At the end of week‑long training on how to facilitate leadership development programs using high and low ropes courses, the instructor told us we were headed to the ‘pamper pole.’ “Perfect!” I said to myself…”I sure could use some pampering right now…”
Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the pamper pole and I discovered the pamper pole was a 60’ telephone pole that I was to climb to the top of using stubby 3” foothold and not some fantastic swing where I would be cradled and pampered! Not being one to shy away from a challenge, even if I’m exhausted and recognize that I need a break, I climbed the pole and my legs began to tremble with fear and exhaustion.
As I climbed, I knew that I would need to stand on top of the pole – a surface that was less an than 8” across – and then jump off and try to catch a trapeze that was swinging ~5’ away from the pole. With each subsequent step up the pole, I questioned whether I would have the courage to jump, whether my climbing rope would hold if I missed the trapeze, and whether my belay partners would have the strength to hold me if I fell.
When I got to the top, I stood on shaking legs, which in turn caused the telephone pole to shake and sway. I experienced many moments of desperately needing diapers to contain the fear manifesting itself physically (hence, where the name ‘pamper pole’ comes from), and then I heard my most courageous inner‑voice telling me that everything I had done over the week had prepared me for this so just I should just JUMP! And then I could hear the cheers from the friends I had made over the past week encouraging me and telling me I would be okay on the other side. And so I jumped, and I caught the trapeze, and then I was belayed down from the trapeze by my friends who kept me safe.
Trust – it’s our belief that the people we work with and our organization is reliable, consistent, and effective. In times of change, our ability to trust is impacted by many things – how much trust we felt before things changed and our proximity to information and decision makers. Both of these versions of trust are somewhat “external” to us in that they depend on us trusting other people. And there is another type of trust that is powerful in times of change – our trust in ourselves.
The trust we felt coming into the changes we’re experiencing have a huge impact on whether we feel like “we are in this together” or whether we feel like “we are alone.” Teams with strong culture and a high degree of trust are much more likely to “hold each other” and the work of their team together through change. People with strong relationships are likely to feel connected to one another through the change and reach out to offer and ask for support.
Trust is a “hope in the unseen” and so our proximity to information and people with decision making power greatly impacts how much we are able to trust in times of change and uncertainty. “I know and trust XYZ person, and know that s/he is at the table making decisions on behalf of me and our team” is very different than “I don’t know who is making decisions,” “I know who is making the decisions but I don’t have a relationship with them and therefore don’t know if I can trust them,” or “I know who is making the decisions and I don’t trust them.”
Our relationships matter, and proximity to people making decisions and the information that is informing those decisions also matters. Margaret Wheatley writes that “The role of information is revealed in the word itself: in‑formation…For a system to remain alive, information must be continually shared. Information is necessary for new order, an order not imposed, but order self‑organized…Intelligence emerges when a certain level of organization is reached which enables the system to process information. The greater the ability to process information, the greater level of intelligence. We begin to see that organizational intelligence is not something that resides in a few experts, specialists, or leaders. Instead, it is a system‑wide capacity directly related to how open the organization is to new and disconfirming information, and how effectively that information can be interpreted by anyone in the organization.” And this is where proximity to information matters – those of us closest to information feel a part of the formation of what lies ahead; those of us who don’t feel informed may feel removed from what is forming.
And so what do we do to feel trust during times of change and uncertainty?
- Rely on relationships with people who can help support us (and who we can help support) – whether those are inside or outside of the organization in which you work. These relationships and the perspectives and experiences of others help remind us that we’re not alone, and that others have or are experiencing similar emotions and reactions.
- Gather and share information – take off the information chastity belt and ask questions, seek multiple perspectives, and test the assumptions we are making with information that can confirm or dispel the stories we create and pass along. Share information, perspectives, and opinions with others so that information can be included in the formation of what lies ahead.
- Trust yourself – remind yourself of times when you have experienced (and survived) a significant change and reassure yourself that everything you have done until now has prepared for what lies ahead; really examine the reality behind any negative “self‑talk” that is undermining your ability to trust in your own capabilities; and name and examine what you are afraid of, angry about, and sad because of so you can get clear on what you personally need right now. And then give yourself permission to take care of yourself.
How do you feel trust during times of change and uncertainty?