5 Steps to Becoming a High-Trust Leader

Feb 18, 2013

In today’s competitive marketplace, it is not enough for leaders to produce results. If you get the deal, but don’t get the trust, the value of your deal is significantly diminished. But if you can get the deal and build a relationship of trust, your ability to negotiate any changes or future deals improves considerably. Customers who trust you buy more, buy more often, and most importantly, refer others.

And research proves it. According to a Watson Wyatt study, high-trust organizations (those with trusting relationships with key stakeholders) outperform low-trust organizations in total return to shareholders by nearly three times. In the midst of the “crisis of trust” that fills today’s business headlines, there are nonetheless outstanding businesses that are experiencing unprecedented growth.

Leaders of successful businesses understand that trust is contagious and reciprocal. When we extend trust, we generate trust; when we withhold trust, we generate distrust—in our personal lives, our families, our communities, our teams, our organizations, our nations, and the world. And every action and interaction makes a difference.

Taking Risks with Trust

By far, the most important way to grow your business is to extend trust. This can feel counterintuitive to many. But, we’re not talking about blind trust, where you are gullible; we’re talking about smart trust, using judgment. Smart trust optimizes two key factors: a propensity to trust, and analysis. High-trust leaders master the skill of extending smart trust and teach their team members how to do the same. It’s a learnable competency and a process that enables you to operate with high trust in a low-trust world. It minimizes risk and maximizes possibilities.

Here are five steps to developing smart trust and to becoming a high-trust leader:

1. Believe in trust. Create a trusting foundation from which all other trust-building behaviors flow.

2. Start with yourself. Focus first on developing your character and competence—your credibility—which will enable you to trust yourself and give others a person they can trust.

3. Declare your positive intent, and assume positive intent in others. Create goals and specify intended actions—both what you will do, and why—clearly in advance. In general, assume that others also have good intent and are worthy of trust.

4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Follow through and act to carry out your declared intent. Walk your talk.

5. Extend trust to others. Be the first to extend trust and initiate the upward cycle that leads to prosperity, energy, and joy.

The skill of extending smart trust was illuminated in a 2007 deal with Steve Jobs. Ted Morgan, the CEO of a little-known location-finding technology company called Skyhook, had been trying for months to get major companies interested in his technology. One day, Morgan received a phone message: “Ted, this is Steve Jobs from Apple. I’d like to talk to you about Skyhook.” Morgan returned the call, and things started happening quickly.

Negotiations proceeded, and the two were close to doing a deal. Jobs then told Morgan that Apple had a big Macworld event coming up, and he wanted to model Skyhook’s technology at the event—but he couldn’t do it without Skyhook’s code. Would Morgan give him the code? While still on the phone, Morgan turned to his management team and whispered, “He’s wanting our code.” The immediate response of the team was “No! No! No!” Morgan said to Jobs, “Steve, as you might imagine, we’ve never given out our code. That code is our intellectual property. It’s everything we have.” Jobs replied, “I know that. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

Against the advice of his team, Morgan gave Jobs the code. Jobs rewarded Morgan by personally demonstrating Skyhook’s technology at Macworld in January 2008, giving an animated explanation of how the technology worked and adding, “Isn’t that cool? It’s really cool.” Morgan called Jobs’ spotlight on Skyhook “the biggest publicity event any company can have.” When my co-author and I asked Morgan what he thought would have happened if he had refused Steve Jobs’ request, he replied, “You never know. But personally, I don’t think he would have done the deal. I think Steve would have moved on.” The successful relationship between Apple and Skyhook has long made history and was recently made a case study at Harvard Business School.

Yes, there is risk in trusting, but the greater risk is in not trusting. High-trust leaders extend smart trust to grow their businesses. And they do it by taking these five actions common to high-trust leaders around the world, inspiring a virtuous upward cycle of growth and prosperity.

Greg Link is the co-author of Smart Trust: Creating Prosperity, Energy, and Joy in a Low-Trust World with Stephen M. R. Covey. For more information, visit www.smarttrustbook.com.

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