On stage at our World Class Leadership Summit, Academy speaker Brendan Hall talks about the moment when his Clipper yacht team confessed they didn’t have any trust in him and the importance of self-orientation in his journey to building the trust equation, to turn his competition around, before entering dangerous waters.
The thing that probably hit me the hardest was when people said they didn’t feel any trust or they felt minimal trust, not in me as a leader and not really in each other as teammates and that really hurt because this was the first leg of the race. This is where we needed to be building that support and building that confidence and building that trust. That was the environment we needed but the environment that we’d created – well, it was shouty, it was entirely performance and task-focused and, to be honest, it was just a bit ‘win at all costs’. And the crew, quite rightly, wanted that to change and that change would have to come from or at least begin with me. And so I sat there in this hotel room and thinking about this stuff just having had this feedback and I felt like I’d blown it, feeling like maybe I really was too young for this job. Feeling like maybe I really was out of my depth – all those insecurities and self-limiting beliefs that we all carry around with us, began to crowd back in on me in that moment. But, you know, after sitting there and beating myself up for a few hours I decided, no, what was done was done. I had to turn things around and I had to turn them around fast. So after a long night, I won’t lie to you – of red wine and soul-searching – I decided when I got back on that boat I was going to be a very different type of leader, a more self-aware leader, a more emotionally intelligent leader, the leader that the crew needed and deserved and the one that I knew I should, in my heart of hearts, be. But I also had this very practical problem to solve because by now we should have had a very large amount of trust established on the boat, we should be a very very trusting team but we didn’t have that because of the way I’d behaved and the environment that we had on board. So to build that trust over the next leg and build it fast because the third leg of the race would be racing from Cape Town to Australia through the fearsome Southern Ocean, one of the most dangerous bodies of water anywhere in the world, so we would need to build that trust to a very high level before we got to that dangerous environment, so we didn’t have long to do it. So as did, as you do in this day and age, I went onto Google and I typed in ‘how do you build trust really fast?’. Now this is a, this is an interesting search if you ever want to do it with a very wide variety of answers, some more ethical than others. And once you scroll past all the click bait – ‘earn anyone’s trust in five easy steps’ – you start seeing one thing that just keeps appearing again and again and again. And I love it, it’s called The Trust Equation. Have you heard of it? Some have. The Trust Equation is fantastic and I loved it because (1) it’s simple and I love simple things and (2) because I could view experiences that I’d had in my life prior to this and sort of through that lens and it just made sense, it really resonated with me. It goes like this: Trust equals credibility. So credibility is how well you know your stuff, how reliable you are. Now I felt I didn’t have a problem with credibility the crew seemed very much to trust my technical competence, my capability to keep them safe, to navigate the boat, to do all that racing sailor stuff but where I was falling down was on my reliability because I had talked a fantastic leadership game before the start of the race – we’d come up with mission vision values purpose acceptable and unacceptable in a culture where we can challenge each other and all this good stuff. But under the pressure of competition once we were out there it kind of went out the window. So I’d said one thing and done something else. So my reliability was really called into question there. And intimacy, so intimacy, of course, is just the process of people getting to know one another. You get to know someone you reveal more about yourself. They reveal more about themselves and it’s a safety and security that you feel with somebody, and I mean I’m imagining that in a lot of your organisations you have people like key account managers? Yes? Yeah? I mean the fact that that job is even a thing, speaks volumes to the need for intimacy in building trust, having that one person that you can get to know, that you know will answer the phone, that you can build a relationship and report with, with your key stakeholder clients. So that’s all fairly straightforward – credibility, reliability, intimacy and one I needed to fix really was my reliability. But this is where it gets interesting. It’s all divided by self-orientation. Self-orientation is to do with your focus and whether it’s inwards on your own needs and your own desires and your own agenda or whether it’s outwards on other people or another person in particular. Now I’m sure that my crew was saying to one another Brendan he does not care about what we want from this race. He’s not interested. All he wants to do is win, win, win, because that’s going to further his own sailing career. He’s ambitious and that’s his agenda. And that was the perception that I really had to change. I had to prove that I was there for them and by giving them what they wanted and doing what was best for the team I would also get the result that I wanted myself.