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How to build a Culture of Trust-Driven Inclusive Leadership, with Vessy Tasheva

Trust is a key component when it comes to measuring the state of inclusion in an organization. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, and as a leader it’s your job to create an inclusive, high-trust environment. Employees are happier, more productive, engaged, and motivated when  a culture of trust is fostered – so how can leaders build this?

We were delighted to speak with DEI expert and SocialTalent author, Vessy Tasheva, about this very topic. On this week’s show we chat about creating trust in the context of the polarized world we live in and how trust-driven leadership is something that needs to be consistently practised in order to be perfected.

Trust-driven leadership


In this episode:

  • The importance of building trust when in a leadership position.
  • The four principals of trust-based leadership.
  • What to do when trust is broken.
  • Self-care and leadership.
  • Creating trust in a virtual world.

Key takeaways:

1. Issues around trust in an organization often centre on leadership. Lack of transparency, an inability to nurture, being unpredictable, an absence of authenticity and empathy – this can all unlock primitive anxieties in people, and make them second-guess motives. A practical solution for this is OKRs at an organizational level. This gives a level of transparency around the work being done, connects teams, and shows exactly what everyone is contributing to.

2. The power of one-to-ones. If a leader is looking to drive trust, you cannot overlook regular one-to-ones with your team. But remember – these are different from an operational sync. In a one-to-one the employee drives the agenda. It is an opportunity for them to tell you what’s actually on their mind and build a genuine rapport. There is emotional work involved in this process, but it’s so vital. If you only focus on business results, your people will then feel like there is only certain aspects of their self that they can bring to the workplace.

3. How to mend broken trust. According to Vessy, it’s rare to hear a leader apologize, admit mistakes, or hold themselves accountable. But this is fundamental if you want to repair a rift. There is a taboo around admitting fault as a leader, with many believing that others will ultimately think less of them. But genuine understanding and accountability can go a long way to repair trust when it’s broken. Leaders often struggle with self-knowledge and it can create defence mechanisms, and this is natural. But it’s important to realize this and actively look to contain this response.

Our guest’s final piece of advice:

“Go inside and go deep.”

Society is all about immediate consumption but growing as a leader takes time.



  • [2.41] Introduction
  • [4.01] Trust and leadership
  • [7.23] What does the opposite of trust-driven leadership look like?
  • [11.34] What do the cynics say?
  • [14.42] The four principals of trust-driven inclusive leadership
  • [18.31] Trust-driven leadership for first time managers
  • [24.42] What to do when trust is broken
  • [29.39] Self-care and leadership
  • [31.39] How leadership adapts to remote working
  • [37.29] Going back on expectations
  • [43.33] Final piece of advice


Johnny Campbell:

You’re very welcome. It’s episode 121 of The Shortlist. I’m Johnny Campbell, your host and the co-founder and CEO of SocialTalent. Today we’re going to be talking about trust. Trust is something that we seem to be finding ourselves with less of these years. These years in 2022, for example, as we broadcast, trust is at an all-time low, trust in institutions, trust in government, trust in each other. But if you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer, the trust that comes out top is trust in your employer and particularly your boss. And surprisingly perhaps to some of you, trust in organizations beats trust in pretty much every other institution. So it’s important therefore for us to be talking about trust and its role in leadership. Our guest today is going to be talking about how do you build a culture of trust driven, inclusive leadership.

So it’s a really important element when we talk about inclusion and being included, trust typically pops up. And everyone deserves to feel comfortable, as we say, bringing their whole selves to work, right? And as a leader, it is the leader’s job to create an inclusive high trust environment. Employees are happier, they’re more productive, they’re more engaged, more motivated when a culture of trust is fostered. Most of us pretty much understand this, but how do you do it? How can a leader build this?

Well, today I’m delighted to be joined by DEI expert and SocialTalent author, Vessy Tasheva, about this very topic. On this week’s show, we’re going to dig into how do you create trust, especially in the context of the polarized world we find ourselves in today, and how trust-driven leadership is something that needs to be consistently practiced in order to be perfected.

Vessy, you’re very welcome. I’ve been watching your training, I was saying to you before the show kicked off, for the last three weeks as it’s on my current Q4 learning here at SocialTalent as a leader. Really enjoying it, finding it very accessible. Dying to dig into this topic with you. But maybe you could start by introducing yourself to our audience and explain how you ended up being someone who speaks on this topic and has become very well-known and trusted, if you pardon the pun, this area.

Vessy Tasheva:

Thanks, Johnny. I’m delighted to hear that you’re actually going through the training yourself, looking forward to some of your feedback and the leadership team’s feedback when you complete the training. Oh, how did it start? I think originally as a business, started out of frustration as a DEI and mental health consultancy related to problems I was observing, experiencing in organizations, and I wanted to change that, but more specifically on trust. I am currently training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Trinity College Dublin. So trust is a topic that I examine as part of my dissertation in Trinity, and it’s something that I kept revisiting. Why am I doing it? Should I change to something else? And there was always something about trust that kept bringing me back to the topic of trust.

I think it relates to two things. On the one side, our own upbringing, how we experience trust. Do we trust ourselves? Do we trust others? Do they trust us? But then working with organizations, when we do state of inclusion report, we create our DEI strategies. It was never just about just LGBTQ inclusion or racial diversity or something like that. It was going into deeper and deeper topics. First, it kind of transitioned into transparency, accountability, and then it boiled down to trust. So we kept seeing, if there is skepticism towards the leadership team, if people were doubtful of whether there is authentic commitment to DEI, it wasn’t just about that, it was trust in place or lack of trust in different aspects of the organization and in different ways towards the leadership team.

Now, it’s very interesting to turn it around because a leader can say, “Oh, what can I do? They just don’t trust me. Why are they such not trusting group of people?” They can put it this way, but we can also say, “Are you a leader who is capable of containing this feeling? If people don’t feel like they trust you, recognize that and still be able to contain those feelings.” Sometimes leadership is compared to parenting and some people’s reaction is, “Oh, I don’t like kids,” or, “I don’t want to parent my employees.” Let’s move away from that. It’s not that they’re children and you’re the parent, and you know and they don’t know. It’s not about… There is some potential power dynamics in both cases if one is to maybe come from a position of power. But how about trust?

If someone is upset and you’re the person who has the final decision to make, it is up to you what happens. It isn’t about just being like, “Oh, you know what, John? I see my decision upsets you. I’m just going to change my decision to make you happy.” It’s not about that, but do I have the capacity to actually hold your upset, help you work through the emotional bits of your upset because I’m holding it and I’m accepting it, so you’re not in danger to be unhappy with me or even angry with me at this moment? So then we can move on and repair from distrust because now you know that you being unhappy with me is okay. And that’s how we communicate if that’s what’s happening between us. But now we have a trust-based relationship. So you still feel safe. It’s similar when we do performance management, we want people to feel challenged, but they still need to have a sense of safety and stability. So you’re challenged just enough that you’re getting outside of your comfort zone but without feeling insecure or threatened.

Johnny Campbell:

When we talk today about trust-driven leadership, explain to me why we need to talk about it, as in what is the alternative or what have been perhaps the traditional styles of leadership that perhaps didn’t focus on trust or didn’t engender trust? Talk to me about other alternatives and perhaps the types of leadership that doesn’t focus on trust. Why do we need to focus on this today? What’s not working in other types of leadership and why does that occur?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah, so the other extreme would be kind of fear-based leadership. And that’s usually when verbally or non-verbally, it’s communicated, “I’m your boss, you need to do what you’re told to do.” Or unless you meet those expectations, there would be negative consequences for you. So there is a power play, and sometimes it can be implicit and sometimes you would hear people say such things. Now, with trust-based, it’s, I trust you’re doing your best. And even if you’re not meeting the requirements now, it doesn’t mean that whatever you do, we’ll just keep things that way. But if someone on my team is underperforming, I would still give them feedback, trusting that they can hear the feedback. Maybe we’ll no longer work together, but I’ll say, “Okay, this is where I’ve been trusting you.” And there is still an opportunity for them to say, “Aha, I see what I missed,” and they can still try to change that, take that feedback on board.

There is someone on the team right now that I shared feedback. So I didn’t say like this is the end. I left some space to see if they will take that on, but they didn’t make the effort to now create an opportunity out of the situation. So they gave up, but I did trust them with this is how things are happening. I think this is where we find each other as humans trusting each other. So it isn’t about making things extremely predefined. We will do those 10 things, one, two, three, four, and five. Even in the course, as you mentioned, we look at, okay, it’s trust driven, but doesn’t mean it’s only about trust. No, it’s about empathy. It’s about stability, security. It’s about self-care. It’s about hope, and creating hope is about trust, knowing how to look after ourselves. Self-care goes back into trust. So there is a lot about containing people’s emotions and then the power of one-on-ones that supports us here.

There are two pieces of research that I refer to in the course. One of them is that high trust organizations have 76% higher employee engagement, and 74% less stress. So if I don’t feel like I’m just about to be fired, or if I do something wrong or under deliver or misbehave in a sense, I will be punished, but rather there is a sense of safety. I still need to do my bit, I am challenged, but my capacity doesn’t go into, “Oh my God, how I’m going to cope with this?” Going into our coping mechanisms, “I will not eat, I will not sleep,” or whatever it is for the person who overeating, oversleeping, whatever, just so they can push it through to deliver because they’re full of anxiety or depression, whatever way stress impacts.

Johnny Campbell:

I don’t mean to go straight to it, but I think it’s important to address. For folks who are skeptical listening to this, when they’re looking at that comparison vesting, it’s a great comparison, maybe the fear-based leadership, which is if you don’t do this, here’s the consequence versus trust. There’s a temptation for cynics to hear that and say, “Well, okay, is this a no consequence relationship?” Is this a situation where you have a boss and her subordinates, and there’s no consequence to underperformance or not doing a job? What happens in a situation where the trust is broken, let’s say, or not delivered upon? Or maybe there’s trust but the person isn’t performing, in that situation, does the person have no consequence? You say that they don’t have fear, they feel that they’re safe, but how far does that stretch in terms of, let’s say a sales job or a job where you have a very obvious output and if you’re not delivering upon it, is it just, “Well, it’s okay, we all have trust so everyone’s fine”? Or how far does that stretch?

Vessy Tasheva:

You know what’s funny? That trust-based leadership, it’s about the leader building trust. It’s not, “Oh, do you trust your employee?” And that’s a common pitfall because what are you doing to deserve people’s trust as a leader? Are you transparent? Are you accountable? Are you predictable? Are you trustworthy? Yeah, so okay, some people won’t be able to perform. You don’t have to just keep people around for the sake of it, by no means. But very often, whenever we have issues related to trust in the organization, it starts in the leadership team. It’s because the leaders are not transparent enough, accountable enough, they’re not predictable, nurturing enough, they’re failing to contain. So this unlocks then sometimes even very primitive anxieties in people. What is going on in this company? Do we even know where we’re going? And that is distracting.

So what would it look like in practice? How about we have OKRs? There is full transparency. We know what our mission is, what our vision is, what our values are. We see how the OKRs on organizational level, from leadership level through every function connect. There is nothing sensitive about it. No legal liability there that can be created by just having that level of transparency, so people know what they’re doing today contributes to their own OKRs or their team’s OKRs or to the organizational ones. So similarly, if their leader falls sick tomorrow, let’s say their CEO, for six months, that trust can hold, but if no one is acting like a whip to force people to do things, things will fall apart because the transparency, the accountability, the predictability, the safety, the trustworthiness will be lost.

Johnny Campbell:

You talk about four principles and you touched on them a few minutes ago. You talk about trust, you talk about empathy, you talk about stability and also about hope. Walk us through those four elements and maybe share your views on how they combine together to drive this kind of more holistic inclusive leadership approach.

Vessy Tasheva:

One of the most simple practices and probably most of our audience is already applying but not thinking about it through those terms, is having one-on-ones. I think sometimes we have a missed opportunity in one-on-ones when we don’t think about it as a way to really foster trust. It does take vulnerability on our side as well, especially when we understand that one-on-ones need to be separate from operational syncs. So if the operational sync is like, “Hey Johnny, how is this course going? When are we going to launch it? Or what feedback do we have? How are the sales numbers?” I’m driving the agenda.

In the one-on-one, you bring the agenda and you tell me, “Hey Vessy, this is what’s going on for me right now.” Maybe there are organizational changes that make me feel a certain way, maybe I feel excited about them. What opportunities might come my way? Or I feel threatened by something in your organization, or maybe I have an interpersonal tricky situation, and I need some help there. Or just your perspective on things or mentorship. So the moment that allows for the employee to bring what’s actually on their mind rather than what they think they should be talking about, and building a very human relationship there. People do bring up, “Oh, there is this project. I have this blocker.” They choose to bring that up. And sometimes the blockers that they talk about might not be operational or organizational, it’s something in their life and they just want to share. And that is a blocker that might be impacting their performance at the moment. So the best thing we can do is just to contain that feeling.

Now, it’s not to say that listening to people’s challenges is easy. And I think, again, going into the cynical response, someone will be like, “No, we are solutions-focused people. We’re not about the problems.” Before we move into solutions mode, we need to understand the problem, we need to empathize with the problem. If we don’t do the emotional work, then we are suppressing that and we’re moving into solutions. Short term, it can be more efficient because we saved 15 minutes, we didn’t do the emotional type part of the chat, but that person just knows we have no capacity to deal with their emotions, having any emotions is not acceptable. What we want from them is only productivity, efficiency. Give me solutions, give me business results. You don’t matter as a human. Give me purely your analytical productive self.

But any field, marketing, sales, engineering, we need to stay creative, connected to both our analytical and creative self. So if I’m telling you, non-verbally I’m implying, “Shut down half of yourself,” even if you’re not 50% creative or whatever, I’m saying I don’t want you to bring your whole self to work. I will select the pieces and the rest will be punished or at least not recognized. And by ignoring it, that can be also a form of punishment.

Johnny Campbell:

So if you’re a first time manager or you’re a manager who has inadvertently been transactional who only talks about work done, did we hit our target, et cetera, what kind of language can you use or what kind of questions can you ask just to set up this type of one-on-one conversation, to start it off? Again, because we have might have listeners who go, “Yeah, I get that, that makes sense, I’d like to do it.” But what will you actually say? Is it like, how are things going? What’s up? What do you ask someone and what are the kind of questions that work one-on-one situations, Vessy?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah. So usually if someone asks you how are you, people just say, good, because they know that the question implies they’re not interested in hearing if you’re fine, it’s just a matter of greeting each other. If you actually want to know how someone feels, you can say, “How are you feeling today? What’s on your mind? What’s going on for you right now?” Work and otherwise. So how are you feeling today? How are you feeling right now? There is more of an emphasis of the moment rather than just the usual phrase like, “Hi Johnny, how are you?” And you’ll be like, “Ah, good.” It’s just a figure of speech. I’m not expecting you to tell me how you’re actually feeling.

But let’s say we have an employee that maybe is not very articulate when they talk about their emotions or they’re not used to this or maybe we are new to this type of conversation, so we both always avoid any of this and keep going back only to the operational sync type of conversation, the productive bit. And then what we can do is use a tool that helps us identify the emotions. And that can be as a warmup tool. In the course, we were looking at a specific tool, and it helps us see… So maybe some of the audience is familiar with the emotion wheel. There are hundreds of emotions. And through the emotion wheel, you can recognize… It can help you navigate like, do you feel happy or sad, or angry or scared? It’s kind of simplified but you can go into much more nuance. I feel humiliated or I feel excited or joyful. So it isn’t just good, bad.

It also helps people see that when we are overwhelmed, we are usually dealing with a number of emotions at the same time. Some people can be paralyzed in that feeling of overwhelming. That can impact productivity among other things, obviously happiness, engagement, ability to learn. So using a tool like this teaches us to say, “Okay, wait a moment. What’s going on for me? Why am I in this space? Why am I not able to be my usual self?” Be curious, be open, maybe come, courageous, engaged in my learning or be productive. What’s going on? And break it down. So maybe I feel excited, nervous, a bit down, maybe a bit offended. What else is going on? And this can be from different aspects of our lives, but we don’t see as being the other aspects of us when we join a meeting. Maybe we had a fight or we have exciting, I don’t know, personal projects or something else that we’re bringing as an emotion. So breaking it down into emotions and being able to see that they don’t cancel each other.

We can be broken hearted and in love at the same time, maybe because of different people. Or we might be in love in different people at the same time, whatever the personal story is. All of this can be a lot. And just sometimes putting it down, talking it out helps us structure things. And as a manager, it doesn’t mean you need to know about the love life of your employees, but it means you can teach them how to work with their emotions so they are more productive, so that they grow as individuals, so they don’t see you just as the person who pays their salary but someone who is actively interested in their well-being, not some employee assistance program that barely supports them with anything actually.

Because if we look at those, the payment per employee is so low per month, that if those programs were expecting people to, let’s say, see a therapist once or et cetera, they would be operating at a loss. So that tells us what’s really happening there. So really actually investing in the well-being, the personal growth of people, and then becoming their better selves, they can achieve more in the organization, trust themselves more as we become more trustworthy leaders at the same time.

Johnny Campbell:

I heard a great example last week at LinkedIn Talent Connect. One of the speakers was speaking to this topic of how do you have better one-on-ones that are focused on that well-being and personal health, personal well-being, I guess. And they said they use an opener, which is, every meeting for one-on-one, they’d say, “Tell me what weather are you today. Are you stormy? Are you sunny? Are you cloudy? Are you raining? Are you drizzly?” And the speaker shared that this was a great device to help really force someone not to be sunny because you won’t go blue skies every day. You’re going to go, “Okay, a bit overcast.” And in that, you have licensed to kind of explain yourself in language that maybe is less confrontational, less emotional. You’re putting your feelings in the context of weather or something similar to that, which I think there’s lots of great devices, you mentioned the wheel, other ways of doing this. But I think it’s the intent that’s really important.

Talk to me though, Vessy, about when trust is broken. Because obviously in a perfect world, we have high trust all the time, everything is great in terms of the engagement and relationship, but how can a leader break trust? What are the typical ways you’ve seen leaders can break that trust? And then can you come back from that? And if so, how?

Vessy Tasheva:

I rarely hear leaders apologize or admit that they’ve made a mistake and hold themselves accountable for their mistakes. In any other relationship, we’ll just say, “Sorry I messed up,” or, “Sorry I was wrong.” We don’t hear leaders do that. There is a taboo that if they admit any fault, people will think less of them. But it’s not about perfection. We’re all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We can’t always say or do the right thing. So just when something happens… So we’re not doing it in pursuit of perfection, we’re doing it in pursuit of being trustworthy human beings. We’re transparent and accountable, and there is a level of predictability and security. It’s nurturing. We fail people, and we do that in every type of relationship at one point or another. It depends how often we do it. If we do it too often and we don’t show actions to compensate for that, then people just run out of capacity to trust us anymore.

It’s a bit like a bucket, do you add to it or do you keep taking away? Are you giving or taking? And are those things in balance? So if you make a mistake and essentially you’re taking away from that bucket of trust that was put in you, do you apologize? And that’s a way to get some of that back. Now, it’s not just the action for the sake of action, it’s about genuinely apologizing, but firstly understanding what really went wrong. I see a lot of leaders struggling with self knowledge where when feedback is shared by the employees, let’s say we’re creating the state of conclusion reports and we have these findings, “These are how your employees feel. These are the numbers, quantitative and then qualitative research. This is the picture and this is the margin of error and the confidence rate.” Because leaders are showing me the numbers, “Well, here are the numbers.”

And when leaders don’t like what they see, they start to discredit the data. They’ll be like, “Ah, this margin of error is too high. This is a month old or three months old report now.” Well, but you were not showing up for brief calls earlier, so who is at fault? So we all have defense mechanisms, every single human, it’s just human to have defenses, but are we people who are aware of our own defenses that we tend to put in place or do we get defensive? And even if I get slightly defensive, do I say, “Actually, you know what, I just went into defense mode. This is what I do. Let me come back to it. Let me just listen to you. What do you have to say? And it’ll be hard for me to hear it, but let’s create this space”?

So trust in an organization is limited by the capacity of the leader to know the truth about themselves and to trust themselves. And here we go into deeper concept of, is the leader living their true self or a false self that maybe they picked up from society throughout their upbringing? Maybe it’s influence of religion or their own family or everything together. It doesn’t matter. But we are the products of somewhat of our own personality and somewhat of the environment that we were brought by and all of the work opportunities in between that eventually made us a leader. So it is extremely uncomfortable and can be even painful to hold the mirror of seeing what one is actually dealing with.

Johnny Campbell:

And you talk about this in your training, this concept of self-care when it comes to trust-driven leadership. Is that the equivalent of, you’re on an airplane putting your oxygen mask on you first before children? How does that look like Vessy, in terms of context of self-care and examining yourself? How does one do that?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah, so I think the comparison with the mask on the airplane is really good because essentially we’re not throwing someone else under the bus to save ourselves. It’s about to be able to help someone else, we need to be in a good place. So we need to feel contained to be able to contain someone else’s feelings as well. So if I’m completely overworked, stressed out, approaching burnout, and I have a one-on-one with an employee and they feel anxious or worried or depressed, whatever is going on, maybe it’s about a project or 2023, whatever, or something in their personal life, I will have zero capacity to help them feel contained even just for five minutes if I don’t have that capacity within myself. So how do we practice it? Maybe for someone it’s a hike in the mountain on their own, or someone else might be a hike in the mountain with their family on the weekend. For someone, it could be doing their meetings while walking around their house, if they’re remotely working or in their office. It’s very individual, but again, it requires self-discovery, curious to know first about yourself.

Johnny Campbell:

You mentioned walking around the house if your remote working. I want to pull that thread a little bit if I can, Vessy. A lot of people have shared their challenges of remote or hybrid working, and particularly leadership has come under a lot of pressure where folks felt the traditional leadership models didn’t adapt well to remote or they couldn’t adapt them themselves. Is there a difference when it comes to building trust in remote or hybrid situations? And if so, what are those differences and what are your recommendations?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah. I mean the distance and physical proximity can impact things. So an example from a recent workshop, usually people join over remotely, over Zoom, so every participant has an identical experience. They’re with their laptop and they join. But we had three people happen to be in the office on that day and they were joining from the same computer and everyone else was joining on their own. One of the people who was joining on their own, I guess they were also in the office, they said, “Oh, which room are you in? So I can come over.” Immediately, that creates imbalance because now it becomes the thing as if everyone is better off being there as a group. Now, actually, I told them, “Hold on, this is a workshop, you’re actually better off having the screen to your own, being able to see it up close. I need to be able to see it. It’s interactive. We cannot have three people on the same screen.”

But this is what happens in a hybrid setting when some people have availability to be in the office more and some need the accessibility of working remotely. Maybe these are neurodiverse people, maybe they’re people with disabilities, maybe their parents or caregivers, or just introvert people who just prefer to have the nice and quiet focus time working from home rather than doing the commute, et cetera. So what happened in some companies is that male leaders were tired of sharing their living room or bedroom or their house with their spouses who tend to be looking after their kids. And they said, “Well, we need to go back to the office.” And then you end up with offices where it’s mostly male colleagues that go to the office because they’re happy to leave the caregiving responsibilities to the female members of their family. And that actually created further imbalance not just in the workplace but in society. So then people who tend to get promoted more easily in general because they are similar to their leaders spend also more face to face time with their leaders.

So how do we come back from that? Oh, we need to be very conscious. We need to be very thoughtful and intentional with communication when we have remote working or hybrid setting. Let’s say, Johnny, you and I work in the same office and we have the flexibility of being there two days a week or even five days a week, and other colleagues don’t have that, do we make the intentional thoughtful effort of scheduling time with them for one-on-ones to have that quality time? Or if I have a beer with you in cocoa tree, it’s like, well, we just happen to be there. But if someone else doesn’t go to cocoa tree, they don’t have the social catch up with you, they don’t have as much visibility on their own projects, they don’t get to know you more as a person and build a more friendly relationship. So their career is impacted by that. They would probably feel what some people are thought about and are top of mind for promotions or career opportunities. And if you don’t show up, it’s not as supportive of environment. And then support is an aspect of trust.

Johnny Campbell:

You mentioned the differences in gender. Again, the data shared by LinkedIn with us last week suggests that women are 24% more likely to apply for remote roles than men. And again, it shows a bias. We only hypothesize on the origins of this, otherwise of this, but the data is very strong, that suggests that there is an imbalance between those who wish to work remotely or require that access. And again, it’s being thoughtful, it’s stopping and thinking and not just in your own perspective on these things.

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah. Well, you are less likely to be sexually harassed if you work from home, or at least there is a bit more control distancing if, let’s say, the culture is more toxic. You can just switch off your camera, leave the room, try to forget about it. If you’re in the office and you’re dealing with this, that’s much harder. But then, it’s typically women, it’s very slightly from country to country across Europe, there are studies, but overall, it always falls back on women to be caregivers, be that to children or elderly members of the family or people with disabilities in the family. So women end up being at home. So it can look like it’s their choice, but it can very much be that they’re expected to do that.

Johnny Campbell:

Do you think there’s a challenge when it comes to trust, Vessy, that we started the pandemic perhaps by setting expectations with some people that remote or full hybrid would persist, and then the last 12 months, even particularly the last six months, a lot of companies have had to change their policies? Do you think that’s been a damaging thing? And if so, how does a leader deal with that when perhaps it’s not her decision, it’s the company, but she has to then break the trust that has been set by the company with her team in changing the rules to maybe enforce them to be in three days or two days a week or whatever that might be? Is that a challenge today for folks, do you think?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah, and it puts the leader in a very hard position. In your example, if she actually disagrees with the practice but she has to introduce it to the team, I think holding that ambivalence is again about containing. So to be able to acknowledge that, “Okay, this is the reality,” it doesn’t sound like in the example that you’re giving, there is any flexibility, “So this is our reality. I’m not happy either, but this is what we need to do.” So being able to contain the upset of the employees, of course there are boundaries. If you start every meeting and employees only complaining every single time, you’ll be like, “Okay, we talked about this, now it’s time to move on. And you know we have talked about this, right?” But we’re not trying to just push it aside and pretend it’s not happening and say, “If you don’t come, you will be fired,” that kind of black and white situation.

But it is very hard for leaders, let’s say a team lead, when the company is not interested in understanding how it impacts people’s lives. Some people have joined the company throughout the two years of the pandemic. So if you joined part-time or you joined, let’s say, hybrid or remote, and now I’m telling you, you need to be in the office when they only allow full time, you never signed up for that. So that’s maybe 20, 30% of the company due to attrition rates over the last two years, which would be natural in any company. It’s dynamic. We see high numbers of people switching companies because of those specific reasons. I think it’s a shortcoming on leadership teams that wants to be in the office sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes because they’re used to it, it’s very easy to fall into the status quo and it shows lack of trust in their employees. I think it’s hard to believe that other people were accountable if you’re not accountable yourself.

Johnny Campbell:

I like what you’re saying in terms of, if I’m hearing you correctly, Vessy, this isn’t about leadership through fear, but it’s also not about leadership through pandering to everyone’s needs. Trust isn’t either of those things. The analogy, if it works for you, that comes to mind to me is friends, friendship. Let’s say friends versus family. Family, you can’t unfortunately sack your family. They are your family forever. That’s just the way it is.

But your friends, we do, pardon the phrase, sack our friends sometimes. Somebody we decide is not going to be our friend anymore because we don’t like what they do, we don’t trust them, let’s say, anymore. And trust is something that takes a long time to build with friends, but it can be eroded very quickly. And again, the way to get it back is to apologize often, but there is an expectation of a friend that you have to give to the relationship. If it’s all one sided, you can walk away. Again, to your point around an employer, there is a consequence. Perhaps family is a bad analogy because you kind of can’t walk away. Family’s family. You don’t typically walk away. But friendship, does friendship work for you as an analogy in terms of trust-based leadership? What do you think?

Vessy Tasheva:

In certain aspects, I guess in a friendship we would expect equal authority. No, they’re equal friends to each other, unless there is power imbalance. Yeah, in a family we can say, “Oh, we’re stuck with each other.” But in either case, working through is the key. Let’s say, in a family, you have a member of the family that comes out, some people can shut them out, others can accept them. There is also the middle ground. Okay, there is a member of the family that’s kind of struggling to understand, to come around, but maybe they still want to. So how do we work through this?

It’s similar in therapy. There is something that maybe we want to change about ourselves or we understand we have a specific coping mechanism where it depends, we want to work on it, we have no idea how to do it, and it’s just working through that eventually we get on the other side. And building trust, maintaining trust, preparing trust, it’s about working through. But usually, we just think about shortcuts, especially in business. We’re like, “What are the low-hanging fruits?” There is no low-hanging fruit with trust. So short term, that will make you very impactful. But another six months down the line or another six months down the line, you will pay a higher cost. It becomes like a legacy code. People understand legacy code, but they don’t understand DEI legacy or trust legacy.

Johnny Campbell:

I love that there are no shortcuts in this. You got to work through. Vessy, you’ve been very generous of your time today with us here, this afternoon here in Dublin as you broadcast live. I’m going to ask you for one more piece of advice though. I wonder if you could leave us with advice for our listeners today, whether it’s advice that’s been passed on to you by somebody else, or it’s something you’ve gathered from your own vast experience and knowledge. What would that piece of advice you’d like to leave our audience with here today be?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah. Go inside and go deep. We live in a society that’s all about everything is on demand. Everything is about quick, take away. Everything is about immediate consumption. Growing as a person, growing as a leader, building meaningful relationships, finding purpose, that’s actually contagious. People want to stay with your company even if you run out of funding, but they want to stay there because they believe in the mission. That’s coming from trust. Ideally, you didn’t run out of funding by that time, but that is when you know yourself, when you have found insight and you went deep. But also, it’s the habit of doing that. You don’t go from A to B and that’s the end of the journey. It’s about strength of a continuous self, if you want. So we constantly rediscover ourself. Who we are five years ago is not who we will be five years from now. So having the strength to continue on that personal journey to be better leaders and just better people.

Johnny Campbell:

Vessy, I love that. Thank you. If folks want to contact you to know more about the work you do with organizations, to help you provide the workshops you run, how can they find it, more details?

Vessy Tasheva:

Yeah,, you can find everything there.

Johnny Campbell:, all you need to build trust with your team and organization. Vessy, thank you so much for taking the time to join us here today and share your insights. It’s my pleasure completing your course. I have one more section to complete before my deadline tomorrow. I’m looking forward to giving you feedback once we’re done. Thanks so much for joining us.

Vessy Tasheva:

Thanks, Johnny.


The Shortlist is a workplace, thought-leader focused talkshow that broadcasts every Wednesday. You can watch it live on LinkedIn and on YouTube. Or, why not stream as a podcast after?

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