COMPANY CULTURE

Strong Leaders Establish Trust

You can earn the trust of your employees, suppliers, and customers. First, ask yourself if you deserve it.

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Trust lies at the foundation of all businesses and, ultimately, any successful society. As Bruce Schneier points out in his wonderful book Liars and Outliers, trust makes everything work; without it, the traffic would scarcely budge.

We need trust to work with suppliers and customers. We need it to work with each other. But can it be measured?

Surveys help of course. But if you ask straight out: Do you trust your boss or co-worker? Chances are that everyone will say, 'Yes,' because that's the comfortable response. More helpful might be questions like this: "If you had a concern about something at work, who would you turn to?" Or, "What would you do if xxxx?"

I'm a big believer in a survey like this, just because it will quickly tell you if you have a problem, or even if you're just not doing so well this quarter.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey argues that he can feel whether or not there is a high level of trust in a store within five minutes of walking into it. Where morale is undermined and engagement is missing, he says good leaders can just sense what's missing. "The art of leadership is to be attuned to your customers, employees, suppliers, investors. We need a multi-stakeholder approach to leadership that does objective measurements but that alone is not enough. We need to develop fully human skills that allow us also to know things intuitively."

Good leaders know to pay attention to their intuition and hunches. But I'd be wary of depending on those alone. We are all biased and highly driven to defend our sense of self-regard. Instead, it might be more useful to ask: Is my business trustworthy? Do I treat my people--employees, suppliers, customers--well enough to deserve their trust? Do we treat each other well enough to be confident that we're worthy of trust? Is there any valid reason why anyone should not trust us?

Trust is a privilege, not a right. It's earned, not assumed. If you pay suppliers late, drive too hard a bargain, over-work and underpay your workforce, then you shouldn't be too confident of anyone's trust. If you treat everyone who connects your business with respect, you stand a far better chance.  Think of it as an investment: The more you put in, the more you get back.

Last updated: Jun 22, 2012

MARGARET HEFFERNAN

Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.




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