Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.
Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.
“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek
Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.
We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.
Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.
If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to create and maintain a culture of trust. But knowing it and doing it are different. How do leaders at all levels of an organization make this a reality?
“Trust is the operating system for a life well-lived.” –Joel Peterson
JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s career has provided him a window into the importance of trust. In addition to his role at JetBlue, Joel is a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and chairman of an investment firm. His new book,The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great, is an exceptionally great read.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel about all things “trust.”
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald
Empowering and turning over control to another person. It takes the same leap of faith as when we trust a pilot to fly a plane or a surgeon to operate on us. We give trust in increments, measure results, assess risks and grant more trust until we find we’ve extended our reach, expanded our horizons and found greater joy in our interactions with others.
“Accountability is the requisite companion to empowerment.” –Joel Peterson
You’ve seen the inside of many organizations and leadership teams from your vantage point as Chairman, as professor, as an investor, as a CFO, etc. When you first walk into an organization, what signs do you see that would lead you to say, “This is an organization with a high degree of trust?”
Surprisingly, high trust organizations are ones with conflict – with respectful disagreements that are ventilated, addressed and put to bed so they don’t fester underground. The best ideas win, not the most powerful or senior people. And they’re typically places where there’s humor, self-deprecation, stories, traditions and people who genuinely like each other.
“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts.” –Harold Macmillan
What’s a leader’s role in cultivating a culture of trust? How have you seen this go wrong?
The leader’s role is vital. An EVP at Cisco once told me that she found she couldn’t be happier than her unhappiest child. In like manner, an organization’s boundary of trust is set by its leader. It’ll never expand beyond the leader’s trustworthiness. If he or she has a big “say-do gap,” the contagion will spread. If leaders compartmentalize their lives and file violations of trust under the “private label,” they’ll be mistrusted. People are smart. They’ll figure it out, and it’s not long before their wariness infects everyone and everything. As fear takes over, people become less likely to innovate, to take risks, to trust. This can either explode in trust-destroying outcomes such as the recent VW scandal or end up in bureaucratic inaction, caution and failure to perform such as at the Veterans’ Administration.
“In difficult times, trust is a leader’s most potent currency.” –Joel Peterson
How is respect linked to trust? How do you show respect?
Respect is the medium of exchange between parties that are building trust. A failure to show respect is a trust show-stopper – even if you’re not the person who is being treated disrespectfully. This extends from teammates to suppliers to lenders to shareholders to customer. Nothing shows greater respect for another than listening to them. It’s at the heart of customer service and team-building. I think of it as listening without agenda, listening to understand, not to respond, to agree or disagree, not until there’s a break so I can respond.
“In a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level.” –Joel Peterson