About 10 or so years ago I found myself mired by my own personal crisis. “These things can’t be happening to me. I am not supposed to be in this situation.” My world growing up said that if you went to school and got a job, everything would be ok. But after 3 college degrees, 12 years as an educator, and 18 years as a business owner with over 300 employees in two countries, I found myself at one of the lowest points of my life both professionally and personally. I had lost everything and had nothing to fall back on. Every step I took was a new one into a world for which I was not prepared.
During this time I had to make some very hard decisions. To survive, I had to reinvent myself. So, at 52 with only the clothes on my back, a few pieces of furniture, and a car I began a new journey.
Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I took some of it to try and figure out what I might be able to do. What did I want to be now that I had grown up? At my age not many companies want you, and I wasn’t exactly sought after. I actually remember talking to a head hunter who literally laughed at me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but with the time I had left, I wanted to try and make a difference in the world.
I always had a love of horses and actually did some “training” in my youth. So, I decided to try my hand at it again. As I began the “breaking” process with the horses, I drew upon the techniques that I had learned from and used in the past.
- Making not teaching
- Force if needed
- Tools to make not to teach
While I was somewhat successful in this new endeavor of my life there were more than a few bumps and bruises along the way. I could ride the horses that I was training but you weren’t always sure of what the result would be. There was always a lack of trust on both parts and the result was anything but a successful partnership.
Another result of my old technique was that it was taking a long time to achieve success. My friends would say, “That horse needs some time.” Well, I was going broke waiting for the time to come.
I knew from my teaching days that it was a lot easier to transfer knowledge to a willing participant, but my current methods were causing the exact opposite
I decided that if I wanted to be successful-and keep out of the hospital- I needed to change my techniques. After all, as the trainer it was my job not the horse’s to create the success. I even looked up train in the dictionary and quickly discovered that the horse had no responsibility in the process. My first lesson was that if I wanted to be successful I had to look in the mirror. I had to make the change. The job was all mine.
Back to Basic
Again, my lesson came from a horse. After a very unsuccessful and frustrating session, my horse stopped dead still in his tracks. And, in a look that can only be described as hauntingly educational he communicated to me that if I wanted him to perform in a way that he wasn’t sure about then he needed to be able to trust me first. My frustration was not working to create any success. And no matter how much I yelled or swore the real problem still existed. I still wasn’t doing my job.
I discovered that if I wanted to be successful as a trainer, I needed to go back to basics, back to the beginning. I was asking my horses to perform at step three or four before we completed step one; the one process that would make everything easier. I had to learn to build trust first. So, I immediately set about developing a set of tools that would do just that.
I realized that the first thing I had to do to build trust was to earn it. I had to prove worthy of being trusted. It was about me as the leader. The horses looked to me to measure my competency level. After all, when a horse gives you his trust, he trusts you with his life. To him it is a matter of significant importance. His ability to trust based on another earning it has been the key to his survival for 50 million years.
However, my knowledge of the importance of trust in relationships was still getting me hurt. I asked the horses to trust me but their response was “sorry I don’t understand what you want, but you can get on.” So, not only did I need to create a set of tools, I had to use them to create actions that would prove me worthy of trust- demonstrate my competency. I quickly learned that to earn meant a couple things. First, I had to do it not the horses and secondly, there had to be an action associated with it. I had to earn not demand trust.
The benefits of my new paradigm were dramatic. Once I had established a trust the following happened.
- I got to the end faster.
- I reduced the bumps and bruises dramatically.
- I realized that the more I built trust the more I could trust.
- Trust made everything better and everything faster; faster.
- I had a partner with whom I could achieve bigger goals.
- I could achieve the goals faster.
- I was more efficient not just more effective.
The results were also that the horses changed my life on a much higher plane. They became my teachers, and they showed me what the crisis in my life had become. My life had been almost destroyed by the lack of trust in not only my business relationships but my personal ones as well. And they showed me that the first place I need to look to become a better person was in the mirror.
Then it hit me again. What if we could apply this same philosophy beliefs and actions outside of the arena in the human world?
Today more than ever, every aspect of our lives is influenced in a negative way by the lack of trust. There is a crisis of confidence in almost every aspect of our lives. What would be the result of changing this trend? What if we could apply the same simple back-to-basics, first-things-first, tools and process that worked with the horses to create trust in business, education, and even in our everyday personal relationships? And if we did what would be the benefits?
I recently was inside a national hardware and lumber chain and overheard two mid level supervisors discussing how they didn’t trust their leaders. I listened for about 10 minutes to them discuss all the bad things that were going on simply because of a lack of trust.
What were the benefits of those 10 minutes? Their lack of trust had an exponential effect. Two supervisors, who I assume were being paid a fairly good wage, were not supervising; the job they had been paid to do. Those that they were not supervising were not doing their jobs as well. A cashier where they were standing was having difficulty with a customer and the customer was not too happy. As a customer, I was looking for help with a product and didn’t want to interrupt such a passionate discussion. The whole scenario was certainly not a positive experience.
What was the cost of this lack of trust? The negative experience was exponential. Five people left with bad feeling all around. And those bad feelings created more bad feelings that in the long run hurt the profitability of the company. Bad feelings do not a profit make.
I also had the opportunity to call on a local grocery store chain in the Houston area. While I was waiting for my appointment, I casually asked the receptionist to rate how well she trusted her leadership on a scale of 1-10. Without hesitation her body language changed to an almost giddy pride and without hesitation she said a 10. I left there feeling not only good about the company but wanting to do all of my shopping there.
High trust yields positive benefits. Low trust yields negative benefits. And, each does so exponentially.
Bookstores are full of books that illuminate the crisis of the lack of trust in business and personal relationships, but very few give us the tools and the experiential venue to make significant change. Consultants engage in PowerPoint presentations with voluminous workbooks and manuals that promise results in only six months. But in today’s economy, what is the financial benefit of six months of failure? Neither the bad or the good stop and only the good creates profit.
The knowledge that trust is important is universal. However, the ability to earn trust requires actions. And to be successful actions have to be evaluated. We do not create partnerships with words. They are the result of earned trust.
How do you earn trust in an organization or in your personal life? You use specific tools and create actions that prove your worthiness and your competency as a leader, spouse, parent, colleague, and friend. Is it a learnable trait? Absolutely! Is it difficult? Not at all. But to learn it you must experience it. Does it take a long time? No, the benefits are immediate.
Ten years ago I began a journey to make a difference. Along the way a horses showed me how.