Have you ever tried participating in a trust fall?
The trust fall is a group exercise in which you let yourself fall back as your teammates catch you. They form a circle around you so regardless of the direction of your fall, they’re there to stop you from hitting the ground.
For this game to work, you must relinquish your control and put your faith in your teammates. But that’s not an easy thing to do because there’s a chance that you’d get hurt. Would you play this game with complete strangers? Most likely not. You’d want to do this exercise with people you trust enough to catch you.
Dealing with your company’s board of directors isn’t much different. You need to learn to trust them, but you can do that only when you’re sure that they won’t let your company fall.
So here’s a crucial question: What should you look for in directors before you can fully trust them? There are four qualities you should seek:
Trustworthy directors are people who are competent enough to do what’s expected of them. They have the tried-and-tested skills necessary to fulfill their responsibilities to your company. They can apply their knowledge to real-life scenarios, so their expertise isn’t just on paper.
Trustworthy directors are people who care about others. They don’t put their self-interests above everyone else’s because they truly want what’s best for your company. They understand how all stakeholders will feel if your company fails, so they won’t do anything that could put it in jeopardy.
Trustworthy directors are people who can stand by their strong moral principles regardless of external pressure. They practice what they preach and keep the promises they make, so you can believe them when they say they’ll do (or won’t do) something. They stay true to their word.
Trustworthy directors are people who are there when your company needs them. They can be counted on to stick around through the good times and bad times. When things get tough, they won’t bail out on your company and leave it hanging. Instead, they’ll roll up their sleeves and take on an active role in bringing your company back on track.
It’s not enough that you trust your directors; they need to be able to trust you and each other, too. When mutual trust exists, teamwork becomes easier because everyone already feels comfortable about working with one another.
But how do you build mutual trust? It begins with you. As a CEO and/or founder, you’re in the position to represent ideal behavior which others can emulate. This is the perfect opportunity to lead by example. You can’t expect your directors to act a certain way when you can’t do it yourself, after all. Trust begets trust.
Next, encourage your directors to embrace vulnerability. In a team, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but of trust. When directors feel comfortable around each other, they’ll feel free to speak their minds, unafraid of being criticized and opposed. Yes, opposition and criticism can still happen — that can’t be avoided in a team of strong personalities — but they occur within the bounds of professionalism, not personal attacks. Directors know that there are no hard feelings involved in spite of the occasional conflict, because differences aside, they’re loyal to one another. In the same way that they look out for your company, they look out for each other, too. Now, that’s teamwork.
Be patient, though. Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build, and much more time to maintain. It can’t be forced; it has to happen organically. But under the right circumstances, it can flourish and develop. Encouraging collaboration is one way to ensure that trust has room to grow.
Directors don’t meet face-to-face that often, but they can regularly work with other directors through a board of directors software, which allow virtual collaboration on meeting documents in between board meetings. It provides a good opportunity for directors to build strong professional ties, which are essential in building trust.