coveyStephen M R Covey beamed in from the USA to elaborate on his book The Speed of Trust with a bold claim: trust is the new currency. “Trust”, he argues “is an economic driver not merely a social virtue. There has been a paradigm shift from social to economic. Trust, and the ability to build trust, is the Number 1 leadership competency – and it can be learned”.

“Trust makes our world go round. Without trust, nothing flows. With the loss of trust comes a loss of confidence. There has been a crisis of trust since 2008 and now, there is a renaissance of trust. They are a co-existing paradox”.

Michelle Clarke, who organised the Global Trust Conference, is spearheading what she calls “The Trust Movement” She argues that we have an innate ability to trust and be trusted. Her mother’s smiling eyes shone down on us from the screen – the ones Michelle connected with on her first day in this world. Then her mother stood up in the audience and the eyes of 800-900 people misted over as collective thoughts turned to mothers – and trust.

Covey defines trust as reciprocal and reminds us that most people are inspired by being trusted and rise to the occasion. He asks that you stop for a moment and think about someone with whom you have a good two-way trusting relationship – do you have someone in mind? What is it like to work with them? To communicate with them? How fast can you get things done? What are you likely to achieve? Now consider someone with whom you need to work, where trust is low and ask the same questions.What’s it like to connect with them? How long does it take to get things done? A quick conclusion: pleasure, speed and results. With trust, a word is enough – time is saved and costs are reduced. No need for the expense of documentation, heavy supervision, missed deadlines or re-work. His research shows that organisations ranking high in trust outperform the others three times over.

Covey’s second big idea is that trusting and being trustworthy will leverage every other competence of a leader. In this way, trust has a multiplier effect on the benefits and the lack of trust has a multiplier effect on the losses incurred. The transformative impact of trust is to turn co-ordination into collaboration, suppliers into partners, groups into teams and recruitment into engagement. In this climate innovation flourishes, team spirit runs riot and sales grow. He claims that if you can increase trust by 10% then employee satisfaction will rise to the equivalent level generated by a 36% increase in pay!

Finally, trust is a learnable competency. It starts with your credibility and continues with behaviour. In his book, Covey identifies 13 key behaviours – at the conference he highlights the first and the last. The first is to “inspire trust” and the last “to extend trust”. These are two of the most important jobs of a cool leader. It’s not about technique but who you are. If you don’t trust yourself, you can’t trust others – there is a ripple effect and it starts with self wherever you are – how credible are you? From there, when you’re at work, it goes to the 1-2-1 relationships that you have with others and with your team – how consistent is what you do with what you say? In the broader organisation how aligned are you with corporate goals and priorities? Out in the marketplace what is your reputation? And finally, what is your contribution to society?

In all of these areas you can develop a greater capacity for being trustworthy for others and also be able to fine-tune your judgment in who to trust and and in what circumstances to trust them. This means that you can handle risk more effectively and develop strong bonds with business colleagues at all levels. Trusting relationships are the best foundation for success at work and home.

Trust as a concept may be warm and fuzzy but the business case is indisputable. It’s time and money.

Jacquie Drake

Jacquie Drake

Dr Jacquie Drake is Founder of and Editor of the cool-leadership newsletter.

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