What you can do when you just HOPE things will get better

Sometimes your team has looked at a problem that’s been festering, agreed to work on it, and you really hope things will get better. (Or maybe the problem’s been in your church, your marriage, or with your kids.) You hope things will improve.

In my consulting an a-ha reveals itself, as clients say: “Wow. We have a problem. And it’s gonna take some significant changes in how we work together.”  Sometimes I feel like I can read past their eyes and into their thoughts:  “Okay, Mulhern has helped us see bad patterns. But can we do what we kinda already knew we should?”

When things have gone awry, often trust has, too.  My clients wonder: Can I trust her now, when she’s been acting like my adversary? Maybe she’s even admitted, for example, that she hasn’t really trusted me? Can I trust this dude enough to raise hard issues, or is he only paying lip service to listening and trusting? Or can I trust enough to share my uncertainty about a problem, without fear my vulnerability will be exploited, or my confidences betrayed?

I’ve been at a couple a-ha meetings in the past few months.  I encouraged some execs to ask their colleagues if they were open to feedback, and a gentleman candidly said that he’d never heard an executive turn down input from a colleague; but, he added, that it was nevertheless very dangerous to offer, because people might say they want input, but. . . you never really know.  At the conclusion of a different meeting where a leadership team had all talked about ending some trust-killing behaviors (like talking behind others’ backs) two of them used the H word.  “I hope,” they each said, “that we can do this.”

So, that’s the title of today’s column, right:  “What can you do when you just HOPE things will get better?”

Well, the answer I offered them and proffer to you is:  Stop hoping.  Move to COMMITMENT. Leaders don’t put any energy into hoping things will get better — not if in hoping they are waiting-to-see.  Instead, leaders ACT for that which they hope.  In my examples, these were executive teams. Who else were they waiting for, or what were they hoping would happen?  If ever there was truth to “If not us, who? If not now, when?” it was among them.  If they want trust throughout the organization — and they do — then they must stop hoping each other will act in a trustworthy way, but must instead commit to being trustworthy with each other.  

I think I can now hear of few of you saying:  But it IS dangerous to trust untrustworthy people.  I agree.  But can any reader here say they have not done un-trustworthy things. But that doesn’t make YOU an untrustworthy person. You and the other are both capable of trusting or not.  And I’m pretty sure that if you expect someone to be untrustworthy, they will pick that up, and they will respond with caution in turn. You can hope they’ll be trustworthy, but it’s your doubt that will show through.  And together you’ll create a circle of mistrust.  And you will neither lead each other toward trust, nor create a broader culture of trust.  

You will never be a trust-building leader if you are waiting for someone to go first.  Paraphrasing my friend Charlie Ross, “Trust is hard, you go first.”  NOT!

What more can I say than COMMIT to lead with your best self!


  • FROM my experiences in politics, government, and practice of law, I find it harder and harder to trust people. If anything, when I take the lead, it is more often the opportunity for others to think of as stupid, because I trusted them. For me, the more I learn about people in leadership positions, the harder it is to find good honest people, who are no one degree or another, sociopaths.

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