The Evolution of Trust-based Leadership
In 2000, I co-wrote The Trusted Advisor, with David Maister and Rob Galford. At the time, it was aimed largely at external professional services advisors. The word “leadership” appeared exactly once in the book (I checked).
This month, Andrea Howe and I published The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. The subtitle is, “A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust.” “Leadership” occurs 19 times, and the l-word itself appears many more times in its various forms.
Trust Didn’t Change
The dynamics of trust are the same. I’ve developed the Trust Quotient and the Trust Principles since 2000, but the fundamentals are the same. The Trust Equation, the ELFEC process for creating trust, 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
My Trusted Advisor co-author Rob Galford was more prescient than I; he wrote The Trusted Leader way back in 2003. Or, maybe he was ahead of his time. In any case, by 2011, the world looked radically different than it did in 2000.
In particular, the business world is:
- Flatter – more horizontally linked, less vertically integrated
- More inter-connected: think Linked-In, outsourcing, offshoring
- More wired – Windows XP was then; the cloud and iPad are now
- More independent – Boomers ruled then; millennials rule now
- More collaborative – YourCo against the world is DeadCo
- More transparent – Facebook, data scraping, digitized everything
- More networked – a competitor in one line is a partner in another.
In 2000, “leadership” conjured up images of #1 leader Jack Welch pacing the floor in front of high-potential candidates at Crotonville, violating the chain of command with exhortations for “boundarylessness” – as long as it stayed within the boundaries of the corporation known as GE, that is.
Today, “high-potential” sounds not just elitist but out of whack with reality. Just as everyone today is a salesperson, everyone is in customer service – so too everyone is a leader.
That’s not corporate double-speak; it has meaning. 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.
But that’s another story for another blogpost.