A LEADER’S FIRST JOB IS TO INSPIRE TRUST
From theTelegraph and Journal column Leadership Unleashed – Thursday, May 17, 2012
It was a huge honour to be given the opportunity to interview Stephen when he was in New Brunswick last week. He was very generous with his time prior to giving a keynote presentation at the Fredericton Convention Centre. The presentation was hosted by the UNB College of Extended Learning Executive Education Centre, and they will be also be offering a two-day seminar in September on this topic.
I was struck by his clear passion and belief in the importance for leaders to inspire trust, so I began our conversation by asking what Stephen had learned about trust through his process of leading an organization, particularly theCovey Leadership Center.
A: I approach everything that I do – with my writing and my work – from the mindset and perspective of the practitioner. It was along this journey that I learned how vital trust is and that when we build trust within a culture, within the team, we move faster and we lower cost.
It seems so basic, so foundational, but it was along the way that I came to the conclusion that leadership is really getting results in a way that inspires trust. If we’re getting results, but we’re doing it in a way that diminishes the trust or to lose it or to deplete it, then our ability to get results the next time has just gone down a little bit. My work as a CEO, and the different businesses that I’ve been involved with, is really where a lot of this insight into trust came to me.
Q: Was there a defining moment when the connection between leadership and trust revealed itself to you?
A: I’d say there were two moments. The first one was when I became the CEO at Covey Leadership Center. We had two suppliers for one product; one we trusted and one we didn’t. For the one we didn’t trust, we had to put in place all these redundant systems and processes to make sure the product worked. I asked my team,”Who’s paying for this?”. My team said,”Well, we are.” The second moment was when we merged Covey Leadership Center with Franklin Quest to form Franklin Covey. Both were great organizations and both had high trust within their organizations, but we were competitors and had been for years. For the first time, upon merging, we had a trust problem in our combined company.
Suddenly we were operating from lower trust. I now saw the real cost and consequences of low trust. How every decision was being scrutinized and interpreted and spun and how we became very internally focused. Everything slowed down. It cost us more. We recognized it was not the best way to do business. We had to increase trust. As we focused on trust and behaved in ways that would enable and enhance it we did, in fact, grow the trust.
Q: What was the big lesson for you related to trust?
A: The first is that there is a business case for trust. Trust is not just a social issue. It’s a financial issue. It’s affecting the economics. Secondly, I learned that trust is a learnable competency. It’s something we can do, we can learn and we can master. This knowledge grew out of my own experience as a practitioner.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the response that you have been getting to your message?
A: The response has been overwhelmingly receptive. People recognize that there is a trust problem in the world today. We need more trust. There is a crisis of trust. People also recognize, as we spend time on it, that there is a real cost, a high cost to low trust. Sometimes they haven’t thought of it that way. We just have to put on what I call the”trust glasses,” so to speak, that enable us to see the economic impact of trust on everything we’re doing.
Q: Do you encounter resistance from leadยers when talking about trust being an economic driver?
A: Typically not. If there is resistance, it tends to be an attitude of “I can’t do a whole lot about this until he changes, or she changes, or management changes, or other people.” It’s the whole idea that “it’s not me, it’s everyone else.” I call that an “outside-in” approach to the world: “I’m okay, but everyone else isn’t.” And because they can’t trust others, then we can’t talk about enhancing trust.
Q: What is your advice on how a leader can overcome an “outside-in” approach to the world?
A: A leader’s best way to go about influencing and changing things is always to “start with self.” Even before they extend trust – the second job – the first job of the leader is to inspire trust. In other words, they should be asking “Who am I? My character, my competence, my behaviour?” and “Do I interact and behave in ways that grow trust such that people can trust me?”Q: Can you tell me more about the “selftrust”and a leader’s job to extend trust?
A: Self-trust means to trust ourselves, which enables us to also trust others. Self-trust also means that we give to others a person they can trust, that is, we give to our team a leader they can trust. Then, as a leader, our job is to extend trust, to give it. Now we’ve got to be smart about how we give it because we don’t want to just do it blindly with no expectations. But someone needs to go first. Leaders go first. When we give trust, people receive it and then they return it. When we withhold it, they withhold it. A leader should find the appropriate way to extend trust so that others will respond to it and get inspired by it. Trust is the most compelling form of human motivation.
Q: What do you recommend to a leader who wants to take the first steps in enhancing trust?
A: I think three things would be helpful. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is to start with yourself and your own trust in yourself.
The second is to acknowledge that while there is risk in trusting, there is also risk in not trusting. Too often people look at the risk of trusting and say “Look at all the things that can go wrong”, but we’ve often never looked at the risk of not trusting. What happens when there’s distrust? What happens when you don’t extend it? You get politics creeping into your organization, redundancy, bureaucracy, excessive rules and regulations, disengagement, turnover, churn – all because you don’t trust your people. Yes, there’s a risk in trusting, but there’s also a risk in not trusting. And not trusting can often be the greater risk.
The third thing is the notion of what I call “Smart Trust.” It’s not a blind trust where you just indiscriminately trust anyone and everyone, nor is it a distrust where because you can’t trust some you now no longer trust anyone. No, it’s smart trust, a third alternative to the blind trust on the one extreme and the distrust/suspicion on the other. Smart trust always includes clear expectations and high accountability, the combination of which typically gives people the courage to take that leap and extend trust.
Q: What is a great example of a business that practices smart trust?
A: A great example of smart trust is eBay as a business. Do you know there’s about a million transactions a day on eBay between buyers and sellers who have never met each other? Yet eBay creates trust through a system and a process. Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s founder, started with the premise that most people are basically good, that most people can be trusted.
Now, he didn’t say all people could be trusted. He said most. He created a system and a process with user ratings where if ratings get too low, you’ll get “voted off the island.”There’s also a fraud division at eBay. They aggressively pursue the cheats and the crooks. They don’t allow the one per cent who abuse the trust to define the 99 per cent who don’t. Instead they’re smart about it. They operate on the premise of trust with the 99 per cent, and they vigilantly go after that one per cent.