Your Network of Trust Published 2009-06-03 under ,

turst It's lonely at the top Whether you are a principal, supervisor, or secretary of education, you need a support network to share ideas, gain feedback, and let your guard down.

For those of you who follow my rants/ideas, you know how I value the personal learning network - a group of people and resources that help and even push you to be better at what you do. Executives and top managers whether in business or education are no different. We need a group to turn to for advice.

A recent article from MIT Sloan Management Review titled "Profiles of Trust: Who to Turn To, And for What" addresses the question "when a top manager needs personal support, who does he or she turn to?" This article caught my interest for its general breakdown of the types of persons managers seek out - essentially it depends on the type of advice they need. OK this sounds obvious but the authors do a good job breaking the discussion into some interesting critical parts. They start by dividing the kinds of support requested into four quadrants - high to low informational complexity and high to low emotional demand. {ed note: is four quadrants redundant?}


Raw Information
This is really just data. "What is our budget for professional development?", "How many students are taking AP classes?", "When is the next faculty in-service day?"
Actionable Advice
Support in this area is all about getting something done. The request involves high information complexity but low emotional demands, such as those involving processes. "How do our AP scores compare with others in the state?" requires knowledge of both process (how to get the stats) and nuances (which factors affect AP scores).
Emotional Support
When you seek emotional support, you are less interested in data or advice, but are in need of someone to listen and offer compassion/empathy. While some might dismiss such support as no being productive (resolving a problem), the need for emotional support is part of being human.
Strategic or Political Help
This type of support is characterized by high information complexity and emotional demands. "How do I break the news of teacher layoffs while maintaining a positive morale in the school?" "How can I sell the teachers on the need to improve our collective teaching methods?"

This is a long introduction to my essential point - and that of the article: As leaders, we (need to) seek out a support network comprised of a variety of "skills". We need that person who can give us the raw data and we need that person with who we can confide our frustrations and insecurities. The raw data gal needs to be skilled or renowned in her area, but doesn't necessarily need to be a "people person". The confidant guy needs to be more of a cheerleader offering unconditional support, no questions, no judgment.

The MIT article groups these skills or traits into what they call Trust. We seek support from someone we trust. As suggested, the definition of "trust" varies depending upon the situation. In general, "trust" can be measured in terms of ability, benevolence, and integrity. Ability refers to the individual's skill or expertise in a specific area. Benevolence is the degree to which the individual holds your best interests at heart. Integrity is the adherence to a set of principles that you value.

The Take Away!

I think we all unconsciously evaluate those from which we seek support in terms of ability, benevolence, and integrity &emdash; though we may not be aware of this process. My point is first: understanding of these three characteristics (ability, benevolence, and integrity) will help us better craft our support network. But, my bigger point is: we all need a network of individuals upon which we can rely. In the MIT article, they refer to someone who ranks high in all three characteristics as a "Trustworthy Partner". These individuals represent an enormous value and while often difficult to find, are a prized asset in your network of trust.