Trust based Leadership

With all the trust surveys proliferating out there, I’m sure one of them includes questions that rhyme with “do you trust leadership of __?” And if so, I’m pretty sure the numbers have declined over recent years.

And I think most C-suites would agree that leadership—at corporate and institutional levels—would benefit greatly from being more trusted. In other words, the times scream out for a clear approach to trust-based leadership.

So—here are the headlines. 

Trust-based Leadership: the Top Ten List

1.    Don’t Fake It. The best way to be trusted—by far–is simply to be trustworthy. Reputation follows trustworthiness—not the reverse. The best PR comes from publicizing good things, not from spinning them. 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. Don’t confuse the metrics with what they are supposed to measure.

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. If you can’t check your ego at the door, seek professional help; stop taking it out on others. It is Not About You. If you 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 think you are competing with anyone, you are focused on gaining advantage over others; you are making yourself the center of things. (See Rule 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. Choose your own leader; not one of the Usual Suspects. Now ask: were they passionate? My guess is they were, and their moments of passion were the source of much of their influence. Leaders lead, which means others follow them, and emotional passion is a big driver. Very few people follow the numbers-only guy or gal.

5.    Integrity Means Wholeness. You can’t be all things to all people. The more you try, 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 unafraid to show his whole self.

6.    Be Transparent. A trust-based leader welcomes reality. The goal is to change reality, not to spin it. To see things as they are and to change them is noble. To see things as they aren’t and talk about them as you think you would wish others to see you as talking—well, that’s just BS. Don’t go there.   A leader knows that reality is her friend.

7.    Play Long Ball. 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 chain 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 Godfather line, “It’s not personal; it’s business” was precisely wrong. It is both. Leadership can’t be trusted unless leaders are trustworthy. Companies aren’t trusted (except for the narrow case of reliability); people are. Trust can be engineered; but at the end of the day, all trust is experienced as personal.  A leader exemplifies it.

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 trusted. One by itself isn’t even the sound of one hand clapping. It’s non-trust. You can’t be trusted if you don’t trust back.  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. Trust mitigates risk, but only by taking another risk. Ronald Reagan’s ‘trust but verify’ was good politics, but bad trust. Verification destroys trust. Trust is risk freely-taken, for the greater advantage of both. It is paradoxical, which is why risk-mitigation techniques end up destroying it. A leader knows that sometimes, she’s just gotta take a leap.

2 replies
  1. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    Charlie, you’ve distilled some much needed tenents of leadership into a simple straightforward approach that can’t help but engender trust from EEs, colleagues, competitors, vendors, shareholders and the media.

    A lot has been written about the lack of EE engagement in today’s workforce and the subsequent lack of morale, loyalty, creativity and eventual productivity. A major component in this lack of engagement is the destruction of Trust within corporate America, and leadership’s inability to be trustworthy. Keeping your 10 headlines "top of mind" will help re-establish some level of trust, and help to achieve the resulting heightened EE engagement the C-Suite say they want and need.

    There are a lot of programs that organizations have been "jumping on the bandwagon" to get off the ground today in an effort to develop leaders and enhance EE engagement but most never touch upon the key component of Trust.

    I was struck by how many of your headlines are basics within supervisory & management 101 training programs. Isn’t it interesting that in the name of cost containment, org. have systematically eliminated many of those programs. The same training grounds where [for years] many future leaders learned about the "guidelines" for effectively working w/ and leading people (staff and teams). 

    Historically, its been the effective individual supervisors and managers that EEs worked hard for, not the org…they are the front line that kept EEs engaged, and they are the folks that subsequently "kept the lights on" in many organizations.  Now in an effort to play " catch up", many org. are searching desperately for a "silver bullet" to produce leaders but still don’t recognize the need for effective leadership [at all levels] within the ranks.   

    These headlines should be distributed and considered by all "leaders" (team/ projects/ dept/ functions/ divisions/ regions/ enterprises).


  2. Nils Montan
    Nils Montan says:

    Great post Charlie!  I particularly like the reference to "The Godfather."  You are so right, in business development and leadership it is all personal.

    Thanks again for doing The Online Guys podcast last week.  We had a blast!



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