Trust: The Basis of Success

When I was in Dallas in 2013 at the Vistage International Conference and heard Stephen M.R. Covey speak about the Speed of Trust. It’s something that Patrick Lencioni has talked about for years in his work on High Performing Teams and it is the basis of our Vistage Values. As a leader you can’t achieve anything without trust.

Whether you’re a leader, a team member, a father or a friend, everything works for the better when you share trust. When you have trust you can share anything, without fear it will get out. You can challenge people and they will listen without them feeling it is personal dig.

So, what’s the secret ingredient to building trust? Well, I hate to disappoint you but…there isn’t one.

You have to start with the right attitude, which is sharing. Like the old adage about Leadership “you have to go first.” Share with others things they don’t know about you, show them what you like and don’t like, share your fears and hopes. Show vulnerability and people will show it back. Tell people what your shortcomings are, when you are not sure what to do, ask for help. When things don’t go well tell people and ask for help. You must be a role model and people will follow. You see vulnerability is a strength not a weakness. The problem we often have is that we see it as a strength in others and a weakness in ourselves.

Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they're doing it because they care about the team

Patrick Lencioni

Once you have trust with your people anything is possible. It’s not the only thing you need, but it is where you need to start. With trust as the basis you can challenge people, you can gain their commitment to do things, you can hold them accountable and in teams they will hold each other accountable and you will get personal and organizational growth.

Cultures that lack trust often bring in more rules to cope, more and more rules are brought in to try to force people to do things in a certain way. But rules don’t create trust, in fact the opposite is true. The more you create a rules-based culture, the less people will take their own initiative and the more they will seek permission. Where you have trust you give people goals and not tasks, and they will work out for themselves what to do to achieve the goal. This has the double whammy of creating a culture of trust and ownership.

Think back to the British cycling team under Sir Dave Brailsford. At the Olympics in 2012 he dropped Sir Chris Hoy for the Individual sprint title and brought in Jason Kenny. Sir Chris was the golden boy. He stepped aside gracefully, wished Kenny good luck and Kenny went on to win the race. In the England Rugby team under Sir Clive Woodward (in the lead up to winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup) one of their Teamship Rules that they all bought into was that if you lost your place in the team to someone else, you would be the first to congratulate them.

So, if you want to create a winning culture based on trust it must start from the top. Here are some fundamentals you have to do:

  • Be open and honest with your people. Tell them the good news and the bad.
  • Show vulnerability. If you are a leader, you got there because you are exceptionally good at something. People don’t expect you to be good at everything. Show you’re human, admit mistakes and others will follow.
  • Do what you say you will do. Building trust can take time, but eroding trust can be done really quickly and one of the best ways is to not deliver on what you say you will.
  • Challenge people and hold them accountable. If you say something is important for the business, then you must challenge people to deliver…and hold them accountable if they don’t. Your people won’t trust you if they see others not delivering and getting away with it.