness. Are we aware of this situation? Are we aware of perhaps that other people have been hurt in this? And all of that is really part of our awareness, both of self and others, that acknowledgment that the trust, and we can feel that in the room and to be able to acknowledge and express that.

Bridgette: Yeah, and if somebody says to us, that there’s been a trust breakdown of sorts, to not react to that with defensiveness takes a lot of self-regulation. Because again, nobody means to break trust. It just sometimes happens.

Irvine: Yeah. And then the second thing I would say kind of going into the defensive there, the lack of defensiveness is this receptivity, this listening. And I think part of that is to allow the feelings and emotions to surface. So, I think people have expectations and whenever trust has been violated, I think it’s important for people to be able to verbalize what’s happening within them. How did this hit me? And that’s a tricky balance because at times when trust has been violated, we may not want to express how we feel, and so, therefore, the leader may have to be patient here.

And again, may have to be patient to give a little time to be aware that trust has been violated, and it’s going to take a little time to repair that and to be much more receptive to how people feel and to leave open spaces for that to be verbalized. And I think that’s a process as well, but people need to feel once again, that they feel safe enough to be able to verbalize those feelings.

Bridgette: That makes good sense. I would go so far as to say to those listening, and this includes me and includes you. That right now we have probably said or done something in the last few months that created just a little bit of erosion in trust with somebody and we’re unaware of it. And maybe the person’s moved on and it’s all fine or maybe they haven’t, but I think it’s that ubiquitous, shall I say, that the pace of organizational life, and the way we’re all stretched so thin, we can kind of almost expect that there’s going to be little breakdowns, but the good news is if you address it and do some of the things that you’re talking about, actually trust is greater on the other side of that. That’s the possibility, is that we can actually build a stronger relationship with a colleague, our boss, if we’re willing to engage in these things that we’re talking about.

Irvine: Absolutely. Any other tips, Bridgette, for building trust?

Bridgette: I think we’ve said most of them, but I guess the only thing I would add is the question that we’ve posed before on this podcast is are you willing to step back in any kind of breach of trust and ask yourself the question from the balcony, what’s my part in this? Even if you’re befuddled by that and you don’t understand why there is a breakdown in trust, do you have the fortitude to say, hmm, interesting, I wonder what my part in this is.

And one of the common ways I think leaders inadvertently break trust and nobody tells them, is a simple thing like this. They don’t do their performance evaluations on time; they reschedule their check-in meetings several times in a row. Little things like this because what does that communicate to the person? Maybe a lack of care.

Irvine: Yeah. Or it could even indicate you’re not important.

Bridgette: That’s right.

Irvine: Which is people, oh, okay, if I was really important, then you would do this. So, I think maybe we should think about a practice that might help people, for those of you who aren’t aware, Bridgette co-authored a wonderful book called ‘Missing Conversations’ and there’s a chapter in there about relationships and trust, et cetera. So, Bridgette, I know that you have a couple of questions which you call a trust audit. So, maybe that might be a great exercise for us to finish today.

Bridgette: Yeah, sure. So, really it centers around three basic questions to do a trust audit. And the first one is to kind of step back and ask yourself, who on my team would I like to have a greater level of trust in than I do now? And by team, it could be the team you’re managing, or it could be if you’re part of a senior team, it could be your colleagues or even your boss. So, who on those teams would you maybe like to trust more, but you just don’t. And so, they start there. And so, I would invite you as you’re listening, who is that person for you, think about it. And then the second question is, okay, so the trust is not at the level I would like, what is my assessment based on?

Now, that requires us to really step back and think about those four areas that we talked about that make up a trust assessment. Do I believe the person cares? Are they sincere? Are they competent? Are they reliable? Because sometimes we don’t ground our assessment at all, we just say, I don’t trust them. They’re not trustworthy. Well, in what area are they not trustworthy? So, I’ll give you an example, this person I was working with, coaching, she said, I don’t trust my boss. And I said, would you like to trust your boss more?

And she goes, yeah, but I don’t. And I said, well, what are you basing that assessment on, and we went through it and I shared those four areas. And she says, I guess I just don’t trust that she cares enough to advocate for me. I think she cares, but I don’t know that she cares enough to advocate for me when the heat is on. I said, but what about other domains like, is this person a good mentor? Oh, yeah, she actually really is a good mentor. Does the person take time for you? Do they check in with you? Yeah, yeah, yeah, they do all that stuff, but I can’t count on her to advocate for me.

And I said, okay, so it’s not that you don’t trust her completely, it’s that there’s been a little bit of a breakdown then. So, then the third question is, what’s the missing conversation? Because inevitably there is one. And I posed that question to her and she said, I don’t think the missing conversation is with her because I don’t think she’s going to see this even if I brought it to her, and I think she might get defensive and she really is a pretty decent manager; I think the missing conversations with myself.

I think I just have to accept that is, right now, the way it is. And then we went on to talk about how maybe what she needs to do is strengthen her own self-advocacy muscle, instead of wishing that she could trust her boss to do it more. So, that’s the basic gist of the trust audit. And those questions can be used in the family system too, as well as the work system.

Irvine: Absolutely. Well, that’s really powerful, really, really powerful, and I know as we wrap up our episode today, I am leaving with those four distinctions of trust in a powerful way; and I think it’s such a great way to evaluate what’s happening when we blurt out those words, I don’t trust you. And so, is it cares? Is it sincerity? Is it reliability? Is it competence? So, thank you everyone for listening today, hopefully, you’re taking away some nuggets to chew on before our next episode and our next episode, actually, is going to be on finding your leadership voice. So, Bridgette, thanks so much, always great to be in conversation with you.

Bridgette: Thank you, Irvine.

Irvine: And thanks, everyone, for listening. Make sure to spread the word and to share this episode with anyone who you think might find it useful. And until the next episode, I hope you are doing well and have wonderful weeks ahead. Take care.

Bridgette: Take care, folks. Bye-Bye.

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