The lineman tells the quarterback to trust him, “I’ll block that linebacker. Take your time and complete the pass.”
The soldier assures his buddy, “I will suppress the enemy. You run across that open area and gain a foothold on the building. I’ll keep their heads down. Trust me.”
The business leader assures his middle managers that the change in organizational culture will result in a more positive work climate and increase performance. “It will spark innovation,” he says. “Trust me.”
We urge our teams to trust us all the time, and we genuinely mean it. “Trust me,” we say hoping to assure them, somewhat pleading with them.
Yet, the reality is that our actions produce faster results than our words. Demonstrating that we should be trusted gains support faster than any motivational speech.
Several years ago, my eight-year-old son asked to join me on a deer hunt. He desperately wanted to sit in a treestand beside me while I hunted. Thrilled to have him along, I took my portable deer stand to a location where I already had a permanent stand affixed to a tree. The tree forked right where my stand was locked onto the tree.
I climbed the tree and fastened the portable stand to the other major fork in the tree. My son would be inches from me. That afternoon we dressed for hunting and headed to the farm. I buckled a safety harness to my son and we quietly walked to the tree.
I told my son to wait at the base of the tree while I climbed up to my stand. I climbed with the end of his safety line in my hand. Once I was in the stand, and tied to the tree, I tightened the slack in his safety line and told him to climb up.
He began climbing immediately, but once he was about six feet off the ground he froze on the side of the tree. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I tugged gently on the safety line to get his attention. He did not look up at me. His eyes stared straight at the tree. “What’s wrong?” I whispered.
Then I saw his chest begin to heave. “I’m scared,” he said, sobbing.
“I’ve got you,” I assured him, hoping he’d put his trust in me.
He did not move. He was locked up, frozen, on the side of the tree. “Son, climb on up. You won’t fall. I have the safety line.”
He continued to quietly sob. I then pulled the safety line enough to gently lift him off the steps. I lifted his entire body up, and he saw that I could handle his weight in my hands. Suddenly, he looked up at me, and without hesitation climbed up to the stand.
No amount of reassuring worked. My words were hollow, yet when I demonstrated that even if he slipped I would keep him from falling, he gave me his complete trust. It was a powerful lesson.
As leaders, we often urge others to trust us, but we would be wise to demonstrate capability. The old adage, actions speak louder than words, rings true when trust is desired.