Stephen Covey on leadership and trust

Trust and leadership are critical to tackling today’s uncertain times, where disinformation is on the rise and virtual interactions limit our ability to truly connect with each other. Trust often seems binary: it either exists or it doesn’t. Not so, says Stephen MR Covey, author of The speed of trust and his latest book, Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others

Discussing the release of Trust and inspireThe bestselling author shared the two biggest insights from his research and decades of client work through consulting firm Covey Worldwide and the Franklin Covey Global Trust Practice: Trust is a learnable skill, and two trustworthy people can’t have trust between them.

“In the same way that you can diminish or lose trust through your behavior, you can also consciously create, grow, expand, and, in some cases, restore it through your behavior,” says Covey. “People often focus more on being personally trustworthy than seeing the same in others. The larger gap in most organizations today is on the trust side. It is not enough to be reliable; you also have to have faith.”

Future leaders should keep in mind:

“Trust and inspire leadership is not soft, weak, without expectations and accountability. Confident-and-inspiring leaders can be authoritative without being authoritarian. You can be decisive without being autocratic. You can be visionary without being exclusive. You can be strong without being forceful. You can be detail-oriented without being suspicious. You can be in control without being controlling.”

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation about all things trust, command-and-control management, and how flawed individuals (all of us) can learn, grow, and become truly great leaders.

Anne Marie Squeo: Is trust as beauty and in the eye of the beholder?

Stephen Covey: To a certain extent, yes. But in another sense, no. Trust is a perception and you can measure perceptions through anonymous surveys to see how much trust someone can have in a team or a leader. You can benchmark it, track it and see how it moves and grows. You can measure and quantify the input and the overall result. We tend to value what we can measure, and we work on what we can measure. And the idea that you can measure confidence is a great idea. So in that sense less in the eye of the beholder. Using common criteria, we can see how much trust people have in our team and we in each other.

AMS: Transparency is an important part of leadership. Can you be too transparent?

SC: People want a leader they trust. But the fear of being too vulnerable is greater than the reality of it. People are so afraid of losing people’s trust that they come to the fore and are not so authentic and vulnerable. Our bigger problem is that we are not vulnerable enough, not transparent enough. We recognize that you can go too far. But when people see you as a person, you are working on things and you are not perfect – people recognize themselves in that and can build trust. Think of intimacy, the word: vulnerability is intimacy. The word is literally in-to-me-see. Our bigger problem is not that we are too vulnerable, but that we are not vulnerable enough. My test would be whether people would literally lose faith in me if they knew something.

AMS: How do you know if someone you work with is trustworthy, and are there certain characteristics we should look for?

SC: Another way of saying trustworthiness is credibility. You try to judge their character and competence, and that makes a person believable. If someone just had character with no competence, you would have a hard time trusting them even though they are a good person. The flip side is clearly true: If a person has a lot of competence but is low in character, they can get the job done, but they might run over anyone who does it. You would find it hard to trust [them]†

On the character side, you look at their integrity and intent. Are they seeking mutual benefit or are they just selfish? On the competency side, you look at their track record as well as their capabilities. Are they current and relevant? You want to see them both. Looking at character and competence and making judgments about how much trust we should convey. But sometimes when there’s a fundamental character and someone is a work in progress, sometimes it’s just building confidence that will allow them to build more competence, grow because someone gave me a chance. That’s the whole idea of ​​trusting and inspiring to see the greatness in people.

AMS: What advice would you give leaders to move from command-and-control to the trust-and-inspire approach?

SC: It starts with your fundamental beliefs about how you view people and how you view leadership. Many managers have a growth mindset for themselves, but not for others. If your beliefs about people are that you have to control and control them and don’t see the greatness within, then it will be very difficult to migrate with integrity to trust and inspire. You have to question your fundamental beliefs, your paradigm. Behavior stems from paradigm. The fastest way to change your behavior is to change your paradigm: how you look at the world, how you look at people.

So we outline the fundamental beliefs of a trusting-and-inspiring leader versus a command-and-control leader. They see people as whole people, not just economic resources. Body, heart, mind and soul. When you see them that way, your job as a leader is to inspire, not just motivate. But if you see people only as economic resources, they are expendable, they just want money, then I stay in command and control, with carrot and stick rewards. I will motivate, but I will not turn to inspiration. And if you do see people as whole people, then you have to challenge yourself and ask: Is your current style getting in the way of your intention? Are your actions undermining your beliefs?

AMS: How would you advise leaders to get through this critical time of returning to the office with a positive outcome?

SC: The most fundamental part is the paradigm: trust and inspire versus command and control. Even during the pandemic, many people were working from home and still didn’t feel trusted; they were just micromanaged remotely. If you come back and people still don’t feel comfortable no matter what solution you come up with – all remote, all on site, hybrid – and the paradigm hasn’t shifted, how that will be experienced by people will be different than if my people see me as a leader or employer who trusts their people.

There are many good answers, it may be different for different companies. But if you approach it with a command-and-control leadership style, you can come up with the same response as another company that approached it by stating their intent, giving the why, involving and listening to their people, the impact on the people and culture will be night and day with the two companies because of the process of getting there. One will feel like you’re doing this to me, while the other will feel like we’re doing this together.

AMS: Can you be a bad person and a great leader?

SC: Not over time. Right now maybe, but the test of good leadership is getting results in a way that grows people and builds trust. I would add two more pieces: sustained over time and with all stakeholders. You may be good with shareholders, but are you also doing it with customers, employees, communities? In the long run, that lack of character and credibility will show through. Maybe not in the short term. We have seen many leaders who lack strong character and lack real credibility or moral authority. They can do it in the moment and rely on positional power or context to do it. But play it out, over time with all stakeholders, the lack of character will manifest and undermine leadership.

Anne Marie Squeo is CEO and founder ofTasting point communication,a boutique marketing and communications firm and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning corporate journalist.

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