Building Trust in Leadership: The Emotional Bank Account

When my children were in elementary school, there was a situation in my household where one of my children fibbed to me prior to bedtime. The next day, after discovering the truth of the situation, I found myself ever-so-slightly less trusting of answers being given by that child. I was shocked at my hasty conclusion – surely one fib does not a liar make!

The Emotional Bank Account

Luckily, I was able to recall the concept of the Emotional Bank Account (popularized by Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and use the simple analogy to help the fibber understand that there had been a decrease in our Mother/Child trust account.

Yes, the “withdrawal” in my example above was small, but it reminded me how quickly our interpersonal resources can be drained of trust. The Emotional Bank Account operates on the principle of trust as a valuable currency in relationships, including leadership. Just as we make deposits and withdrawals from a financial bank account, we do the same with our emotional bank account. Deposits are actions that build trust, while withdrawals are actions that erode trust.

This incident highlighted the need for trust, not just in parenting but also in leadership.

Deposits and Withdrawals in Leadership

As leaders, we sometimes forget how important our actions are when it comes to making deposits and withdrawals in our team member’s emotional bank accounts. Things that seem (to us) just off-the-cuff comments or brief interactions, may actually carry more weight than we intend.

Deposits can include praising team members, offering help to a struggling colleague, and going the extra mile to support your team. These actions not only boost morale but also contribute to trust-building.

On the other hand, withdrawals in leadership can involve losing your temper with a team member, missing important deadlines, or blaming others for mistakes. These actions diminish trust and can lead to a strained working environment.

Just as we sometimes lose track of our spending and saving, leaders can also lose sight of how well they are maintaining their workplace relationships. 

Auditing Workplace Relationships as a Leader

Leaders, more than anyone, need to maintain a healthy Emotional Bank Account with those around them. To do this, it’s essential to regularly audit workplace relationships. Take time to monitor your interactions with your team, and then analyze the results. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a pattern to the Deposits and Withdrawals in your leadership interactions?
  • Are there specific events or situations that seem to trigger Withdrawals in your team’s trust?
  • With whom are you more likely to make a Deposit, and why?

If you do this mental exercise periodically, you’ll discover whether any of your relationships are coming perilously close to being overdrawn.

Trust in Leadership

Trust is not just a nice-to-have in leadership; it’s a cornerstone. Trust forms the basis of a productive, collaborative, and innovative team. It’s what empowers your team to follow your lead with confidence. Without trust, leadership becomes a difficult and challenging endeavor.

Balancing the Leadership Ledger

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your leadership ledger sheet is in good order. Maintaining a healthy Emotional Bank Account in your team requires consistent effort and self-awareness. Strive to make more deposits than withdrawals, and be mindful of the impact of your actions on the trust your team has in you.

Trust is often seen as a scarce commodity in the workplace, but it needn’t be. All it takes is mindful attention to the way we connect as human beings to put our relationship balance sheet back in order. By understanding and applying the principles of the Emotional Bank Account, leaders can strengthen their relationships with their teams and enhance their effectiveness. Make deposits into your leadership account by supporting, empowering, and inspiring your team, and you’ll see the benefits in the form of a highly productive and motivated group of individuals.

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