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Inspiring and Building Trust as a Leader

published4 months ago
6 min read

For this week's Workplace Intelligence newsletter, I interviewed Stephen M. R. Covey, a New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The SPEED of Trust—The One Thing That Changes Everything. Stephen is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which, under his stewardship, became the largest leadership development company in the world. He personally led the strategy that propelled his father’s book, Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to become one of the two most influential business books of the 20th Century, according to CEO Magazine.

In our conversation, we discussed Stephen’s newest book, Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. In the book, he discusses why the old Command & Control model of leadership needs to be replaced by a new leadership style of “Trust & Inspire,” and he gives readers the tools they’ll need to become more effective and inspiring leaders in the new world of work.

Read on for Stephen’s insights about this important topic.

1. Can you describe what the Command & Control style of leadership looks like, versus a Trust & Inspire leadership style?

The Command & Control style of leadership, still so prevalent in our world today, flows heavily out of the industrial age. It’s about getting things done, and getting people to do those things — which isn’t so much “bad” as it is incomplete. It’s “old-school,” it’s “carrot & stick,” and while it has produced results in the past, it’s passed its expiration date.

We’ve made significant improvements over time, and today’s Command & Control tends to be more of an “Enlightened Command & Control.” But it’s fundamentally the same approach to leadership — we’ve just gotten better at it. We’ve become more sophisticated. We’ve brought emotional intelligence and human resources to it. It’s become a kinder, gentler, more benevolent Command & Control. More carrot, less stick. But at the end of the day, it continues to prioritize performance over people, with people being a means to an end.

Trust & Inspire leaders don’t minimize performance. On the contrary, they actually produce far better performance, and they do this by elevating the focus on people to the same level as the focus on performance. Their approach is about getting results in a way that grows people. To a Trust & Inspire leader, both dimensions are vital.

There is a set of Fundamental Beliefs that collectively comprise a more accurate, complete, and relevant paradigm of how to view people, and how to view leadership. Some of these beliefs include how Trust & Inspire leaders believe people have greatness inside of them, and that their job as leaders is to unleash people’s potential, not control them. Trust & Inspire leaders also believe that people are whole people, not just a means to an end, and that their job as leaders is to inspire, not merely to motivate.

Rather than being soft or weak, Trust & Inspire leaders are authoritative without being authoritarian, strong without being forceful, and decisive without being autocratic. They have control, and are able to be in control, without being controlling — and those they lead respond. Trust & Inspire leaders thrive as a result, achieving unparalleled performance around both the tasks and the relationships.

2. The Trust & Inspire mantra is manage things, lead people. Can you tell us more about this? What is the typical Command & Control leader getting wrong when it comes to this concept?

Let me first state that I’m a big fan of management. We need great management to succeed today. I differentiate by noting that we also need equally great leadership. The “things” I refer to in the “manage things, lead people” mantra include processes, systems, structures, schedules, inventories, supply chains, financials, tools, operations — "the numbers.” These are all necessary components that need to be well-managed with skill and efficiency.

Command & Control is perfectly suited to managing things — but too often leaders become so good at managing things that it becomes the prevailing paradigm for how they also approach people. As Abraham Maslow put it, “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” People are not things. People have autonomy, talents, skills, initiative, and creativity. People don’t want to be treated like machines. Let me put it this way: People don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. Manage things, lead people. Be efficient with things, be effective with people.

3. In today’s job market, it’s easy for managers to feel like there’s nothing they can do to keep people from leaving. What’s the best way for managers to create the kind of culture that attracts, retains, and inspires people?

My father used to say, “The only sustainable advantage that will long endure is the core competitive advantage of a high-trust culture.” In Trust & Inspire, I lay out 5 specific emerging forces that have changed everything about work, and make my father’s statement even more true today.

There’s disruption everywhere. The amount of change, the type of change, the pace of change — all of it has contributed to significant shifts in how work is done, where work is done, the type of work being done, and even in those doing the actual work. People have more choices than ever before. These changes have resulted in what I call the 2 Epic Imperatives that all organizations face today.

While I discuss both at length in the book, the first is the need to win in the workplace by developing a high-trust culture that inspires. This kind of culture not only attracts the best people, it brings out the best in people. Many organizations continue to compete on compensation, perks, benefits, and other factors, which, while important, don’t compare to the draw of a high-trust culture that inspires.

4. While some organizations have a naturally inspiring mission, for others, connecting their business to a sense of purpose may not come as easily. How can leaders imbue meaning and purpose into their organization, if the work employees do isn’t inherently inspiring?

Inspiring others really comes down to two things: Connecting with people, and connecting to purpose. The sequence to these two types of connection matters. Connecting with people is about creating a sense of caring and belonging. This is vital. In fact, I would submit that absent a real sense of caring and belonging, it almost doesn’t matter how inherently inspiring the work itself is — people won’t last.

On the other hand, if you’re able to meaningfully connect with people, you can imbue a sense of purpose, meaning, and contribution into almost any role, in almost any organization, regardless of the type of work being done. If you want to tap into meaning and purpose, first connect with people through caring and belonging.

5. Working from home has been immensely beneficial but it’s also made some things more difficult — like accountability and keeping people connected. How can managers find the right balance between overseeing their staff without looking like they don’t trust them or they’re micromanaging them from a distance? And how can they inspire dispersed team members and create a true sense of connection, community, and culture?

The Trust & Inspire book goes into great detail on this point because it’s so real today. One of the Fundamental Beliefs of a Trust & Inspire leader is that “leadership is stewardship, so my job as a leader is to put service above self-interest.” I define a stewardship as “a job with a trust.” In the book I note that leaders have three primary stewardships for those they lead. These stewardships are: 1) modeling, 2) trusting, and 3) inspiring.

While all three of these stewardships apply to this question, the one I would lean on the most here is trusting. It should be noted that trusting does not mean a lack of accountability. In fact, the nuts and bolts of trusting are clear expectations, and a mutually agreed-upon process of accountability. The big difference comes in our intent. Many leaders today who are being “trusting” are doing so out of necessity. They’re often trusting just enough to stay on this side of micromanaging. Trust & Inspire leaders extend trust not out of obligation or a lack of options, but with the clear intent to grow people.

People respond to being trusted, it does something for them. Use yourself as Exhibit A. Can you think of someone who extended trust to you, who believed in you? What did that do for you? How did you respond? Did that person need to hover over you to get you to perform? The converse is also true — people respond to being distrusted, and they tend to reciprocate that distrust right back.

Rather than looking for reasons we can’t trust people, our efforts would be far better spent finding reasons that we can. I acknowledge that there’s risk to trusting, but today, I believe there’s far greater risk in not trusting.