The Indispensable Ingredient
Do you want to be a great leader? It is not enough to be competent and charismatic-- you must be seen as someone who can be trusted, who has high integrity and is honest. People willingly follow those they believe in and trust. Others will ask themselves about you, “Do I trust this person?” and the answer must be an unqualified “Yes” for leadership greatness. Trust is the glue that holds an organization together. With it, a tiny company like John Deere grew into a worldwide leader. Without it, a giant corporation like Enron toppled.Not long ago, most discussions of leadership were about leaders – their personality traits, how to identify and groom those with ‘leadership potential,’ and what were the skills that leaders employed.Leadership discussions today stress authenticity, EQ and relationships. This makes intuitive sense. But it isn’t just a fad; there is a solid reason behind the shift. It is driven by changes in the world. Above all, it reflects the growing importance of trust. Leaders can no longer trust in power; they must rely on the power of trust.In the old way, leadership was vertical, and related to power. There was the top and there was the bottom. But things changed. The boundaries separating the bosses from the employees, the clients, and even the competitors became blurred, and the key success factor became the ability to inspire trust—persuading someone over whom you have no power to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission. The relationships became horizontal. Leaders today are skilled in trusting and being trustworthy. Sending a leader into today’s world armed only with the vertical, power-based skills of the past is like sending a revolutionary war soldier into modern battle. Defeat is certain.Leaders who inspire trust get better output, morale, retention, innovation, loyalty, and revenue than others. Mistrust fosters skepticism, frustration, low productivity, lost sales, and turnover. Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing.In “The 10 Laws of Trust,” JetBlue chairman Joel Peterson explores how a culture of trust gives companies an edge. Consider this: What does it feel like to work for a firm where leaders and colleagues trust one another? Freed from micromanagement and rivalry, every employee contributes his or her best. Risk taking and innovation become the norm. And, as Peterson notes, “When a company has a reputation for fair dealing, its costs drop: Trust cuts the time spent second-guessing and lawyering.”Peterson, also consulting professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, defines trust as a giving up of control at some level to another person. “I believe that trust is more powerful than power itself,” explains Peterson. “It supports innovation and flexibility, and it makes life more enjoyable and more productive. People who live in high-trust environments thrive…You have to be intentional about building a high-trust environment. It doesn’t just happen. It’s just like diet or exercise.”Peterson provides three tests for deciding who to trust. The first is character. “We can’t trust a leader without integrity, who we can’t count on to do what he or she says,” he explains. Next is competence. You trust your mom, for example, but would you trust her to fly a 747 to London? The third, he says, is authority to deliver. There’s no point in trusting a pilot to fly to London if she doesn’t have permission to take off. “It’s folly to trust anybody if all three aren’t present,” Peterson says.So how do you intentionally go about building a high-trust environment and becoming a high-trust leader? One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that others trust him simply by virtue of his title. Trust is not a benefit that comes packaged with your business cards. It must be earned over time. David Horsager says that anyone can earn trust over time, by building and maintaining eight key strengths:Clarity: People will trust what is clear, and mistrust whatever is fuzzy. Be clear about your mission, purpose, expectations, and daily activities. When a leader is clear about expectations, the chances grow that she will get what she wants. Daily clarity on priorities and purposes make us productive and effective.Compassion: Trust grows when people see that you care beyond yourself. Never underestimate the power of sincerely caring about another person. People are often skeptical about whether someone really has their best interests in mind. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is not a catchy phrase—it is truth. Follow it, and you will build trust.Character: People are watching, and they notice when you consistently choose what is right instead of what is easy. Leader who have the trust factor have built it by consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Right over easy wins every time.Contribution: There is no trust without results, and results build trust quickly. At the end of the day, people need to see strong results. You can have compassion and character, but without steady results, people won’t trust you. Focus on delivering what you promise consistently.Competency: You can’t get behind and be trusted. People put their trust in someone who is fresh, learning, and relevant. Humbly striving to stay up with trends and new knowledge is vital. According to one study, the key competency of a successful new leader is not a specific skill but rather the ability to learn amid chaos. Arrogance and a “been there done that” attitude prevent you from growing, and they compromise confidence in you. Because life is always changing and growing, it is helpful to make a habit of reading, learning, and listening to fresh information.Connection: People want to work with friends. Having friends is all about building connections and relationships. Relationships are best built by establishing genuine connection. Learn to ask questions and then genuinely listen, and be grateful and show it. Grateful people are not entitled, they do not complain, and they do not gossip. Grateful people are magnetic.Commitment: Standing strong in adversity, keeping commitments builds trust. People trusted General Patton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Jesus, and George Washington because they saw personal commitment and sacrifice for the greater good.Consistency: In every area of life, it’s the little things—done consistently—that make the big difference. If I am overweight, it is because I have eaten too many calories over time, not because I ate too much on Thanksgiving. It is the same in leadership. Little things done consistently make for a higher level of trust and better results. The great leaders consistently do the small but most important things first. They make that call and write that thank you note. Do the little things, consistently, and see the trust levels elevate.Trust can’t be built overnight. It requires time, effort, diligence, and character. Inspiring trust is not slick or easy to fake. Trust is like a forest. It takes a long time to grow and can burn down with a just a careless, loose action. But if you focus on these eight components with every action, you will foster trusted relationships and see your leadership grow strong.