Can you trust me?

Kim Novak and James Steward in Vertigo.

Trust is the base of our living together. You trust your doctor, your teacher, your employer and coworkers, your friends, the person who sells your food.

It is also the base of leadership. We follow the leaders we trust; we allow them to influence our acts, thoughts and feelings without any certainty of the outcome. We just trust and take the leap because we believe we’ll get something good out of it.

The problem is how we trust. We trust people who look like us. We trust our neighbors more than the outsiders, and our relatives more than those who are not.

In the book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins grounds this natural, similarity bias on the self-preserving behavior of the genes.

When a leopard chases a herd of antelope, the animal that has the most descendants in the herd will sacrifice itself for its kin’s sake. But, Dr. Dawkins maintains, not because it cares about and wants to protect its family. It does it because its genes are selfish and want to protect themselves.

Because, Dawkins says, bodies are mere survival machines built by genes. If you look like me, we may belong to the same family. If I help you, I’m ultimately helping my own genes perpetuate.

Of course, humans don’t abide by the jungle law and have sophisticated needs and values. We recognize our children and cherish other things aside from perpetuation–knowledge, progress, personal realization.

But our genes still are selfish. Thus, we, humans, need to be aware of the “similarity bias” and don’t let it drive our decisions.

Can you trust me, even if I’m not like you?

Now, say you’re a woman in a male-led work environment and you want to be a leader because you have the ambition, resilience, and skills. You need those in power to take a risk with you and put you in charge. How do you make them trust that you’ll be a good leader, then, if you’re different?

For you to become a leader, you need to get to the top of the trust ladder.


1 Ability–Show you can and you’ll be trusted to perform tasks

You know how to do the job. You’re competent and savvy. Everybody around you already knows it, so you don’t need to keep proving it. Focus on showing confidence–you know how to do the job, remember?

Be engaged in the work you do and with your colleagues. Show you can learn from your mistakes–don’t strive for perfection. Share your ideas in meetings. If people ignore what you say, say it again and ask for and accept feedback–even if your colleagues say your idea is stupid. Remember: it’s not your goal to be perfect. Plus, negative feedback is the best way to improve or refine an idea.

2 Integrity–Show you will and you’ll be trusted to manage projects

Keep your word, be punctual, respect the limits. Never do what you said you never would. Even better: never say never.

Be loyal to the company. Accept challenges and don’t ask for adaptations. Accept criticism because it will make your work better–that’s what being loyal looks like: you contribute your better work, not the work you do easily.

Be loyal to the people you work with. If you cry when you feel frustrated they’ll think you’re trying to manipulate their feelings. If you dress sexy or act flirtatiously they’ll think that too.

3 Benevolence–Show you care and you’ll be trusted to lead people

Put the other party’s objectives ahead of your own.

Tell the truth–because you care about the project, the company, the team, the client. And don’t sugarcoat. If you think your client’s idea is a bad one, tell them so. If you think your boss is wrong, tell them so. If you think your team’s work is not good enough, tell them so.

Expose yourself; take the risk to make mistakes. Say what you think even if it goes against the common thought. Welcome disagreement and don’t eschew conflict. Remember: your objective is for the project to progress, the client to succeed or the company to thrive.

Doing this will show that your goal is to advance the other party’s (company, client, team) objectives and not to protect yourself. It shows that you’re a means to an end.

Only when you prove you can be a vessel for the company’s perpetuation and success, will you be given the opportunity to lead people.

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