“Make relationships before you need them.” Retired Rear Admiral Michael Giorgione, who served as commanding Naval officer under two American presidents at Camp David, shared this guidance as one of the single most important leadership lessons he recalls learning. When you pause for a moment to consider the partnerships that were formed while Giorgione worked at this 75-year-old presidential retreat, there’s no question that building trust helps us break through obstacles and get things done.
Look at any working relationship, collaborative partnership, or alliance between parties and you’ll find trust at the center. Unfortunately, relationships don’t always begin on solid footing. Stereotypes can create false perceptions that inaccurately portray someone and stunt rapport-building.
One of the most common forms of stereotyping we experience in the U.S. is ageism. In Europe, it’s the number one form of discrimination. At the other end of the continuum, younger generations also encounter their share of generalizations. For example, younger employees are expected to exhibit entitlement and laziness while older employees are said to be less motivated and willing to engage in training.
I recall getting a summer job when I was in my twenties where I would be working with men who were older than me and came from different backgrounds. At first, they didn’t know what to make of me, this young college kid, dabbling in what was their full-time work. By the same token, I had my doubts about them, wondering what we could possibly have in common. But, as we opened ourselves up to one another and formed a working relationship over time, we learned that we could trust each other – even share a few laughs. Our mutual understanding and trust replaced skepticism.
Mostly due to globalization and technological advances in today’s business world, we’re often in the position of building alliances with people who have vastly different ages, backgrounds and cultural norms. It’s imperative that you do your best to let go of stereotypes and grab hold of any opportunity to debunk them. Think about the people who’ve surprised you after you’ve gotten to know them better and what you might have missed if you put stock in your mistaken beliefs.
Building trustworthy relationships not only gets us past our own initial misperceptions, but also gives life more meaning. And while your setting may be far from the Camp David, the reward of a good working relationship can be equally gratifying.
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