Skip to content

Leadership Lessons from the end of the Leash: Trust Takes Time

In our family, we love Golden Retrievers. They ride in our car, sleep at the foot of our bed, get “bully sticks” almost daily (much to my wallet’s chagrin!), and have brought endless joy to our lives. My wife and I started rescuing Goldens a few years into our marriage, and as a result, are currently on rescue numbers nine and ten. Each one of our rescued Goldens has taught us something about love, relationships, trust, and leadership.

Redford, our seventh rescue, came to us broken, scared, and completely unable to trust. He had been used as a breeding sire at a puppy mill in Arkansas, and for the first 18 months of his life, he probably lived in a 2×3 crate, malnourished and with a mange-ridden coat, only getting let out to eat and go to the bathroom. All he knew that first 1.5 years? Fear and neglect – until we rescued him.

The Good News

When we rescued him, Redford “cashed in his chips!” Our dog-friendly backyard and pool, owners who loved on him, regular visits to the local ice cream shop for puppy cups, another dog to play with, etc. – I’m not sure what heaven is like for a Golden Retriever, but we work hard to make our home a bit of a heavenly reflection for our rescued dogs.

The Bad News

The only problem: while we knew Redford had cashed in his chips, he didn’t. It took almost a year of us working hard to show Redford he was safe before he started to relax. But even then, we had multiple times where things would set him off (as innocent as my daughter bouncing a basketball) and he would bolt to one of his hiding places under the stairs or behind the couch.

Leadership trust takes time

Which brings me to our leadership reminder for the month: Leader – it doesn’t matter how much you care for someone, it takes time for your care to be trusted. We loved Redford the minute we saw him. But no matter what we said or did, he was wary. Those first months and even years, he was slow to trust.

We are on-boarding a new junior manager right now. I had a chance to spend some initial time with her recently. I could tell she was very excited -she loved the vision and passion we bring to the work we do. And I could also tell that she was a little nervous – could she really trust us to act from our core values? Was she really allowed to fail and recover? Do we really work to submit to strengths and protect weaknesses? Is “seek first to understand” really practiced consistently?

Only time will tell. We’ve been down this path many times before. I know if we do a good job, she will learn to trust our care as leaders. But it will take time.

Leader, how can you best demonstrate trust? What will it take you to do so over the long-haul?
What can you do with those you lead to shorten the process?

Drawing of a dog