1. Lessons In Leadership

Banking on Trust

It’s time to make a deposit.

One of the best things about working in person with people (as opposed to virtually) is that it’s easier to establish a sense of trust. We get a feel for how people operate, their values, their intentions, their ability to follow through and deliver. Trust isn’t a meme or a slogan. It’s not words. Trust only comes from experience — our personal history with a person or organization. Sometimes, the endorsement of someone we trust might be extended to an unknown party. But at the foundation is the requirement of evidence — proof that they will do what they say — proof that I won’t regret placing my confidence in them.

For me, trust has always been the backbone of how things get done. When I trust someone, it means I know the decisions they make and act on will be based on our shared values. It really doesn’t matter if they do everything exactly the way I would, because I trust that their intent is informed by the same things I value and the outcome will be good. And it’s reciprocal. I am conscious every day that I must earn the trust of the people I seek to lead.

Trust is like a checking account. All leaders need to bank a certain level of trust before they can expect people to jump into the daily fray we call “doing business.” And I’m afraid that one unanticipated result of the pandemic-induced isolation is that our bank of trust is running low just as we need to start writing checks. 

Most of the organizations I know had to lay people off — good people. It was understandable, we did what we could to ease the blow, and people responded with grace. But it still hurt, and over the last 20 months we’ve used up a lot of banked trust. At Freeman, we furloughed only where it was absolutely necessary, assuring people we’d need to ramp back up eventually. And in the months we were apart, although we did what we could to stay in touch, there were no face-to-face moments to replenish that trust. Now we are ramping up, and expecting our people to hit the ground running in an organization that looks a lot different than the one they left. Essentially, we are asking them to trust us. Again.

That’s why I’ve made it a priority to rebuild trust in Freeman leadership — to make a series of deposits in our trust account by giving our people a better work environment. We are investing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. We are supporting and expanding our Freeman Interest Groups (FIGs). We are offering better career-advancement opportunities and strategies for growing leadership skills. We are strengthening our infrastructure with more efficient systems and better tools. We are partnering with the Center for Brain Health, part of The University of Texas at Dallas’ school of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, to offer Freeman employees training on mental wellness to maximize human performance and improve focus and innovation. In fact, I am participating in the program myself and plan to share my experience along the way.

In short, we are doubling down on our values. For over 90 years, in good times and bad, the culture at Freeman has been grounded in a conviction that we can trust people who embrace integrity, enthusiasm, empathy, performance excellence, collaboration, and innovation as core values. That’s who we are. Moving forward, we will lean into our culture harder than ever. 

You might say — we’re banking on it.