There’s no doubt that trust plays a critical role in leadership. But for many people, it is a fuzzy concept. That’s why in my last column I introduced the four qualities that serve as cornerstones in building trusting relationships: being able, believable, connected and dependable. In this column I’ll dig deeper into that first element: able.
Demonstrating competence, getting quality results, solving problems and bringing relevant skills to the table shows people you are able. If it’s not immediately apparent to you what ability has to do with trust, consider the following example:
The newest associate of a retail outlet quickly gained a reputation for honesty when he returned a $100 bill to the customer who’d accidentally dropped it. This associate is open, friendly and can be depended on to be at work on time every day. Yet his manager does not trust him — at least not yet. Despite his upright character, the associate does not have the ability to competently do his job. He can’t work the register properly and does not yet have the skills to make sound business decisions.
Without ability, you won’t be able to win someone’s full trust. Yet even if you’re not highly skilled, a positive attitude and willingness to learn can lead to exceptional ability. In The Simple Truths of Service, Barbara Glanz and I give an example of this in the story of Johnny the bagger.
A few years ago, Glanz, who is a professional speaker, was leading a session for the 3,000 front-line service people of a large supermarket chain. She told them that every one of them could generate return business by creating meaningful memories for customers.
“For example,” she said, “I know a baggage attendant whose personal signature was to collect all the luggage tags that fell off customers’ suitcases, rather than throw them away. He sent the tags back to their owners with a note saying, ‘Thank you for flying with us.’” Glanz gave them a few more examples as well as her contact information, so if they had any questions or wanted to share their success stories, they could call her.
About a month later Glanz got a call from a 19-year-old bagger named Johnny. He proudly informed her that he had Down syndrome. He told her at first he didn’t think he would be able to do anything special for his customers. “After all,” he said, “I’m just a bagger.”
But Johnny loved quotes, which gave him the idea to give his customers a new thought for each day. His dad helped him enter his daily quotation six times on a page and together they printed out 50 pages every night. Johnny cut out each quote and signed his name on the back of every one of them. “Then I put them in a paper bag I keep beside me at work,” he told her. “When I finish bagging someone’s groceries, I put my thought for the day in their bag and say, ‘Thanks for shopping with us.’”
A month later the supermarket manager called Glanz and told her that he’d arrived one day to find the line at Johnny’s checkout was three times longer than anyone else’s. The manager assumed it was a customer service disaster. He told her, “I shouted out orders: ‘Get more cashiers up front! Open more lanes!’ But no one would move,” he continued. “They all said, ‘No, it’s OK — we want to be in Johnny’s lane so we can get his thought for the day.’”
Because of the way Johnny was able to please customers, a spirit of service spread throughout the store. When the floral department had a broken flower or unused corsage, they went out on the floor and pinned it on a customer. One of the butchers in the meat department began putting Snoopy stickers on each package he wrapped. Customers began coming in more often and bringing their friends. Business boomed.
The moral of the story is this: Developing ability not only brings the rewards of a job well done, it also inspires trust, builds satisfying relationships and improves the bottom line.