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Ten Skills to Lead with Trust

I recently shared my point of view on The (R)evolution of Trust-based Leadership. In that post I concluded that new leadership requires versatility and depends more on influence and collaboration than hierarchical authority and procedures. And that requires trust.

Leadership is complex. Successful leaders master a range of functions, from finance and operations to strategic planning and negotiation. But, as with so many things in business, technical competency is necessary but insufficient for real leadership.

Here are ten trust skills and attitudes leaders (and aspiring leaders) should consider putting into practice to round out their leadership skills.

Trust-based Leadership: Top Ten

  1. Don’t Fake It. The best way to be trusted—by far–is simply to be trustworthy. Be authentic, accountable, honest, and transparent. Good PR comes from publicizing good things, not from hiding or putting a spin on the not-so-good things. So don’t put your marketing, PR, or communications in charge of trust; you are in charge of trust, 24×7, by your own thoughts and actions.
  2. Your Ego is Not Your Amigo. Being driven can be OK. So too can being impatient, customer-obsessed, product-obsessed, design-obsessed, or people-obsessed. What cannot be OK is being obsessed with yourself. It is Not About You. If you always think it is “About You,” you might be a bad leader.
  3. Collaborate, Don’t Compete. No one is the enemy. Not your customer, not your supply chain, your employees, the union, not even your competitors. If you are always competing against others, you’re turning business – and life – into a zero-sum game. If you are focused on gaining advantage over others, you are making yourself the center of things (See #2 above). Let others obsess with competing. You be the one to go think about what you can do for [customers, employees, your supply chain, even your competitor]. She who adds the most value lives best. And longest, at least in terms of client loyalty.
  4. Leading is Emotional. Think of the great leaders in your life. Not who other people tell you are great leaders, but the ones you most want to follow, to emulate. Now ask yourself: are they passionate? My guess is they are, and that their moments of passion are the source of much of their influence. Leaders lead, which means others follow them, and emotional passion is a big driver. A lot of people work for people who don’t show their emotions. Very few people follow them.
  5. Act with Real Integrity. Integrity in the sense of being whole and undivided. You can’t be all things to all people. The more you try, the less whole you are, and the less integrity you appear to have. What you can do is to be the same person, at all times, to all people. That makes you whole, entire, integral—one who has integrity. A leader is committed to being, and unafraid to show, his whole self.
  6. Be Transparent. Transparency is a form of honesty. Hiding information – or sharing only partial information – is not being truthful. Withholding information (except where injurious or illegal) leads to doubt and mistrust. If I can see what’s going on, I know that I am not being misled. Motives become clear. Credibility is affirmed.
  7. Be in It for the Long Run. You can’t be transactional and be trusted. Transactions can only be trusted in packages. Time is the key. Never cut a deal with someone: cut the 27th deal in a series of 132 deals you intend to cut with them. That way you build a relationship—reliability, connection, mutual obligations, and the business vocabulary to express them. A leader is always thinking and acting in the long term.
  8. It’s Personal. The line from the movie The Godfather, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” was precisely wrong. It is both. Business is transacted between people. Companies aren’t trusted; people are (don’t confuse reputation with trust). Trust can be engineered; but at the end of the day, all trust is experienced as personal.
  9. Trust is Relationship. Robinson Crusoe didn’t need trust (before Friday, anyway). Trust is like ballroom dancing—you need two to tango. One trusts, the other is trustworthy. Either act by itself isn’t even the sound of one hand clapping: there is no trust without both parties in relationship. A leader knows how to play both roles; by trusting, he becomes trusted. By being trustworthy, he invites trust.
  10. There is no Trust without Risk. Ronald Reagan’s ‘trust but verify’ was good politics, but bad trust. Verification is the absence of trust. Trust mitigates risk, and – more importantly – taking risk can create greater opportunity for trust. Trust is risk freely taken, for the greater advantage of both parties. A leader knows that, sometimes, she’s just gotta take a leap.

For decades, it seems, we took for granted that good leaders shared some unidentified quality that made them good leaders. The truth of it is, the best leaders are self-aware, self-actualizing, and work hard to develop all the qualities that make a good leader.

Focus on trust and free yourself to be a real leader — passionate, decisive and courageous.

The (R)evolution of Trust-based Leadership

It’s been (gulp) more than 20 years since I got my MBA.

At the time, just before the turn of this century, Gordon Gekko’s fictional speech in the movie Wall Street that “Greed is Good” resonated. Icons like Jack Welch, Michael Eisner, Albert (“Chainsaw Al”) Dunlap, and Lou Gerstner were heralded for their ruthless commitment to corporate profitability. “Cash is king” was the watchword of the time, and “corporate value” usually meant the value of a company’s stock. Trust rarely came up as a topic.

Today, business schools commonly have courses, if not whole curricula, dedicated to the topic of leadership, with trust being a core element. An internet search for “trust in business” returned almost two billion results, and a search on the same phrase in Amazon Books returned over 8,000 results. To say trust-based leadership is a current topic is a gross understatement.

So what changed?

Trust Didn’t Change

The dynamics of trust are the same. Trust is personal: it occurs when one person takes the risk of trusting someone, and that person proves themselves trustworthy.

Our core models for trustworthiness and building trust – the Trust Equation, the ELFEC process, and the Trust Principles – have evolved, but the fundamentals, and the dynamics between trustor and trustee, are unchanged.

That’s hardly surprising. Trust is a fundamental human relationship that’s been around since well before the written word.

The World Changed

Back then, cellular phones were still a rarity, and the internet was only just catching on. Google was a brand-new company, Bluetooth and HDTV were just barely commercially available, and Mark Zuckerberg was in middle school. We got our information primarily from print newspapers and on-air newscasts.

Technology, and the easy access to information it provided, catapulted us into the 21st century. The internet changed the way we do almost everything. Smart phones are ubiquitous, and news of events is practically instantaneous. Climate change went from a political debate to a grim reality, and social issues are in the spotlight.

In particular, the business world is now:

  • Flatter – more horizontally linked, less vertically integrated
  • More inter-connected – global teams and globally-available resources
  • More technological – IOT, AI, machine learning, smart devices
  • More collaborative ­– ecosystems, innovation networks, supply chain integration
  • More transparent – social media, business intelligence, digital everything
  • More networked – a competitor in one deal is a partner in another
  • More values-based – social responsibility, sustainability, corporate culture

Leadership Changed

Old-school “leadership” was a one-size-fits-all approach to getting things done. Founded in command-and-control corporate models, it dictated that the role of the leader was to set corporate direction, which relegated everyone else to carrying out orders. This approach emphasized the mentality that leadership is done the same way, all the time, and by only a very few people.

Today, just as everyone is a salesperson and everyone is in customer service – so too everyone is a leader.

That’s not corporate double-speak; it has meaning. Dictating execution of strategy from the top down worked in an industrialized economy, but the flatter organizations of today distribute the responsibility of executing strategy throughout the organization.

In this new environment, leadership also is about more than just strategy execution. Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace Report finds that “employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

The role of leading is no longer reserved exclusively for those at the top of the organization chart.

The leadership skills of today are persuasion, influence, collaboration, the ability to create alliances, to join forces, to create environments that encourage collaboration, the ability to play nicely together in the sandbox, to forge agreements, and to play long-term win-win rather than screw-your-customer to jack up the quarterly numbers.

Leadership Skills are Trust Skills

Those skills are trust skills. We don’t need fierce competitors; we need fierce collaborators. We don’t need to ‘win one for the Gipper;’ we need to win one for all of us. We don’t need vertical skills; we need horizontal skills.

Certain leadership skills are constant: the ability to inspire, to create and articulate visions and stories, for example. But others have been replaced. Being good at vicious infighting to gain the top job is – on balance, in most companies – a lot more dysfunctional these days than valuable. Making “tough decisions” isn’t the virtue it used to be; sometimes it just reflects a failure of imagination.

Today organizations are less about being led and more about cultures that foster leadership throughout. Such cultures are driven by what we call Virtues and Values.

New leadership requires versatility and depends more on influence and collaboration than hierarchical authority and procedures. And that requires trust.

Are you ready to be a trust-based leader?

Feeling Caught in the Middle? Lead with Trust

Countless studies and articles show that trust and high performing teams are interlinked. One such study by The Great Place to Work Institute shows that high-trust organizations beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.

Even though it’s clear that fostering a high-trust team environment is the right strategy for improved morale, collaboration, innovation, AND financials, why do so many leaders struggle?

Leaders have many dynamics to navigate: direct reports, leadership teams, organizational metrics as well as their own personal goals. Matrix organizations can make things even more complicated. Add the stress of managing through the current pandemic, global events and world economic challenges, and it’s easy to see how leaders might feel caught in the middle.

Most leaders want to do right by their teams by creating a positive, flourishing environment. But when the stress is high, how we behave doesn’t always align with how we want to be seen as leaders.

The Trust Equation shows us how our actions and behaviours can increase (or decrease) the level of trust in our relationships. It also provides a simple framework to help leaders walk their talk and build trust with their teams.

  • Credibility is much more than the number of degrees hanging on a wall or awards sitting on a desk. As a leader, credibility becomes less about your technical capabilities and more about how you communicate. What message are you sending and to whom? Are you clear about your purpose and expectations?  Do you communicate intentionally and with full transparency so no one on the team feels “out of the loop”? Credibility is about communicating with honesty and integrity, even when the messages are hard, or you don’t have all the answers.
  • Reliability means being dependable and predictable; it’s how you show up to people day in and day out. If you’re friendly and at ease one day and a tyrant the next, your team will end up walking on eggshells, not really sure which version of you they might encounter. As a leader, your actions (and equally your lack of action) have impact.  Do your actions support and empower your team? How consistent is what you say with what you do? Your team members will take their cue from you—what messages do your actions send?
  • Intimacy is all about safety. It is created through empathy, discretion, and personal risk-taking. It must be built individually with team members and encourages among the team as a whole. How vulnerable and open are you with your team? Do you encourage others to share their thoughts and emotions, and are you open to hearing what they might say? How do you encourage discussion and healthy conflict? What happens when someone on the team makes a mistake? Your reactions as a leader will set the tone for the entire team.
  • Self-Orientation shows your team where your focus is and what motivates you. How are you showing your commitment and attention to your team and your joint goals, versus your own personal agenda?  Spotting a leader who only manages up is easy.  Less obvious is a leader who is doubtful, stressed or unsure – all triggers of high self-orientation.  When our “S” is high, we know we need to focus on the long term and think strategically, but we may find ourselves diving deep, nit-picking and second guessing team members.  Creating a high-trust environment requires trusting the team to do their work, even if they do the work differently than you. Build collaboration and trust by focusing on the big picture, seeking to understand others and elevating the contributions of the team.

Building a team with trust takes mindful practice, especially when you feel caught in the middle of competing pressures and priorities. The best leaders dedicate themselves to creating a culture where their people feel heard, respected, safe and appreciated. Frame your leadership around the Trust Equation and watch your culture flourish, even in the most stressful times.

For more on this topic, check out our eBook How To Create a Culture of Trust and watch my free webinar Caught in the Middle – Leading with Trust in Times of Stress.

Does Trust Differ From Salesperson to Sales Management? (Episode 36) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

Dr. Peter Johnson, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business in New York. Dr. Johnson writes in to suggest we talk about the role of trust in a critical business transition –  from a salesperson to a sales manager.

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.

 

Is It Ever OK to Recommend a Competitor to Your Client? (Episode 31) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor. 

A tech consultant asks, “My boss wants to outsource parts of our client project to several vendors and a competitor. This gives me a gut feeling of being very wrong and deceptive. What should I do?”

Charlie offers insight for leveraging honesty and credibility as well as managing expectations.

And if you want to read more on this topic, here is a recent blog post:

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We post new episodes every other week.
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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Kick-Starting a Relationship with a New Boss (Episode 20)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Trusting a Team Member on a High-Profile Project (Episode 19)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Establish Trust When Managing a New Team (Episode 8)

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Leadership, Trust and Intangible Services

Where do you draw the line between general best practices and vertical industry-specific applications? The answer, of course, is it depends. Specifically, it depends on the best practice, and on the industry. But what does that mean in the general case of leadership, and the specific industry of complex intangible services?

——-

Think of all the books on leadership in business. Now think about the leaders those books routinely cite as examples. Jamie Dimon may come to mind. Other names might include Jeff Bezos, Neil Armstrong, Ray Kroc, Pat Reilly, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, or Jack Welch.

Now take this simple test. Imagine Jack Welch running a consulting firm. Imagine Jamie Dimon as CEO of an accounting firm. Ray Kroc running a law firm? Bill Belichik at an actuarial firm? Steve Jobs a commercial banker?

If these combinations sound a little “off” to you, there is a reason. Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Most writing on leadership assumes a single definition of “business.” But leaders in certain businesses look decidedly different. Among those distinctive businesses, I would suggest, are retailing, high technology – and complex intangible services.

Intangible services firms often waste considerable time and effort in management development – and in management itself – by focusing unduly on leadership themes that are not business-relevant. Why? Because of the unconscious belief that there must be leadership “best practices,” and therefore what’s best for Apple/IBM/Amazon/Goldman must be best for everyone else as well. But the truth is, if Jeff Bezos is king, it’s only of one particular kingdom.

For complex intangible services, relative to industry at large, some leadership traits are more important – and some less important. The relatively more important themes are trust, coaching and values. Among the relatively overrated are vision and rewards systems.

GALP (GENERALLY ACCEPTED LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES)

The list below shows the results of an unscientific quick scan of the business leadership literature. There are fifteen topics, arranged alphabetically. Most if not all these topics fall within four components of leadership identified by Warren Bennis, probably leadership’s top guru – vision, communication, trust, and personal characteristics.

LIST OF LEADERSHIP TRAITS: VARIOUS SOURCES

  • Charisma
  • Coaching
  • Credibility
  • Expertise
  • Implementing consistent systems
  • Inspiring people to greatness
  • Integrity
  • Leading by example
  • Organizing for flexibility and responsiveness
  • Personal development
  • Story-telling
  • Team-building capabilities
  • Trust
  • Vision
  • Values

The two “biggies” in leadership for industry at large may be vision and alignment. Vision is critical for leadership in many businesses. Without the compelling vision of an original leader, what would have become of Apple, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Amazon, and WalMart? Roberto Goizueta, as Coke’s CEO, gave a perfect example of leading by vision when he spoke of “a time when every faucet is used as God intended.”

Alignment is the other major leadership theme – alignment of message, rewards, incentives, measurement, and examples of leadership behavior. This focus on alignment is similar to the focus on vision in one respect – each is about the relentless reinforcement of a single, central theme, critical to the organization and its strategy.

Pick your metaphor: leadership in industry at large is like a) turning an aircraft carrier, b) being trail-boss on a cattle-drive, c) playing 3-dimensional chess, d) all the above. Leaders combine high-level direction-setting with the coordination of tactical complexities – relentless reinforcement of a theme.

Are all those key? Yes – for industry at large.

WHY LEADERSHIP IS DIFFERENT FOR INTANGIBLE SERVICES

By contrast, the dominant metaphor for intangible services businesses is widely accepted – it’s herding cats. And that calls for very different leadership.

The list below itemizes differences between industry and intangible services. Leadership in industry, of course, focuses on tangible “things” – markets, products, technologies, competitors, market shares, brand images, placement, positioning.

But intangible services are about abstractions, and about managing relationships to get there. They’re about process, not endpoints. The focus must be more on client service than on market share or competitive triumph. Every product/customer experience is non-trivially unique. Perfection is not about zero-defects, but about unbounded excellence – and excellence has no upper limit.

The relevant sports metaphor is not football, but solo sports like baseball or basketball. Professionals are, by and large, more driven, intellectual, internal, needy, hard on themselves, abstract, aloof, sensitive, and neurotic than their general management brothers and sisters.

In industry, strategy generally drives organization. In complex intangible services, strategy is as much driven as driver. An accounting firm may “decide”  to invest in M&A work; but the real driver behind the “plan” is inevitably a partner or two who have a personal passion for the work.

Visionary leadership is great for a Coke, GE, et al. “Be number one or number two in every business we are in” means something in a business like jet engines, where the top player of 3 may have 50% market share. It’s less useful in consulting, banking or law, where there are hundreds of competitors, where the professional is the product, and every client/professional experience is unique.

COMPLEX INTANGIBLE SERVICES: DIFFERENCES

  • No physical product
  • Smaller organizations
  • Far greater individual autonomy
  • More matrix or practice management
  • Higher average salaries
  • Professional/staff, not non-exempt/exempt
  • Fewer direct reporting lines
  • Lower levels of industry concentration
  • Certification driven expertise (CPA, JD, etc.)
  • Less history of branding
  • Apprentice system of personal development
  • Less functional specialization re selling
  • More fluid, ad hoc teams
  • No upper limit to quality (e.g. no 6-sigma)

DEVELOPING LEADERS FOR INTANGIBLE SERVICES

In complex intangible services, visionary leadership is overrated. The best leaders inspire not by the relentless reinforcement of a theme, but by demonstrating a passion for client service. A vision is an idea – client service is an attitude. Visions are about goals; client service is about mindsets.

Leaders in industry capture attention; leaders in intangible services celebrate paying attention. In this one respect, intangible services businesses are more values-driven than other industries. I don’t mean social virtues, but values like client focus and collaboration.

Measurement systems also matter less. When every client situation is unique, the apprenticeship model applies; leaders must focus less on refining measurements, and more on getting the right people to do the right things – often despite the measurements, not because of them.

Leadership is less systemic and more personal. Cats are un-herdable – that’s the point of the joke. But they can be led, precisely by appealing to their cat-ness. Great leaders help people to grow, to replace their fears by cultivating curiosity, to subordinate their egos to client service, to dare to be great and constantly challenge themselves – to gain the ability to trust, and earn the right to be trusted.

Finally, leadership in intangible services is mainly about personal growth. That is not a platitude. In a business where every client/service delivery event is unique, personal growth is a strategic sine qua non. Not growth as a generic leader – growth as a human being.

A leader of cats can’t just be the Greatest Cat: (s)he has the be the one who best understands cat-ness.

Trust & Leadership

Lisa McArthur, one of our esteemed consultants, tackles the topic of Trust & Leadership and provides practical, actionable steps you can take today to start improving both.

Into every leadership journey a little rain must fall. At some point, numbers start to head south; that key project begins to miss critical milestones. It happens to all of us. And when that rain does fall, remember that as a leader, you are defined not by your challenges – but by your response to them.

For many, missed targets or milestones trigger the instinct to micro-manage. After all, the only way to make sure you’re on top of everything is to put it all under a microscope and leave no stone unturned. Only a clear command-and-control style of leadership can help right the ship. Right?

So tempting; and yet so wrong!

The solution is not to overrule your team, it’s to get it working. Trust improves teamwork. Full stop. More reports and checkpoints will may provide more data, but chances are it is breakthrough ideas and approaches that will get you back on course. You need your team to focus on new possibilities and collectively take calculated risks.

To put it simply, they need to trust each other. Sounds simple, but as a leader, what does this mean? How can you build trust within your team? The trust equation, normally a descriptor of personal attributes, has something to add to team analysis:

1. Start with Intimacy

For those not familiar with the trust equation, intimacy is about creating safety and building a safe environment. Put yourself in a team member’s shoes. They have an idea that could help bring things back on track. Should they take a risk and offer the idea up to the group? What kind of reaction will they face? In a safe environment, new ideas are welcomed and become the seeds that can germinate true breakthough thinking.

Be honest. How does your team measure up? Are new ideas welcomed and used as building blocks or are they generally dismissed? If suggestions are met with a “we’ve tried that before” or “It’ll never work”, ideas will slowly stop coming.

As a leader, how are you building a “safe” environment to ensure that your team’s ideas are heard? At your next team meeting, try starting from a place of vulnerability. Talk about the issues at hand and your role in them. By taking a risk and being vulnerable you are showing your team that it is safe for them to take risks too!

Next, ask for help. We often resist asking for help for fear of appearing weak – but paradoxically, asking for help shows vulnerability, equality and a desire for collaboration. You’ve taken a risk (again) and shown your team that it is okay to do.

The plus – most of us are hard-wired to respond to honest requests for help. Get the brainstorming started and then listen. Really listen! Ask engaging questions, clarify and let the team build on each other’s ideas. New and innovative solutions are far more likely when everyone is fully engaged and feels safe to contribute.

2. “Check your S”

The “S” in the denominator of the trust equation is self-orientation – and a high number is not good. As a leader, you have to model low self-orientation. Are you focused on what YOU need – to report on a project’s progress or the latest operational results – or are you focused on what the TEAM needs? Even those leaders with the best intentions can find this difficult.

Acting as an “I”, we start directing and stop listening. How often have you asked for the latest sales results or project update only to then provide clear and specific direction on what you think is required?

Change your focus to “we”. Instead of the “I”, ask what the team needs to be successful – and then whatever it is, do it quickly. By changing your focus to the team, your actions will show your commitment to their success. Your commitment to the team’s success, and only the team’s success, lower’s your self-orientation. Done authentically, your team will respond in kind, re-committing themselves personally to the task at hand.

3. Build positive momentum with reliability

The biggest part of Reliability is, simply stated, do what you say you are going to do. We are all familiar with Newton’s first law of motion; “An object at rest, stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force.” How can you, as a leader, get the ball rolling?

Start small. Have the team set small, incremental targets. It’s important that the targets are set on the team’s terms, not yours. Make sure the targets are attainable and then celebrate each success. Suddenly, you have shifted the focus from what the team can’t do to what they can accomplish. With each small win, the team builds positive momentum and once you’re moving, no one will want to be the reason things come to a halt.

At the same time, resist encouraging sandbagging, or in its more polite form, “under-promising and over-delivering.” It’s just another form of lying to your clients, and it undercuts reliability, since it literally trains your clients to expect a disconnect between what you say and what you do. Which was the whole point in the first place.

4. Be honest

As a leader, your words have power. Now is the time to focus on clear, concise messages that your team will understand and take to heart. Now is not the time for nuanced explanations.

Words matter. If you are not sure of an answer – say so (in fact, “I don’t know” is one of the most credibility-enhancing things you can say – no one will suspect you of lying about that!). You can always go get the answer, but you won’t always get another chance to prove your honesty.

In environments where things get tough or are moving quickly, even tiny errors in facts or judgments can create large ripples in the team and create that ominous “spin” that suddenly brings all activity to an abrupt halt.

Life is full of ups and downs and rainy days; leadership is no different. Strong leaders understand how to build trust and foster an environment that encourages each team member to contribute to their fullest potential. The next time your team struggles, remember – don’t take over the job yourself – instead, lead with trust!