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Leading with Trust - The ABCDs of Leading

The modern world is in desperate need of a new kind of leadership. The leaders of the 21st century have produced record low levels of trust and engagement in the workforce, especially since the Western World’s economic crisis of the late 2000s, and not nearly enough is being done to remedy this problem. Clearly, something is wrong with the approach many are taking to leadership. A shift is required in leadership philosophies worldwide, perhaps towards one which places an emphasis on the idea of leading with trust.

The Question of How to Build Trust

One issue which seems to be at the forefront is how one goes about building trust in the first place. Many believe that trust spontaneously occurs in a relationship, but this is a drastic misconception. 

  • Through the deliberate and clear usage of certain actions and behaviours, trust can be developed between any two individuals, regardless of their prior relationship. 
  • Most people often do not even consider the levels of trust between them and another, until it is broken. 
  • Very few people would consider them untrustworthy, and therefore will take it for granted that everyone should trust them, without having an objective basis for doing so. 
On top of this is the subjective nature of ‘trust’ as a concept – we all have a different idea of what it may look like. Therefore, it is up to organisations to develop common frameworks and definitions of trust systems, so that individuals can discuss and repair trust-based issues.

Ken Blanchard’s Interpretation of Trust

Ken Blanchard is an author and researcher with decades of experience writing about the fields of leadership and management. For him, words are not enough – trust must be supported by actions and behaviour if one is to flourish as a leader. 

In his view, the behaviours of trusting individuals are made up of four distinct elements, represented by the letters ABCD

The four constituents of this acronym – or the “language of trust” – stand for, respectively: 

  1. Able
  2. Believable 
  3. Connected 
  4. Dependable 
For leaders to be successful in developing high-trust relationships, they must choose their actions and words in alignment with the elements of ABCD. If anyone of these factors is not strong, it may result in what Blanchard calls Low T (rust). A few causes of Low T may include:

  • An individual taking responsibility for another’s work
  • An individual avoiding or trying to shift blame or responsibility
  • An individual showing inconsistent or unreliable behaviour
  • An individual not meeting their expectations or obligations
  • An individual spreading falsity or joining in with ‘gossip’
  • An individual not rewarding or recognising others’ achievements
  • An individual withholding important information from another

Using Blanchard's ABCD Model - Remedying Low T: ABCD

Able, Believable, Connected, Dependable

1. Able

For leaders, being able is all about demonstrating their competence at a task, or tasks. 

  • An example of this is demonstrating one has the required expertise to be good at their job. This can often be supported by objective facts – such as having all the necessary skills, competencies, knowledge or credentials to be able to fill the role.
  •  It could also be supported by their track record – have they achieved the successful results expected of someone in their position? Consistently reaching goals builds trust and inspires others to believe in one’s ability to perform. 
  • These individuals are not necessarily required to do all of the necessary work themselves but are also often skilled at facilitating results in others - like a successful manager of a football club. They do this by developing credible plans, processes and delegation systems that aid other team members or employees in reaching their goals.

2. Believable

To gain the aura of believability, a leader is required to act with integrity

  • This can mean many things but includes not lying to others, keeping promises, not gossiping and not making claims that cannot be backed up. 
  • These leaders have unbreakable consistency – they possess a set collection of values and systems which they follow day-to-day with no alterations. Believable leaders will also treat all the individuals within their team with the utmost respect, and in an entirely fair manner. 
  • This does not mean treating everyone exactly the same – the circumstances can vary – but it does mean treating every individual personality appropriately and justly in each unique situation and being observed by all others to be doing so.

3. Connected

It is invaluable that leaders are connected to their employees, colleagues and team members. 

  • This is achieved by showing care and concern for other individuals. It has often been shown that those who exhibit the highest emotional intelligence, often make the most effective leaders. 
  • Research from Ken Blanchard Companies has shown that     "connectedness with the leader ” and “ connectedness with a colleague” are 2 of the 12 most important factors in developing passion in a job – and both are reliant on trust as a key element. 
  • These connected leaders are open with their team members about both themselves, the organisation and their roles and are likewise trusting of their employees to use this information in a suitable manner – developing a mutual trust system.

Connected individuals will see their employees as the most important asset to any organisation and will thus put them first with regard to their allocation of resources and support. 

  • They will work to integrate themselves with employees and aim to develop a rapport and open communication with others. This can be as simple as taking an interest in others as individuals, rather than purely as another nameless cog in the organisation’s machine. 
  • Successful, connected leaders will often encourage happiness and this rapport by rewarding individuals for their contributions to the business and their key goals.

4. Dependable

Dependability is partially synonymous with reliability. It is related to believability in the sense that this is all about following through on promises that one has made to individuals and reaching targets one has set for themselves and for others. 

  • Leaders who do as they say they will – who “walk the walk” – gain a reputation for consistency and trustworthiness. 
  • To gain this reputation for dependability, leaders must be incredibly organised – with strict deadlines and standards, always meeting with people, responding to queries and fulfilling tasks in a timely fashion. 
  • This dependability can be carried over to others – dependable leaders will also expect and inspire others to take responsibility for their actions and ensure that they are achieved within deadlines.

Becoming a Trustworthy Leader

This is not something which happens overnight. Trustworthiness is a journey, not a destination. 

  • Trust in personal and professional relationships is an ever-evolving concept, shifting with your every action and, therefore, it is crucial to act and respond in such a way to maintain levels of this invaluable commodity. 
  • If you are behaving in a way which makes it clear that you are Able, Believable, Connected and Dependable, others’ levels of trust in you will grow, in both new relationships, old, and those which you may once have believed were irreparably damaged by past events. 
High levels of trust will ultimately prove incredibly beneficial to both yourself and those reliant on your leadership for guidance and to facilitate their development.