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Building Trust—A Leadership Behavior or Process?


Thu Feb 05 2015

Building Trust—A Leadership Behavior or Process?

Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of this blog series.

Do you believe that actions taken by the CEO and senior leadership will be reflected in the attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of those they lead? If so, it is worth considering the words of Warren Bennis in his book, On Becoming a Leader: “It is the ability to inspire trust, not personal charisma that enables leaders to recruit others to their cause.” In another book, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, co-written with Burt Nanus, it is claimed that “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together. The accumulation of trust is a measure of the legitimacy of leadership. It cannot be mandated or purchased; it must be earned.”


If these comments are true, then our leaders must shoulder an enormous responsibility. They must establish cultures where trust exists in both directions, from their employees to themselves, and vice versa. These cultures must be cascaded into the organisations they lead; they must become the lifeblood and beating heart.

Perhaps we should consider that establishing trust is much more about behavior than about processes. Good leaders are followed chiefly because people trust and respect them, not because of the pure technical skills they may have. Leaders must learn that trust overcomes all common egos and sits at the heart of a great team. A cranky and ruthless boss creates a toxic organisation filled with underachievers.

If trust is to be built, then our leaders must recognise and understand within their leadership process how others around them feel. And this understanding must come from within—the head and the heart. Therefore, empathy must be a motivator for being honest. The moral compass of a leader, to “do the right things,” is underpinned by social responsibility.

Leaders who are honest—who follow a morality compass—do so because they believe it's the right thing to do. A funny thing happens when leaders consistently act in alignment with their principles and values: They typically produce consistently high performance almost any way you can measure it—gross sales, profits, talent retention, company reputation, and customer satisfaction.

Let’s consider Starbucks. The long-serving CEO Howard Schultz writes in the pages of the 2011 annual report: “Balancing profitability and social conscience is as much a part of Starbucks’ core as coffee.” Further: “Consumers will embrace only the companies and brands they trust and with which they identify.” And with this background, the company posted record gross revenues of $14.9 billion in 2013 (+12 percent compared to 2012) and earnings per share of $2.26—up 26 percent. No one can argue with those numbers.


Strong leadership creates the tone for the complete organisation. The CEO and other company leaders are the critical voices in the debate to drive organisational trust. But where should they start?

Stay tuned next week for Part Five: Leadership Behaviors That Build Trust.

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