How Leaders Break the Trust Barrier for High Performance

4 Elements to Creating A High Performance Team


Trust. Find any high performance team with sustained success and you’ll find it. It’s the glue of relationships. It’s the desire to serve the team over self.

As important as it is, you’ll receive little training on it in an MBA program. You may have experienced it, but it seems elusive. Few can describe it; fewer can teach it, and finding a leader who can create it multiple times seems like a dream.

Enter Colonel JV Venable. He’s a graduate of the USAF’s Fighter Weapons School. He commanded and led the USAF Thunderbirds and 1100 American airmen.


“Commitment is the demonstrated will to deliver for the people around you.” -JV Venable


Teaching trust is crucial. Think about the trust needed to fly within inches of another yet at over 500 miles per hour. You just can’t imagine doing it without the highest degree of trust. JV’s new book, Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance, shares lessons from his experience as a Top Gun instructor with all of us. I recently asked him about creating this level of trust and how everyone can learn from his experience.


“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller


Harness the Power of the Thunderbirds

What drove you to write this book?

Book CoverAs you might imagine, the insights and sensations that came with flying on the point of the Thunderbirds were pretty special. More often than not I got the feeling my jet was being furthered by the five jets on my wing.  I was convinced it was an emotional surge until I felt the shift on a particularly smooth day, half way through my first year on the team. In the middle of the demonstration, an unexpected but very real surge of energy hit my jet and it began to turn the entire formation — like a giant hand lifting up my left wing.  During the debrief it became obvious the surge came from the rate of closure and end-game proximity of my left wingman.  He was so close that he caused that wing to become more efficient and produce more lift than the one on the right.  That was the moment I realized it wasn’t just a feeling I was being carried by the team around me; the surge was real.  Just like stock car racers on the track at Daytona, we were drafting. The more I thought about it, the more I could see drafting’s effects everywhere, and the thought would change the way I looked at the world around me.

I wrote Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance out of the passion borne from the physical and emotional surge that began that day on the Thunderbirds.  My goal is to share that passion with people just like you.  We need to spread the leadership bug, and this concept of drafting will make you a carrier.


“No team can excel over the long haul without trust.” -JV Venable


Leaders and the Drafting Phenomenon

How can understanding the phenomenon of drafting help a leader?

In racing, the concept of drafting is based on a leader cutting a path through the air for those behind him, and a trailer being close enough to the leader’s bumper to shift the drag from the leader’s bumper to his own.  That same concept was alive on the Thunderbirds in the air — and on the ground.

Every unit within our organization was minimally manned, and each relied on the others to help execute its role. Our amazing people were lined up, bumper to bumper, taking the weight, the drag off the individuals and elements in front of them, while they plowed the path for those in trail.

Once you realize the impact closure can have on your team, you’ll see drafting everywhere you look.  Cyclists in the Tour de France, the V formations of migrating geese, even ducklings on a pond will make you realize how your actions can cause gaps to close or expand, and accelerate or slow your organization down.  That dwell time will give you an understanding of the positive impact, or the repercussions of your actions, before you put them in play.

Drafting makes leadership something you can see.


“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln

2000 Pilots

Rewrite Code to Create Trust

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

This is a guest post by John Blakey. His new book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, is a must read for leaders who want to inspire trust and achieve results.


9 Habits of Trustworthiness

As a coach, I am interested in helping leaders be more effective rather than more knowledgeable. Sometimes gaining new knowledge is part of the formula that gets us from A to B, but it is rarely the full answer. As Einstein quipped, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not’. Consider how many great books you have read and how many excellent training courses you have attended. How many of them entertained you rather than changed you? If we wish to go beyond corporate entertainment, then we have to commit to the hard yards of executive practice. However, even more than this, we have first to believe that it is possible to change at all.

Trusted Executive JacketAll the CEOs I interviewed for my book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, were asked the question, ‘How do you build trustworthiness?’ One of them replied, ‘I am not sure this is the right question because I don’t think you can build trustworthiness in people. You either have it or you don’t, and so we test for it when we recruit people into the business.’ I am sure other executive leaders would have a similar perspective. Can you really build integrity into someone or is it a fixed trait of character that defies further development? This argument reminds me of Churchill’s famous words about optimism: ‘I suppose I am an optimist; there seems little point in being anything else’. So my glib answer to those who believe that trustworthiness is a fixed character trait would be to say, ‘I suppose I believe that anyone can grow and change in profound ways; as a leader there seems little point in believing anything else.’


“It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” -Paul of Tarsus


Dr. Carole Dweck of Stanford University provides a more rigorous assessment of this question in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck has spent decades studying achievement and success in students. She has concluded that we have one of two mind-sets at any point in time: growth or fixed. Someone with a fixed mind-set believes that talents and traits are fixed and unchangeable. They believe that if someone is not good at something, there is no point in trying harder as their ability will not change. This mind-set gets in the way of learning, since challenges are seen as threatening. In contrast, people with a growth mind-set believe that abilities and talents are cultivated through effort. People with this attitude welcome a challenge and they create an inner resilience in the face of obstacles. Dr. Dweck concludes that, ‘the more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for all kids and all adults to live in environments that create that growth’.

Used by permission. Used by permission.

I assume a growth mind-set. This does not mean it is easy to build trustworthiness, in the same way that it is not easy to run a marathon, but it does mean it is possible. It also reveals that the key to success is not innate ability but superlative motivation. If you know someone who has given up smoking then you know that it is often hard to change a habit, but it is not impossible. New habits come from repetition and practice. And just as Covey had his seven habits of effectiveness, I will shamelessly follow his lead and propose the nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation: three habits of ability, three habits of integrity and three habits of benevolence.

A habit is an accumulation of choices. If you want to change a habit, then you have to start making different choices. To change a habit is an act of pure will, which is why it relies upon superlative motivation.


“If you want to change a habit, then start making different choices.” -John Blakey


9 Leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation

How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity

The Power of Diversity

I’m a passionate believer in diverse teams. Throughout my life and career, I have seen the benefits from multiple perspectives examining a problem together. If everyone thinks exactly the same way, with the same background, you end up with a narrow solution. A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.


“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” –J.F.K.


That’s why I read with great interest David Livermore’s new book, Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. David Livermore has written ten books on global leadership and cultural intelligence. He is president of the Cultural Intelligence Center and a visiting scholar at Nanyang Business School in Singapore.


“A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.” -Skip Prichard


The Goal of Diversity is Not Enough

In your book, you argue that diversity, as a goal, is not good enough. Would you elaborate on this?

I applaud any effort to hire a more diverse workforce. But if that’s all you do, you set everyone up for failure. “Different” perspectives, values, and strategies for getting work done easily lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock. Diversity needs to be managed with a culturally intelligent strategy for how to effectively use the diverse perspectives to drive innovation and improve employee engagement.


“The more diverse the team, the less likely participants will offer their input and perspectives.” –David Livermore


The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

You say that diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, but it does when combined with high CQ. What is CQ? What’s the link between innovation and diversity? 

Driven by DifferenceCQ, or cultural intelligence, is the capability to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s measured using a CQ Assessment, which predicts how effectively one will work in situations characterized by cultural diversity.

Our research finds that diverse teams comprised of individuals with low CQ underperform homogenous teams with low CQ. However, diverse teams comprised of individuals with high CQ outperform homogenous teams on several measurements including innovation.

Therefore, CQ becomes the moderating link between diversity and innovation. With higher levels of cultural intelligence, team members can effectively retain and use the differences among them that enhance creativity while minimizing the differences that create interference.


“Distraction is one of the biggest roadblocks to innovation.” –David Livermore


Prevent Diversity Fatigue

What’s diversity fatigue and how do companies prevent it?

Diversity fatigue is how I refer to the growing weariness felt by many staff when they hear they have to go through diversity training. Even individuals from underrepresented groups often place little hope or interest in diversity initiatives in the workplace. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.


“The culturally intelligent are aware of how cultural differences influence the way team members approach a task.” –David Livermore


There are a variety of factors that contribute to diversity fatigue, several of which I explore more fully at the beginning of Driven by Difference. But the key to addressing this is for companies to take a more strategic approach to diversity. They need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability. If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. And then managers and teams need to be equipped with the skills to effectively use their differences to drive innovation.


“Smart, empowered teams are the best way to come up with successful products.” –David Livermore


In one chapter, you talk about focus and how the more personalities and cultures you have working together, the easier it is to lose focus. What’s the best way to experience the benefits of diverse thinking while also keeping focus?

It comes from clearly defining the goal (a key to retaining focus) while asking your diverse colleagues how they understand the goal. The goal may seem straightforward, such as reducing costs or improving efficiencies. However, the assumptions about how to most effectively reduce cost may be strongly influenced by one’s cultural values and assumptions. Focus comes from not quickly moving beyond the seemingly basic task of clarifying expectations and instead, using a diversity of expectations to more successfully achieve more innovative outcomes.


“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” –Malcolm Forbes


How to Build Trust With Diverse Colleagues

25 Quotes to Build a Winning Team

You Win in the Locker Room First

A few months ago, I read Jon Gordon and Mike Smith’s book, You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life.

9781119157854The former NFL head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith, teamed up with one of my favorite authors, Jon Gordon, to explore seven principles that teams use to reinvigorate and reinvent their future.

I’m not sure how you read, but the more I like a book, the more underlines, highlights, and dog-eared pages appear. Long ago, I developed the habit of doing this because I want the wisdom of the authors to penetrate my thick skull and make an impact. When I read this book, there were so many quotes that stuck with me.

So, instead of an author interview, I wanted to share the top 25 Quotes from this book on team building that stuck with me. I hope you find them helpful as you build a great team of your own. Because, as the title of this book reminds us, winning starts long before you actually take the field.


25 Quotes to Build a Winning Team

“Culture is defined and created from the top down, but it comes to life from the bottom up.” –Mike Smith


“Culture drives expectations and beliefs. Expectations and beliefs drive behaviors. Behaviors drive habits and habits create the future.” –Jon Gordon


“Winning doesn’t begin just in the locker room; it also begins in the mind.” –Jon Gordon


“You win in the mind first and then you win on the field or court.” –Jon Gordon


“Leadership is a transfer of belief.” –Jon Gordon


“The leaders of the team or organization set the tone and attitude.” –Mike Smith


“What we think matters. Our words are powerful.” –Mike Smith


“If you are complaining, you are not leading. If you are leading, you are not complaining.” –Mike Smith


“Great leaders are positively contagious.” –Mike Smith


“The character you possess during the drought is what your team will remember during the harvest.” –Mike Smith


“To build a winning team, you want to be consistent in your attitude, effort, and actions.” –Jon Gordon

Leadership Lessons From the Unusual Story of Market Basket

An Uplifting Corporate Story

We often read stories about corporate greed, about slimy executives, about profits at the expense of people. These stories grab headlines because they hit a nerve and fuel anger. I have never read a story quite like We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business where employees and customers joined together to demand the return of a fired CEO.

The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.

I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.


Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day

This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basket teach us about loyalty?

Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.


“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”


A Respect for Others

Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?

Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.

But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.

Market Basket 

A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders

What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?

Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.

Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.


A Commitment to the Community