Responsibility #9: Lead Teams and Build Trust

By Michael Colemere and Candianne Haacke

The Importance of Building Trust
“What wonders we can accomplish when others have faith in us! No leader can long succeed in any society without the confidence of the people,” said Gordon B. Hinckley. Product managers are no exception to this rule. In fact, much of their success is based on their ability to build trust — trust that motivates team members in real, lasting ways, oftentimes without authority.

A lack of trust comes at great cost. Consider, for a moment, airport security. Before 9/11, airlines themselves paid for and carried out passenger and baggage security screening. A patron could arrive 30 minutes before departure with their family to see them off at the gate. Today, the annual TSA budget exceeds $7 billion and patrons must arrive at least 90 minutes early to ensure timely passage. When trust is absent, costs increase and speed decreases. This is an important principle when product success is based on profitability and time to launch.

How to Build Trust
Trust is not an ethereal concept. It is practical, pragmatic, and tangible. Businessman Warren Buffett said, “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”

Trust is so tangible that in his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey identifies 13 practical and pragmatic behaviors required to build trust. These behaviors include:

1. Talking Straight. Be honest, call things what they are.
2. Demonstrating Respect. Be sincere and show you care.
3. Creating Transparency. Be open and authentic.
4. Righting Wrongs. Make things right when you’re wrong.
5. Showing Loyalty. Give credit to others.
6. Delivering Results. Establish a track record of results.
7. Getting Better. Continuously improve.
8. Confronting Reality. Take issues head-on; acknowledge the unsaid.
9. Clarifying Expectations. Disclose and reveal expectations.
10. Practicing Accountability. Take responsibility for all results, good and bad.
11. Listening First. Listen before you speak.
12. Keeping Commitments. Say what you are going to do, then do it.
13. Extending Trust. Don’t withhold trust because there is risk involved.

Product managers can avoid growing mistrust by being more transparent (status reports, roadmaps, and one-on-ones), remaining open to others’ thoughts and opinions, wisely choosing which battles to fight, staying attuned to industry trends, sharing helpful information, and fearlessly supporting team members — especially when they make mistakes. The opportunity for product managers to build trust with stakeholders, team members, and peers is great. In trusting others, product managers will ease their many responsibilities, and better products will emerge.