Entrepreneur and consultant Charles Green writes that in today’s world, “vertical power-based leadership becomes less relevant. The key success factor becomes the ability to persuade someone, over whom you have no power, to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission. Leaders can no longer trust in power; instead they rely on the power of trust.”
A real essence of leadership is the ability to create trust within an organization.
Following are three professional takes on trust in the business world:
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni uses a fictional company to illustrate erosive lack of trust. The first of the five dysfunctions, Absence of Trust and Respect, undermines every other aspect of team life. Essentially, it creates a shaky foundation on which it is impossible to build anything of value.
Without trust, team members are afraid to be vulnerable; they hide their weaknesses and don’t own their mistakes. They don’t provide constructive feedback because they fear it will be taken the wrong way. And when on the receiving end of feedback, they don’t trust that their colleagues know what they’re talking about.
Lencioni writes, “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” When teams are able to do that – or their leaders are able to help them develop the capacity – they can reverse the tide. They can hold themselves and each other accountable; they can admit weaknesses, and they can build on their collective strengths.
Stephen M.R. Covey
Stephen M.R. Covey wrote the definitive book on trust: The Speed of Trust. In it, he asks readers to think about this: “[W]hether you define trust as mutual confidence or loyalty or ethical behavior or whether you deal with its fruits of empowerment and teamwork and synergy, trust is the ultimate root and source of our influence.”
Green echoes this with his statement that leaders need to rely on the “power of trust.” If their people don’t trust them, they dismiss them. Leaders are then without followers, without the ability to influence and guide.
Low-trust environments are filled with personal agendas, game-playing, conflict, rivalries, badmouthing, and backstabbing. To remedy this: “The first job of a leader—at work or at home—is to inspire trust. It’s to bring out the best in people by entrusting them with meaningful stewardships, and to create an environment in which high-trust interaction inspires creativity and possibility.”
In The Third Opinion, Saj-nicole Joni discusses three fundamental distinctions of trust: Personal. This type of trust comes from shared tasks, from understanding what makes colleagues tick – which, of course, requires that willingness to be “vulnerable” that Lencioni discusses. It is having trust that teammates will not intentionally let you down and that they are, fundamentally, honest and ethical people.
Expertise. Again, one of the dysfunctions of a team is lacking trust in other members’ abilities. With “expertise” trust, people know their colleagues are competent and knowledgeable in their particular areas. They know what they’re talking about. This helps harness the collective powers of the team as they rely on each other for help and support.
Structure. This relates to the tension and ambiguity caused by organizational structure. If Joe from this department says something to Sue from that department, can Sue trust it? Does Joe have a hidden agenda? Is his information colored by his role?
In large organizations, politics can develop and trust is difficult to establish across all lines. Total trust may not be possible at this level: Joni recommends, “medium-trust” with a “healthy mix of tension and competition,” to ensure innovation and growth. (4)
The Importance of Trust
The thread that weaves through all three works is that trust is fundamental to the success of not only the team and its leader, but also the organization as a whole. Without this cornerstone, the entire building falls. It is both essential –and earned. Leaders need to take steps to establish trust, first by trusting in themselves and then by conferring trust on their people.
As Lencioni writes, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” Trust is the way leaders get their people to row in the same direction.