A few years ago, London became the greatest place on earth to be. Why, because we were hosts to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. As a London Ambassador volunteer manager, I was privileged to be part of it. I was based at Heathrow airport for three months and, it was while I was there that I learned about the power of trust. Managing volunteers is very much based on trust, as you can only influence them – you have no direct management control. They arrive, you agree what they will do and then you trust them to do it.Being part of the greatest show on earth meant I did something I would not otherwise have done. I went to watch the finals of the Paralympian athletics.
Trust at the Paralympics
I went on my own, and in the early evening, took my seat amongst 80,000 other attendees in a packed stadium. There were a party of Russians in front of me, a Mexican family to one side with English, Brazilians and Italians nearby. The din was prodigious, as we cheered every winning performance.About halfway through the evening there was an announcement. The next race would be the final of the blind women’s 4×100 meters relay. We were politely asked that we remain silent until the last baton had changed hands. A profound quiet fell within minutes, as 80,000 people became silent. There was a faint ‘pop’ as the starter gun fired, and 6 women burst from their starting blocks. We could hear every step as their feet struck the ash track and they pounded towards their first change of baton. We could hear as each runner’s guide spoke clear instructions to keep each runner running straight. The first clunk of a baton changing hands sounded around the stadium as the rest followed.
The first corner
As the first runner reached the first corner of the oval track, the spoken instructions increased and we held our collective breath and hoped that every runner would negotiate the turn successfully.It’s hard to describe just how extraordinary it was to be amongst so many people who had collectively, and without discussion, agreed to support these few runners by being quiet. Around me, no-one spoke, no-one shuffled their feet or even sipped a drink. As the runners powered towards the finish line and the last baton was safely exchanged, the stadium rose in an almighty roar as we cheered the runners in their final sprint.
When the race was over, we laughed and hugged each other in a euphoria of collective feeling as we released our pent up emotion from staying silent. It changed the atmosphere in the stadium to one of collective joy and support. From that moment on, we became friends together not representatives of different, competing nations.It seemed a small thing to be asked to be silent for a few minutes at the time. But the organisers had taken a huge risk in asking us to be silent, then trusting us to do so. They didn’t know who these 80,000 people were, but they trusted us anyway. Most of us probably didn’t even think about it, but being trusted and fulfilling that trust made us enjoy the rest of the evening much more.
Trust really matters.
As I went back to my teams of volunteers, I realised just how important trust was for us too. I realised three things:
- Trust means risk. The organisers of that race took a huge risk. They could have no idea whether we would comply.
- With Trust comes responsibility. We all realised that the race’s success depended on what we did. Each person in that stadium made an individual commitment to be silent.
- Giving your trust is one the most powerful things you can do, both in your life generally and as a leader. When you trust your team, you are saying to them that they are trustworthy. Trust is not based your direct authority over them, but on your belief that they have the skills, knowledge and shared values to take the right action.
Trust is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone, and is a precious gift to receive. Mutual trust will give you the power to move mountains, create abiding relationships or to silence 80,000 people.
Stephen Covey, author of 7 habits of highly effective people said:
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Trust is indeed a powerful thing.