How do we establish trust?
We know that establishing trust is a key to leading well, but how do we go about it? An unexpected encounter in the back of a dark garage shines a light on how we can build the trust we need to lead.
Not as it Seems
We had been house-hunting for a several months, but it was proving to be a frustrating experience.
Using the internet, we had zeroed in on a geographic area, and watched for listings that met our criteria.
If the description and photos looked like a good fit, we went to check it out. But what appeared great online did not prove out in reality.
An obviously “flipped” house might appear nice in pictures, but when we opened cupboard doors we found rusty hinges, saw stains in the ceiling, and shoddy workmanship in the flooring.
Or it was quickly clear that the reason for the low price was related to condition of the paint, the age of the roof, or that poorly repaired crack in the basement wall. Invariably, if we stayed long enough to check the heating and water systems, the rust, cobwebs and obvious neglect were enough to convince us to move on.
We always came away disappointed.
That all changed on the 17th of February.
The Thing in the Garage
We were out driving one Sunday afternoon when we saw an “open house” in a neighborhood we liked. We decided to check it out.
Entering the front door, we heard the real-estate agent busy chatting with someone upstairs, so we decided to poke around on our own. Near the entry we saw another door and peeked in – it led to the garage.
As the bright lights flicked on I could see a black mountain bike in the corner. It was a “fat bike” – equipped with those ultra-wide tires, great for cycling over snow, sand and mud. As somewhat of a cyclist myself, I was intrigued and had to take a closer look.
The bike was held upright on a stand, and was customized with fenders and racks. Based on wear patterns it was obviously used frequently.
Most importantly: It was immaculate.
The chain showed signs of normal use, but was sparkling clean and well-oiled. The rear gear cluster shone in the light, free of mud, dirt and rust. Even the bottom bracket was spotless.
This was a well-used bike intended for riding in messy places, and it was clean. I immediately began to feel good about the house we were checking out.
Seeing how the owner took care of his bike quickly gave me a sense of the person he was, and what was important to him. If he put that kind of effort into maintaining his wheels, it was a good bet he paid the same kind of attention to detail when it came to the house.
This soon proved to be true. The house was clean and neatly organized, and when we looked closer, we weren’t disappointed.
Air filters had been changed regularly, the area around the heating and water systems was clean, maintenance records were on hand and up to date. Wires were tucked away, there was a record of improvements made over the years, even warranties and instruction manuals were on hand.
The attention to detail was impressive, and it validated a quote I came across recently while reading Tools of the Titans:
Without even being present, the owner established trust with me by the obvious way that he paid attention to important details.
Gathering Rust or Establishing Trust?
If the chain on that fat bike had been coated in dirt and rust, it would have sent off signals about the likely condition of the rest of the house, regardless of how it may have looked on the surface.
How do we establish trust? Three thoughts:
First, we have to think about what is truly important – whether it’s the drive train on a bike, the HVAC system in a house, or the quality of a product or service we provide. Focus energy on making sure those are the best they can be. We have to dig into the details, become experts, and do the unglamorous maintenance necessary to keep it running smoothly.
There’s a time for attending to appearances, but as an old commander of mine used to say, “Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t help anybody.”
Second, we have to pay attention to the details of our interactions with others each day, and make sure we attend to the “small” things. Return that pen we borrowed, follow up on that email, show up on time, come back with an answer to that question someone asked.
Third, finish well. Before declaring a task is done, go over it one more time with the team. Verify it was done right, and fix anything missed. Then have a candid after-action review with the team to help make the next go-round even better.
As a bonus, when doing these things with our teams, we raise the level of trust with each other. What we do may not always be easy, or comfortable, or glamorous, but we establish trust with our team when they know we are always going to make sure it is right.
Establishing Trust – The Takeaway
When it comes to establishing trust, it’s the little things that matter most. The condition of chain on the owner’s fat bike told me what I needed to know about the house.
In fact, we made an offer that same day, and are now in the process of moving in. There’s still a sizeable pile of boxes in the garage, but we’re making progress. And we’re being careful to do it right.
When it comes to establishing trust with others, details matter. People notice when we cut corners, let the standard slip, or get lazy. If we want to be seen as trustworthy, we have to pay close attention to those small details.
And if we’re trying to decide whether or not we can trust someone else, we can look in those same places for clues.
In fact, if they happen to have a bike, maybe ask if you can take a look…