One of my most memorable moments was when Steve, a high level engineering leader, trusted me enough to tell me one morning with a big sigh “Andrea, with my the Executive Team we agreed to model trust to our teams. But, I have to confess, I don’t know how to do that.”
Steve has been “confessing” other smaller vulnerable things he didn’t know in our sessions, but this time, I felt all his trust and his willingness to step to the edge of his knowledge.
He truly didn’t know. Not because he hasn’t heard about trust, building trust and how important trust was in the workplace. Neither because he wasn’t a good leader of his team. Steve knew with his mind what everyone expected of him. He has been to many leadership training and seminars before. He knew the “right” answer.
What he didn’t know was how to feel that way, how to be that person who was trustworthy when he hasn’t even trusted himself to be a good leader. He knew he could fake his way through the process successfully and nobody would even notice his inner struggle. He knew how to be a great imposter.
He just didn’t want to be the same great imposter again.
So, one afternoon he reached out to me and that’s exactly what he said in his email. “I just don’t want to be a great imposter at work any more. Can you help me?”
You might think “Wow, Steve was really brave to say that. It takes courage to be that vulnerable.” If you would have met Steve that afternoon, you would have thought otherwise.
Steve that day was neither brave nor courageous. He was just fed up with struggling in silence and alone. Not being able to tell anyone from fear of damaging his reputation or worst, damaging his relationship with his team and his boss – pushed him to his breaking point. He simply had enough. He wasn’t thinking about himself. He was thinking about his team, how he let them down and how he wanted to help them. In that moment, Steve was just ready to do something about his situation and when a voice in his head told him to write to me, he stopped questioning it (as he so often would do) and acted on his intuition. He wanted help and he knew I would help him because 6 months ago I told him I believed in him.
And so began Steve’s journey to the edge of his knowledge. Inspired by a moment of weakness or a moment of strength – I will let you decide which one it was – that one email changed Steve’s and his team’s whole world.
I asked Steve if he would be willing to invite his team on the journey with him. He hesitated and went silent. I could sense all his effort in figuring out what such an invitation would mean to his team, how they would respond, what they would say and how would he tell them to trust him – truly and for real this time, for the first time. He was afraid they wouldn’t believe him and would tell him no, they wouldn’t do it. I took a deep breath and asked Steve to do the same. Then I asked him to open his heart and imagine his team sitting right there, in the room, with him. I asked him to see them as if they have just done their best work a minute ago and as if he was about to recognize them for it. I could hear Steve’s breathing slowing down and a calmness in his voice.
He was quiet for a minute but it felt like Steve has filled that minute with heart-felt hand shakes, joyful smiles, loud laughter and shiny eyes. He imagined his team trusting him and he felt their trust on his face, in his mind, and in his heart.
“Yes, they are ready!” He finally said. His voice was full of confidence. And that was enough for me to know we were up for a fun adventure.
Together we created a structure, a framework we would use to explore how Steve and everyone on his team would build trust with themselves first and what trust really meant to them.
Here are some of the elements of the framework:
- What are my first experiences with trust, my first childhood memories regarding trust? Write down as much detail as you can: your age, your situation, how you felt, who was involved, what happened and what made it so memorable.
- Who did I trust first in my life? And why did I trust them? Tell us about the person, your relationship with this person, describe how this person made you feel, and what this person created for you.
- Who broke my trust? And how did they break it? Recall the moment just before your trust was broken. Share the moment in as many details as you can and your feelings connected with it.
- What do I need to trust myself? List the non-negotiable values and beliefs that your trust sits on.
- What do I need to feel trust and how do I create trust? List the behaviors, feelings, signs and actions you look for in others.
- What breaks my trust? And what are the values I don’t comprise on? List the behaviors, feelings, words and actions that trigger you to close in and feel like you need to defend yourself.
- Am I the person who gives trust first or who wants other to earn my trust? Tell us, dependent on the situation, how you choose to behave.
- In what situations am I willing to give others second chances? Share with us your experience around giving and receiving second chances.
- Who do I trust right now in my life / at work and why? Without judgement, write down the names of the people and reflect on what is behind your reason to trust them.
- Who don’t I trust right now in my life / at work and why? Without judgement, write down the names of the people and reflect on what is behind your reason to not trust them.
- Why is trust important to you today? What does it mean to you? Imagine a life with and without it. Describe both.
- In what ways are you honoring trust in your life right now? Where does it show up?Recall your daily actions and check if trust is present or is missing from them.
As we dug deeper and deeper, everyone on Steve’s team started to feel more and more comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” Steve knew that was the magical sentence that transported him to the edge of his knowledge so, every time he heard it, he would have a big smile on his face. Soon, everyone was laughing and “confessing” to things they have been holding to themselves and keeping away from others. Things, feelings, situations they had enough of.
I told Steve, I never know how each person chooses to show up on these journeys with me, nor do I know where the road will take us. Yet what I always know is that somewhere on the journey each person will meet their true self – the one they have always trusted. That meeting will change how they see themselves for the rest of their lives. And how they see themselves from that moment on will change how the world sees them and how they see themselves in the world.
When my work with Steve and his team was approaching the last days, Steve unexpectedly called me. He said “I know we are not done yet, but I felt like calling you and telling you thank you. Thank you for teaching me to see that building trust meant I had to build my side of the bridge first. The place in my heart first. Only when my foundations were strong and ready, could I stand on them confidently enough to want to see to the other side. The edge of my knowledge is not a scary place to be anymore. It’s the most amazing place to be if I want to see how I can expand my possibilities and connect with inspiring people.”
In that moment, I felt like Steve has transported me to the edge of my knowledge. I was imagining myself looking over the bluff to see my mom. In that moment, I understood why I needed to struggle building my trusted relationship with her for all those years. It wasn’t all in vain. It was life’s way of teaching me this lesson so I could pass it on to Steve and his team, and to many others. Since, pain and struggling has become a sign for me – an invitation for a new lesson to learn. To learn with the purpose to pass it on.